12 October 2021

Jocelyn O’Donnell: Grasping every opportunity for Southland’s growth

Jocelyn O’Donnell is always looking for new opportunities to expand her home-region of Southland.

She’s an innovator with a unique eye for detail and keen business sense, committed to maintaining strong connections and creating a vibrant and thriving city.

O’Donnell is the businesswoman behind Invercargill-based Transport World, which encompasses Bill Richardson’s Transport World, the Classic Motorcycle Mecca, the Lodges at Transport World, and Dig This Invercargill, and a director at HW Richardson Group, New Zealand’s largest privately-owned transport company.

She is also a finalist in the Southern Institute of Technology’s Business Personality category of this year’s Southland Business Excellence Awards.

Often credited with growing tourism in the region,O’Donnell is motivated by the hands-on nature of launching new operations.

O’Donnell opened Bill Richardson’s Transport World in 2015, to showcase the vast collection of vintage vehicles her father had collected over his lifetime, and as a point of difference for the Invercargill tourism industry.

A year later, after catching wind of a collection of 300 motorcycles for sale in Nelson, the Motorcycle Mecca was opened to the public. Dig This Invercargill and The Lodges were launched the following year in 2017.

“It’s been interesting to have that different variety, for me, because I like to actually do stuff … I used to be a beauty therapist, when I started I found it interesting going from being task-driven to going into governance where you’re making decisions and not immediately seeing the fruits of your labour,” she says.

“Doing something like this, you get to start something, it’s always a work-in-progress. I like the start-up of business, where you can see the outcomes. You have a vision in your head, and you can see it sort of evolve.”

Her hate for wastage and passion for upcycling and recycling has increased the reach of Transport World through the inclusion of unique collectors items.

“We joke about it, we did a wearable arts piece with a dog up on the mezzanine. I found a bucket of trampoline springs from when I was little, and I thought why would dad have kept these, but they’re the ear of the dogs now,” she says with a smile.

“There’s often a purpose for everything.”

She attributes her success as a businesswoman to the connections she maintains with staff, customers and volunteers. Being able to watch her team grow and reach their full potential is one of the most satisfying aspects of her work, and a key reason why she enjoys being involved in business.

“I think it’s critical, it’s all about people, it’s about building good relationships and trust. And to always do what you say you’re going to do,” she says.

Close-knit family values are important for O’Donnell, and despite growing to employ more than 2500 staff nationwide, she still organises time for groups of workers from the HW Richardson group to visit her family in Southland regularly.

“We had a wee challenge when we had a board in place once, very early on after dad died, with one of the director’s saying “you shouldn’t talk to staff, you’re a director” and that just goes totally against the grain with me,” she says.

She cares deeply about the industry she’s in. When asked about her first waking thought she laughs that it could be too political before revealing her worry about fellow business-owners across the country.

“I really feel for the businesses at the moment trying to stay open, and the stress and the pressure they must be facing,” she says, speaking of the current restrictions placed on hospitality venues as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak in Auckland.

“I don’t know how some of them are keeping going if they haven’t got the backing we’re fortunate to have. The stress levels are huge. And you can see it in the people, the mental health comes to the floor.”

However, O’Donnell believes there is hope beyond the Covid-19 pandemic, and that Southland is still brimming with opportunities.

She’s confident the new Invercargill Central Ltd CBD block development, spear-headed by her husband Scott O’Donnell and discussed by the couple since they moved back to Invercargill in 1995, will boost tourism and draw in new-comers to the region upon it’s opening, currently projected for May 2022.

“It was one of those things that always needed to happen. With recruitment, you have to have a thriving city,” she says.

As for her own legacy in business, O’Donnell wants to be known for having grasped every opportunity to have made a difference in the region. The sudden death of both her father and brother has shown her tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, and she runs her businesses with this in mind.

“I’d like to think I take every opportunity, life is short. It’s just a matter of making your life as full as it possibly can,” she says.

Published by Stuff.co.nz – 11 October 2021