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Banking leader and philanthropist named outstanding alumnus

Published:11 February 2020

CQUniversity's 2020 Outstanding Alumnus of the Year Sean O'Donnell

CQUniversity alumnus and forward-thinking banking leader and philanthropist Sean O’Donnell has been awarded the University’s Outstanding Alumnus of the Year award for 2020.

The 1996 Master of Business Administration graduate was applauded for his role in promoting good governance and inclusiveness throughout his career in the business and banking sectors, along with significant leadership contributions to philanthropic and community organisations.

CQUniversity’s Deputy Director of Advancement and Alumni Relations, Anthea Cuddihy, said the University was proud of Mr O’Donnell’s leadership in transformational change in both his professional and volunteer life.

“Sean is a worthy recipient of this award. He is a highly experienced executive in the banking and finance sector, and is also a philanthropist who is passionate about equity.”

Mr O’Donnell’s career as a dedicated and driven leader commenced in the banking sector in 1986 in the ANZ graduate program, after completing his Bachelor of Business through the then Queensland Agricultural CollegeHe considers his time as a boarder at Nudgee College to be the underpinnings of his approach to leadership, team work and inclusion.

As his career evolved over the next 25 years, Mr O’Donnell was a driver of success at several Australian banks, including Metway, Westpac, Bank of Queensland and Bank of Melbourne

Described as a humble and considerate leader, he has won multiple accolades, including People Leader of the Year (Bank of Queensland in 2007) and Qld Business Banking Leader of the Year (Westpac Banking Corporation in 1997).

As the founding Chair of the Bank of Melbourne’s Asian Business Advisory Board, he encouraged and supported the building of genuine Asian engagement capability.

He selected CQUniversity for his Master of Business Administration (MBA) because of the flexibility offered – graduating in 1996 – and says he continues to apply the concepts he learned

“I could not see the sense in taking two years away from work while studying full time, so the flexibility of the CQUniversity program was a plus,” Mr O’Donnell said.

Mr O’Donnell believes that successful global engagement, coupled with leading-edge technological development, is the key to Australia’s continued prosperity.

Currently focused on business and private banking, corporate and institutional banking and risk at IBM, his passion lies in blockchain and cognitive computing and their potential to change business models to improve efficiency and the customer experience.

In his eyes, success in the future lies in disruptive innovation. This means building the capacity of employees, simplifying business models, and most importantly, creating an ethical culture for stakeholders. His message for businesses in the age of disruptive innovation is to embrace diversity. 

“The best way that any organisation can prepare for disruptive innovation is to have an extremely diverse workforce and an understanding that technology is only a tool.

“Work hard to find people who have different backgrounds and views to you and include them in what you do.”

Away from his career, he utilises his knowledge, skills and networks for the greater good. Previously a member of the Melbourne City Mission (MCM) Board and now an MCM Corporate Advisory Group memberMr O’Donnell leverages his commercial background and community and business connections in the organisation and execution of MCM fundraising programs.

He helped pioneer the now well-known Sleep at the ‘G annual fundraising event, which raised $1.2 million last year to address homelessness. 

Over time, this event has changed the way corporate entities fundraise and participate in philanthropic endeavours in Australia.

Mr O’Donnell’s passion for rugbunion has also seen him volunteer in coaching and club executive roles for many years. 

He is currently President of the Melbourne University Rugby Club, where his leadership has resulted in substantial advancements for club governance and female inclusion in the sport, with the club recently introducing a standalone women’s program. 

Mr O’Donnell is currently working on the development of a CQUniversity MBA For Purpose as part of the University’s MBA Course Reference Committee. 

This is an MBA aimed at the needs of leaders in the For Purpose and Government sectors.