Meet the woman who struck gold with garbage

Everything you need to know about O’ Donovan Waste Disposal

We spoke to Jacqui O’Donovan, MD of O’ Donovan Waste Disposal, in the interview we discuss the importance of looking after the environment as well the awards that Jacqui has has won!

1. Where did the business begin?

O’Donovan Waste Disposal was started in its earliest form by my father, Joe, in 1959, who left his native County Cork in Ireland with ambitions of starting a business. But he died suddenly at the age of 51, which meant my three siblings and I had to step up to continue the legacy he had created - I was only 17 years old at the time. I hadn’t originally planned on a career in the construction waste industry, but found myself in the position of MD at just 19!

2. Why is the environment such an important factor to your business?

The ever-growing concerns over the environment have always been at the forefront of our methodology, primarily because we must leave a clean, sustainable planet for generations to come. We ensure that we always consider the aspects and impacts on the environment prior to carrying out our daily work, by complying, applying, monitoring and improving on regular basis - through industry-leading innovation and training - always looking for a green alternative.

 3. What services do you offer?

We’re now one of London’s largest independent waste management companies. We do anything from skip hire to one off bins, demolition, we have a plant hire company, site clearance, tippers. We like to think we’re the one stop shop for construction sites in regards to loading and shipping waste out. We employ 160 members of staff and turn over more than £19m.

4. What’s the company’s biggest achievement so far?

Launching the London Safer Lorry Scheme with the then Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, in September 2015. This was a great honour, as we had been striving for stricter safety legislation - which had previously allowed many HGVs to operate without the basic safety equipment - for a long time.

Road safety is extremely important to me and the company, so having the initiative introduced by Boris, who shared my passion, was big achievement.

5. Have you won any awards?

What a year 2016 was! In September I was honoured with the prestigious Business Woman of the Year at the Women of the Year 2016 Awards. This was in recognition not only for my business success, but for my passion and drive to improve our industry and the inspiration I have provided to others. Previous winners of the award include Baroness Karren Brady and Hilary Devey CBE.

I was also named as Most Inspiring Business Woman at the 2016 Best Business Women Awards, for my success in a male-dominated industry since the age of 17.

My other awards include ‘Outstanding Woman in Construction’ at the Women in Construction Awards in March last year, ‘Achiever of the Year’ at the Constructing Excellence Awards in July and ‘Outstanding Commitment to Innovation Award’ from the British Irish Trading Alliance in September.

6. What advice would you give to someone whose thinking about starting their own business?

Listen, always listen – every day is an education. For me, the most important first step when aspiring to be a business leader is to observe how similar companies operate – not just the professional working practices but the relationships and dialogue between team members, and how you can establish a positive culture and atmosphere across your own operations.

Ask questions about everyone’s roles and understand their daily tasks. I found it incredibly useful experiencing every role across the business first-hand, and it ultimately helped me be a stronger leader because I understood my team’s day-to-day jobs. I try and learn something from everyone I interact with, whether it be other Managing Directors or other businesses - gaining a well-rounded insight into your industry will always stand you in good stead. 

7. What failures have you faced? How did you get through it?

I must admit that navigating the company through two recessions was not a pleasant experience.

Having to balance the company’s finances with some personal trials was hard, but I managed to come out the other side while never making a member of staff redundant and continuing to increase turnover. Sometimes you have to make hard decisions, but I’m a believer of always trusting your instincts.

8. What’s your USP?

What sets us apart is our commitment to staff training and development – from health & safety to environmental practices, we ensure that the professionalism of every single member of the team is recognised by investing time and money in their careers and development. We tailor training – which we also roll out industry-wide in many cases – to their individual needs and career paths and have an impressive staff retention rate as a result. This dedication to staff development leads to a happy, fulfilled workforce and thus the very best service for our customers. We have seen solid growth year on year, and in the past five years alone, sales have more than doubled in spite of the recession.

9. What’s been your proudest moment on your business journey?

Winning five awards last year were all incredibly proud moments for me. When I think about everything I achieved in 2016, it’s emotional as I realised that my awards throughout the year were a culmination of my work to continue my father’s legacy. I feel very proud to be recognised as a valued contributor in my industry and, more generally, in business.

10. Where do you hope, the business will go in the future?

Having established the business in the South of England, we are eyeing further growth across the UK. I’m looking to expand the business into different areas of the country. We’re known throughout England now because of our accreditations and awards for safety, initiatives, and sustainability.

Ideally I’d like to take our business model up north into a couple of the major cities such as Liverpool and Manchester. I would also like to see us diversify into new sectors.

We predominantly work in the construction and demolition sectors but I think we can also tap into other sectors as we continue growing.

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