Jim O’Donnell’s
Keynote Address at the
2013 Wall Street 50 Dinner

Jim O'Donnell of Citi delivers the 2013 Wall Street 50 keynote address at the New York Yacht Club.

On September 12, 2013, Irish America magazine celebrated the 16th Annual Wall Street 50 awards. The Wall Street 50 honors the best and brightest Irish-American leaders in finance, celebrated in the October/November 2013 issue of Irish America.

At this year’s awards dinner, Irish America was delighted to welcome Jim O’Donnell, Managing Director and Global Head of Investor Sales and Relationship Management at Citi, as keynote speaker. O’Donnell’s address was preceded by remarks from special guests deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and First Minister Peter Robinson of Northern Ireland. O’Donnell was introduced by Suni Harford, Citi’s Regional Head of North American Markets. Below is a transcript and video of Jim’s heartfelt and funny keynote speech:

“I want to talk about a bunch of things, but I will not be so elegant and truly historic as [deputy First Minister and First Minister of Northern Ireland] Martin and Peter were tonight. I want to talk about friends and family, but before I start I want to talk about this article they wrote about me.

Have you seen this article? “The tall, ruggedly good-looking” – this is my night let me finish –  “and handsome Jim O’Donnell.”  Just because it never happened before, I’m going to say it again. “The tall, ruggedly good-looking and handsome Jim O’Donnell.”

When I read that, I realized it is so refreshing to see in today’s society such journalistic accuracy. And, I commend Irish America Magazine and publisher Niall O’Dowd for its commitment to truth and honesty. And Niall, may I say to you, you are on fine looking S.O.B.  Oh, I wasn’t supposed to curse! Mom, I’m so sorry.

Let me start, I am deeply honored to deliver the keynote at 16th annual Irish America Wall Street event.  Sincere thanks to the entire IA staff:  Niall, Patricia, Sheila, Tara, Kate, and anyone I haven’t mentioned, I thank you very much.

I am honored by the size of this crowd. To be in the presence of distinguished guests, friends, and colleagues and government officials of Ireland and Northern ireland.

To First Minister Peter Robinson and to Martin McGuinness: What you have done and and are doing is an inspiration to the entire world, and I want to thank you for becoming  icons of peace.

To Ambassador Anderson: Welcome. The role of ambassador to a major country like the United States from Ireland is so important, and to be the first woman ambassador to this country from Ireland is enormous. I think it’s incredibly exciting as we all look at the companies we work with or the businesses we have and recognize diversity is so important. Many congratulations to you.

Also, CEO of Invest Northern Ireland, Alastair Hamilton, I wish you nothing but success.  Also, to the Irish Consul [General] Noel Kilkenny, I wish you much success.

Colleagues at Citi: Wow, I can’t thank you enough. I love this firm, love this job, and you are all the best.

Tonight is a wonderful celebration for 16 years of Irish recognition. I am privileged to be honored.

To fellow honorees: your accomplishments are incredibly impressive. I congratulate you on your achievements and for being here this evening. You truly are stars in the industry and I wish you continued success in the field.

I want to talk about a few things for the next hour or two. I want to talk about my family and being Irish. I want to talk about Wall Street, its people, and its importance in our society. And our responsibility to ensure that trust, confidence and respect are brought back to the forefront of how Wall Street is perceived going forward.

Most families are products of two great countries, the United States, Ireland, or Northern Ireland. We are the products of our parents, and the generations before them, all of which created a foundation for our lives and who we are today.

For me, that is an incredible combination that taught me the love of family, the importance of hard work, and to be proud of my heritage, and that within this great country – for immigrants of all ethnic backgrounds – all things are possible. This dinner could have been given for Jewish Americans , Italian Americans, and onwards, but tonight we celebrate the Irish in this country. It’s equally true that this country gives everyone an opportunity, and I feel incredibly blessed and privileged to be a part of that.

A little bit about my family history. The O’Donnell’s came from Kerry and Galway in the early 1900s, and like many Irish we have been policemen, firemen, nurses, worked on wall street and clergy. My aunt Sister Kathleen O’Donnell is here tonight.

