WED 3RD JUN 2020


Bringing the family business community together

Waste Not, Want Not

Jacqueline O'Donovan

Position: Managing Director

Company: O’Donovan Waste Disposal

Sector: Professional Services



Company Description

O’Donovan Waste Disposal is one of the South East’s largest independent waste management company's. We spoke to second generation Managing Director Jacqueline O'Donovan to gain her insight into this award-winning family firm.

Question & Answers with Jacqueline O'Donovan

What Does Your Family Business Do?
We specialise in the construction and demolition industry and have over the last 50 years evolved to offer a wide range of services, including our now core business of waste and recycling operations. We are passionate about driving the industry forward and setting new benchmarks in safe, green, efficient operations for others to follow. With five sites and 150 employees, we are a certified training centre, a CLOCS Champion and have achieved FORS Gold accreditation five years running, in recognition of our consistently high standards.

How Did You Get Involved?
I hadn’t originally planned on a career in the construction waste industry, but when my father died unexpectedly at the age of 51 in 1985, I, along with my siblings, had to step up to continue the legacy he had created - I was only 17 years old at the time.

What Did You Want To Be When You Grew Up?
At 17, I was due to leave for Germany to be a nanny, which had always been my career goal, but my situation quickly changed. I was needed at home to help with the business and found myself dealing with invoices, phone calls and accounts! 

What Are Your First Memories Of The Family Business?
My main memory is how small the first office was! With no phone system in place back in those days, we would be diving across the desks to pick up the three phones that were ringing separately. It was a great time, and a fantastic way to get hands on experience, but I was definitely grateful to expand the company and get a phone system. 

What Values Are Important In Your Family/Family Business?
At O’Donovan, we understand the importance of creating a very strong team culture and this is a value we promote across the company. In fact, the biggest investment we make is in our staff development and we believe everyone should be able to develop and improve their skills. As a result, we have a confident, loyal and motivated workforce that delivers great customer service and achieves results over and above other SMEs of a similar size.

What Is The Best Thing About Being A Family Business?
There is a fantastic team spirit, not only among the managerial team, but across the whole company. We pride ourselves on the community outlook we have, and have created a working environment that is inclusive and supportive. 


We try hard to encourage this environment through various initiatives, such as a 5-a-side football league, where teams from the business’ sites play each other, a Great British Bake off competition, and dress down Friday once a month for charity.

And The Worst?
You cannot switch off. Heading up a family business, I am extremely passionate about what I do, and care greatly about the wellbeing of my co-workers, which can sometimes come at a cost to my work/life balance.

What Is The Best Thing About Your Working Day?
By far, the variety I get each day, the challenges I get each day and the satisfaction I feel from my work – but in particular, the comradery with my colleagues I enjoy!

What Is Your Proudest Family Business Achievement?
One of my proudest achievements was when I took over the in-house training of our HGV drivers. I created my own driver Certificate of Professional Competence course – Waste Essentials – believed to be the first of its kind to be tailored specifically to target the training needs of drivers working across the waste industry. 


I am also proud of our work to fundamentally change the face of transport policy in the UK. We took the lead on one of the CLOCS workstreams in assisting with the design of four new lorry cab designs and trialled the newly modified cabs with a view to changing the design of lorries used across the country, which were launched at TfL’s CLOCS progress event.

Is There A Next Generation Waiting In The Wings To Take Over?
Absolutely - I have a 17-year-old son along with nieces and nephews who are all keen to step into roles within the company when the time is right. We have three of the next generation in the business already doing jobs and working their way up the ladder. One thing that is important to me though is that no one jumps any stages- I enjoyed being able to experience the company from every role and I think it is a vital skill that anyone in the managerial team should experience firsthand, before taking the reins. 

What Do You See As The Biggest Challenge Facing Family Businesses?
The main challenge at the moment is skills shortage, not only within our business, but across the logistics industry as a whole, which has been made harder with the recent Brexit decision. As an industry we rely heavily on foreign workers to fill skilled and non-skilled job roles and the current EU principle of free movement makes immigration between member states easy and stress-free. 


By coming out of the EU, we are now concerned that our non-UK staff will be encouraged to move back to their homeland, which will worsen the driver shortage crisis that we are currently experiencing. Foreign labour is vital for the skills shortage. Our skilled individuals could look to move elsewhere apart from their homeland too – such as France, Germany or Spain where free movement will remain intact. As a company, we are looking at the different ways we can adapt to ensure that the impact is minimal and to make sure that we keep the fantastic European staff we currently have. 

What Words Do You Associate With Family Businesses?
Comradery, all-in, strength 

Words Of Wisdom – What Piece Of Advice Would You Pass On To Someone Thinking About Joining The Family Business?
You need to appreciate the culture, as it’s totally different to working in a large firm. In family businesses, we tend to be much more supportive of each other, which can often be lost in more corporate establishments, so I would definitely recommend keeping an open mind when you join a family company and to always listen to advice.


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