My Working Day – Jacqueline O’Donovan – Managing Director of O’Donovan Waste Disposal

As the leader of a company, you are there to set an example, to lead and inspire a team of individuals to achieve a series of business goals. But how do these business leaders go about their daily routine? Business Leader spoke to Jacqueline O’Donovan – Managing Director of O’Donovan Waste Disposal, about her working day.

What time do you wake up?

I am a very light sleeper and tend to wake up around 6am generally – in our line of work, operations start to spring to life around then so I start to get calls from our deports from around 7am.

What do you have for breakfast?

Tea followed by more tea!  I am not a big eater first thing in the morning so it is generally a cuppa in the car and a piece of fruit until I have something more substantial around 11am.

What is your mantra for your working day?

I have the same mantra for every day and that is the attitude that ‘today is a good day’!

As a business leader, is it hard to separate your business and personal life?

I guess I am in a unique position because there are almost two separate roles. As MD of our family business, work spills into our personal life a lot.  But because I love it so much, I don’t think of it as work. It really is a way of life. As a business leader, my brain is always on and I tend to do most of my thinking and planning when I am actually away from the work environment. My team joke that they hate me going on holiday as I always come back with lots of exciting ideas and plans which means more work for them! I encourage my team to separate work from their own personal lives but for me, I would not have it any other way.

What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs?

I think women sometimes don’t just ‘go for it’ the way men do. Maybe historically because women have tended to make up a smaller proportion of C-suite roles, which has often times led to cases of  ‘imposter syndrome’ and feeling intimidated due to being the only woman in the ‘room’. But the reality is we are just as knowledgeable and capable. So my advice is to trust your gut – the most important first step is to have confidence in yourself and your abilities.

Who is your business idol? Why?

My late father Joe. To this day, he is the most determined person I have ever met. We came from the humblest of beginnings.  Dad and Mum moved from rural Ireland in the 50’s to make a better life for themselves. They married and started their family with my three siblings and I all living in a tiny one bedroom flat. He worked so hard to for us and he always had his dream of starting his own business. He never lost sight of his goals and through sheer grit and determination, he started his own demolition company which then expanded and diversified into the waste business, laying the foundations of the £20m company we run today.

What motivates you?

Any challenge – I love to get my teeth stuck something and have a unique and very practical way of problem solving or so I am told!

How do you persevere through challenging times?

I never let anything overwhelm me. I have a skill for breaking things down into manageable chunks so I never see the ‘mountain’, I just see the path and the steps I need to take to get me to where I need to be.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a female entrepreneur?

There have been many challenges especially working in such a male-led sector.  I was managing director at 19 and being young and female in the construction and waste sector in the 80’s was certainly an anomaly. However, I think my favourite challenge in general that I overcame was a more practical one.  I have a real passion for training and education, so one particular challenge we had was how to  make training relevant for my team of 100 lorry drivers operating predominantly in an urban setting. Often times, they would be training with delivery drivers and long distance hauliers which is a very different job to operating a lorry on a construction site.

So I became a qualified trainer!  I designed and wrote two fully accredited Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (DCPC) training courses  which are industry specific and relevant to our business sector.  My HQ became a training centre accredited by the British Safety Council and JAUPT.  The courses are a vital part of O’Donovan training and shared with other waste companies to promote best-practice across the sector. All our lorry-drivers also go out cycling with instructors so that they can experience the challenges that cyclists and pedestrians face.  The results have been phenomenal and so not only do we have a team that enjoy the training that is relevant to their role, but we have improved their driving styles which has increased fuel-efficiency  by 26%, reduced CO2-emissions by 19.5% and reduced our insurance premiums!

What is the best piece of advice you have received?

It was from my dad and it was simple but invaluable – Listen! I think this is one of the most important tools to have as a business leader – the ability to listen and to really understand.  It  not only gives you the chance to see what is important to your team and your peers, it allows you to connect and engage with others and you learn so much whilst doing so.

Are you hopeful about the future of female entrepreneurship in the UK? Why?

I think the UK is one of the best countries in the world to be a female entrepreneur.  Although we are still underrepresented, women now account for around 32% of business owners in the UK, which is a figure that has much improved over the last five years.  But to ‘be it’ you have to ‘see it’ and the more female leaders speak out and encourage their counterparts, the more this will fuel and inspire a fresh wave of female entrepreneurs to start or plan to start their own businesses.  It is vital that we support and nurture growing talent and the younger women in education and in the workplace to give them the strength and confidence to excel as the next generation of women in business.

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