Mike O'Donell aka MOD

It’s hard not to be intrigued by Mike O’Donnell (aka MOD) when he signs off the end of one of his stuff.co.nz columns with the footnote, ‘he'd love a job detonating explosive devices from helicopters’. Mike is Chief Operating Officer at Trade Me, responsible for its marketplace, its customer service, trust and safety, and policing functions. With a job descriptor like that it makes sense that Mike has recently shifted domestic gears and moved to the country where he spends his time with sleeves rolled up, managing fences and livestock rather than operations teams. He kindly shared with us a thing or two about generosity and what inspires him.  


What’s happening in the world of MOD for 2013?

It’s a year of change for me. I’ve just moved into a chief operations officer role at Trade Me, which sees me take responsibility for the core marketplace along with the customer service, trust and safety, and policing functions. A key challenge here is moving Trade Me from a used goods marketplace to a new goods marketplace, a challenge I relish. My family and I have just moved to the country, so we’re getting to grips with weekends of fencing, moving livestock and feeding out (big ups to my wife on this!). And I’ve just started preparing a car for the 2013 Targa Rally.


Describe the most generous person you know and how they influenced you.

I’ve been lucky enough to have come into contact with generous people at different stages in my life. In my late teens I got taken under the wing of a newspaper editor (Michael Vance on the Timaru Herald), which gave me great exposure to the rhythms of daily newspaper life and taught me how to write. In my 20s I was lucky enough to work with the late Sally Logan, a terrifically gifted communicator and marketer. Then in my 30s the head of AMP, Rodney Cook, took a chance on me as a comparatively young General Manager and was generous in his advice.

But probably the most generous person was my father. He suffered from a heart condition throughout my childhood and knew that he wasn’t going to be around to see me grow up; so he gave freely to me of his time, courage and love. I grew up on a farm so I got to see a lot of him, right up to when he died, when I was 12 years old. He ensured that I went to university, the first person in my family to have ever done so. Looking back on it he influenced me greatly in terms of confidence, belief in self-reliance and the importance of tight execution. Sam Morgan jokes that I am an “execution junkie”; I owe this to my dad, John O’Donnell.


Tell us three things that inspire you and why. 

The essential goodness of my children, Sierra and Tallulah. Their default setting is to do the right thing and I often find myself using them as a moral compass. Kind of ironic since parents are meant to be the ones giving moral direction to their kids.

The purity of a big V twin motorcycle on a country road. The way a big twin delivers up torque in great, tactile lumps and smacks it down onto the macadam is pure meditation.

The way the early morning sunshine kisses the top of the Ohariu ridgeline brings a smile to my face. 


Name an everyday action that makes the world a better place, yet is underrated.

People’s uncontrollable desire to connect and to help one another. It can be as simple as stopping to help someone change a tyre, to something more long lasting like becoming a buddy family for refugees. I rode past the Wellington Railway Station after the recent earthquake and was stoked to see cars stopping and giving folks rides home because the quake had taken out the train service. Brilliant. One place we see it is on the Trade Me message boards, which at their simplest is a place where people ask for and receive help – about 30,000 posts a day. From how to get a stain out of a carpet to how to build a retaining wall. Last year we even had a heavily pregnant woman go to the message boards when she started having contractions and she was waiting for her husband to get home and take her to the hospital. It was an online cascading of support, useful advice and tangible love. Very cool.


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