As is the case with the Irish in this country, each generation has focused on building a better life for the next. I have been very blessed. Two people I admire in most in my life are my parents. They, above all, taught me the importance of family, the value of working hard, and giving back to the community. I am thrilled they are both here tonight.

My mom, Jeanne, is a wonderful, dedicated mother who was a registered nurse for nearly fifty years. True, they’re really old! My mother worked the night shift – leaving at 10, coming home at 7, and making sure we were at the bus stop [for school]. And then she was involved in a ton of community organizations: Girl Scouts, parish councils, and the PTA. She also went back to school to get her own college degree. For over twenty years she was a beloved school nurse in a Catholic and Jewish elementary school, where she perfected both Irish and Catholic guilt.

I remember recently spending a good twenty minutes in a fine restaurant looking at the wine list, and she goes, ‘Why spend this much money? He’ll have the house red.’ After I mumbled under my breath, I drank the house red.

My dad was same (not a nurse, although he might look good in a white dress) – great father, baseball coach, football coach, president of the Board of Education. He switched careers after twenty years in the insurance business to become one of the most trusted training executives on Wall Street. He celebrates his 82nd birthday next week.

If I gave my mom grief, its only fair I do the same for my dad. Dad stand up. This is a Wall Street 50 dinner, many of you have had to take the Series 7 exam, which is an entrance exam to be a trader, a broker, or salesperson. I would like you to know for better or worse, that my father co-wrote and designed the first Series 7 exam on Wall Street. So dad, I do love you, but on behalf of everyone here who has studied for hours taking that grueling, tedious, six and a half hour, godforsaken exam with 250 questions, and who waited anxiously to see if our careers were ending or starting, just sit down!  But seriously, I love you both. What I tried to show is what all families are about: giving back, caring for your children and beyond, and I’m very blessed.

I have been privileged and honored to work in this industry for nearly 30 years. I worked at Citi the last 15, and it is the best job I’ve ever had. To say I love what I do is an understatement. Despite challenges in last few years, there are lot of great things about it.  We are a vital industry to the world economy in capital formation, trading flow, wealth management, and global economic development. Citi, my firm, is one of the leading firms. There are a lot of great things, vital industry in global economic development, leading firms with businesses in over 100 countries in Ireland and Northern Ireland. We employ 1,200 people in Belfast and over 2,200 in Dublin. Belfast and Dublin are two of the most important centers for our global banking, transaction services, and technology efforts. We  process billions and billions of dollars a day in those two firms. In turn, our firm hopes we are seen as leaders in helping bring economic development to Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Clearly this industry has been tarnished by this global financial crisis. All of us at all firms have a responsibility as leaders to do all we can to restore to all firms confidence and trust in the system.

At Citi, at frankly all major financial firms, we have embarked on a program focusing on responsible finance with emphasis on conduct that is transparent, prudent, and client centered. It is focused on always protecting the clients interests, managing risks, and adhering to the highest ethical standards.

No one wants what happened to happen again. As leaders, all of us have a responsibility to be proactive in rebuilding the trust that has been lost in recent years. Citi is a great industry with passionate, dedicated, hard working, and highly ethical people. Also, some of the most compassionate in charities and nonprofits around the world that I have ever met. We should never forget about Wall Street people.

A few years ago Bob McCann was honored here.  He said, “Now we need to show our clients, shareholders, and regulators that we can do the right thing everyday.” That was true a few years ago, and it is more true today. The Wall Street 50 of this year, years passed, and future years need to play a vital role along with all leaders in the Wall Street business to make sure that happens. I have no doubt that it can.

I am deeply honored and humbled to be invited to be tonight’s keynote speaker and share the honor with the rest of the Wall Street 50 – with so many accomplished Irish men and women.  To all of you in closing, a blessing: ‘May you all live as long as you want, never want as long as you live, and as you slide down the bannister of life never let the splinters point the wrong way.’

Thank you very much, and God bless.”


To view full photo coverage of the event, click here.

To view the full Wall Street 50 list, click here.

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