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Remembering the Courage of Jennifer O’Donnell

Thursday 8 March 2018

Life is difficult to quantify, if it can be quantified at all. It is especially difficult to quantify the life of someone like Jennifer O’Donnell, who passed away last week after a three-year battle with cancer, and who made such a substantial contribution to her profession, both from a regulatory and industry perspective.

Today, on International Women’s Day, GRC Professional takes the time to remember the achievements and, more importantly, the life of a remarkable individual.

Jennifer’s Career
With the importance of education and personal development in mind, Jennifer achieved a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and Bachelor of Commerce. She also completed the Executive Development Program of Mt Eliza’s Business School and Macquarie Graduate School of Management’s Executive Development Program.

She worked with the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal, and Customs. After that, she spent seven years at the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC), and worked in a variety of roles, including the Director of Market Regulation from 2004 to 2005. From there, she became the Executive Director for Compliance and NSW Regional Commissioner from 2005 to 2008.

After leaving ASIC, Jennifer moved into the private sector and became the Division Director of the Risk Management Group at Macquarie Group, where she stayed from 2008 to 2011.

Following that, Jennifer became the Manager of Governance and Risk for the City of Parramatta Council. She also worked as Senior Consultant at Sector Seven, where she joined forces with Sector Seven Founder and Principal, Deborah Latimer, and Sector Seven Senior Consultant, Carole Ferguson.
Testimonial from her colleague and friend, Deborah Latimer, Founder and Principal of Sector Seven:

Jennifer died in the early hours of last Friday morning, 2 March, almost two months after her 57th birthday and some three years after being first diagnosed with breast cancer. As someone who worked with Jennifer throughout this period, I want to say that Jennifer died as she lived—most courageously.

I first met Jennifer in 1995 when we worked together at ASIC, and where I found her to be a formidable talent. It was really in the last seven to eight years, however, that I had the tremendous pleasure of working closely with Jennifer at Sector Seven (Jennifer has been by my side for the whole Sector Seven journey). I always say to people that you need to be terribly selective about who you work with and that the most important aspect of any working relationship is trust. Well, I trusted Jennifer implicitly. Working in the highly-pressured and complex field of governance, risk management, and compliance in financial services is never easy. Jennifer brought three outstanding personal attributes to this work: her ‘great mind’ (as I always liked to call it); her pragmatism (the obvious became alarmingly obvious once pointed out by her); and her unshakeable integrity.

Jennifer’s contribution, over a number of years, to regulatory strategy, policy, and practice, as well as to the practice of governance, risk management, and compliance in financial services (and beyond) was tremendous. Most of all, however, we should reflect on the remarkable breadth of her applied talents spanning across the commonwealth public sector (Australian Broadcasting Tribunal, Customs, ASIC), the private financial services sector (Macquarie), local government (City of Parramatta Council) and the public, private and not-for-profit sectors at Sector Seven. Viewed this way, Jennifer’s truly unique talent is most-clearly revealed.

For those working in the GRC profession, I think Jennifer’s legacy should be about always bringing an open and inquiring mind, gaining a proper understanding of the business, never seeking to over complicate matters, looking for the most simple and elegant solution (no mean feat), and standing up fearlessly for what is right. But above all, it should be about choosing courage.
GRC Professional caught up with Jan Redfern, Deputy President PSM, at the Australian Appeals Tribunal (AAT) yesterday afternoon:

She was, in my view, one of the smartest people I knew. [She was] an extremely good operator, with a lot integrity and knowledge of the area. She had a very good sense of what the issues were, and she would constantly refer to the importance of keeping the tone, which I think was really important for someone who headed compliance to consider.

Apart from that, she had an incredibly good sense of humour, and a diverse range of interests.

She was, in my view, an outstanding person—professionally and privately. 
There is no metric or benchmark adequate to truly measure Jennifer for the people who knew her.

Our thoughts are with Jennifer O’Donnell’s friends and family.