Alumnus banks on the 'journey to diversity' for long-term success

Published:05 September 2018

CQUni Alumnus Sean O'Donnell provided an inspirational guest address to this week's Staff Conference and Expo at Rockhampton North campus

Sean O’Donnell says his youthful experiences working in a hotel, playing and coaching rugby union and serving in the Army Reserve probably set him apart from others in his intake to the ANZ graduate program in 1986.

He says his real-world experiences were just as valued by the bank as his business and hospitality studies at the Queensland Agricultural College in Gatton.

Early in his career, Sean chose to complete an MBA (Finance & Strategy) at CQUniversity, because it was then one of the only institutions offering part-time distance study.

“I could not see the sense in taking two years away from work while studying full-time, so the flexibility of the CQUni program was a plus,” he said.

Sean has not only turned those early job and study opportunities into a successful career – including stints at Metway Bank, Bank of Melbourne and Bank of Queensland - but also a quest to promote innovation, transformational change, diversity and inclusion in the workplace and society.

His current ‘day job’ as a Global Markets Executive with IBM operates alongside his board role as a Non-Executive Director with MOVE Bank, his family company role with the Mindbank Australia consulting practice, and his ongoing advisory role with the long-established Melbourne City Mission.

Sean has led significant businesses in corporate, commercial, business and retail banking, credit risk, wealth management, third-party distribution, franchising, and information technology and services. He also has experience reporting to the board of an ASX 200 company.

“I have continually sought to build teams and develop businesses at the leading edge,” Sean says.

“This approach has given me the opportunity to work with some of the most innovative and customer-centric organisations in Australia and New Zealand.

“I believe that the future for successful service organisations lies in disruptive innovation, in building the capability of their people, in simplifying their business models and most of all, in building an ethical culture that their stakeholders can genuinely believe in.

“I recognise that it is people and diversity that make the real difference and that successful business strategies must be underpinned by winning cultures and a relentless focus on the customer experience.”

As a proud CQUni Alumnus, Sean this week provided an inspirational address to the 2018 Staff Conference and Expo at Rockhampton North campus.

He started by pointing out it was only a generation ago that Australia emerged from the last vestiges of the White Australia policy and the disenfranchisement of Indigenous people.

More recently, Asia’s extraordinary ascent had changed the Australian economy, society and strategic environment.

“The scale and pace of the change still to come mean Australia is entering a truly transformative period in our history,” Sean said.

“For any enterprise to thrive in modern Australia it needs to mirror the society in which it hopes to succeed. To position the business for success I needed to change the make-up of the team.”

Sean went on to describe how he faced the challenge of boosting the fortunes of the Bank of Melbourne through a ‘journey of diversity’, building a team of multilingual, multicultural bankers and boosting the proportion of female leaders.

He said that diversity was the outcome of inclusion “and all of us can do something about inclusion”.

“The only real precursor is that we need the courage to deliberately include people who are not like us. The courage to be challenged and the courage to change our point of view if it makes sense.

“In my mind, there is a strong moral reason to be inclusive, but I’ve learned that sometimes self-interest trumps morality. The argument for inclusion has a strong moral aspect to it but it also has a pragmatic commercial aspect i.e. you are more likely to succeed in your endeavours if you are inclusive.”