Nominated by: Michael Gamerl
Seconded by: Sharon Commins and Neal Traynor
“Congratulations Jean on the wonderful recognition of being inducted into the Excellence Hall of Fame. In the twenty years that I have had the honour and privilege of knowing you, you’ve been kind, compassionate, visionary, and always brilliant. I can’t think of anyone who is more deserving of being inducted into the Excellence Hall of Fame.”
Ajaz Ahmed Founder & CEO, AKQA
“A big, big, big, congratulations to you Jean on being recognized by the Excellence Hall of Fame… I’ve spent over twenty years in awe, watching you take on some of the world’s biggest problems with Virgin Unite and bringing together all the right people to try and solve them.”
Richard Branson Founder, Virgin Group
“Jean is the kind of person who never puts herself forward, who is always in the background, making things happen, creating the possibilities but not herself in the front taking the applause and taking the award or taking the credit…that’s not Jean. So it is very astute of the Excellence Hall of Fame to have understood that Jean is incredibly worthy of this award and I’m delighted that she is being inducted this evening… I know she is blushing even as I speak but Jean, I’m so glad that you are recognised for the excellence and the deserving award that to receive this evening.”
Mary Robinson Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and former President of Ireland
Jean is the President and Chief Executive of Virgin Unite. She grew up near Boston and, in 1987, earned her Bachelor’s degree in marketing from Penn State University.
She started her career in the United States working in telecommunications with GTE (now part of Bell Atlantic). After that, she spent seventeen years living and working on six continents to start and help lead mobile phone companies in South Africa, Colombia, Bulgaria, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, and the US. During this time, she worked both with large companies, such as Cable & Wireless, and as an entrepreneur.
Jean has long explored the overlap of the business and social sectors and so also took a couple of years in between building mobile phone companies to work outside the corporate world. First, in 1990, as a VISTA volunteer working with – and learning from – homeless teens in Chicago, and later, in 1999, with the Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife in Australia.
In 2000, she joined Virgin Mobile Australia as its Marketing Director and later was appointed as its joint CEO.
After 20 years in the corporate world, she found that she was so focused on goals in the corporate world, that she was becoming more disconnected from others and gradually becoming a stranger to herself. This prompted her to change direction and start Virgin Unite with Richard Branson. In 2003, she stepped down as joint CEO of Virgin Mobile Australia to work with Richard Branson on the creation of Virgin Unite. When it was established in 2003. she was appointed its Chief Executive with a mission of encouraging people not to accept the unacceptable and to work to improve both business and the world so that sustainable change for the better can be achieved.
Since then, being deeply passionate about addressing social problems working at the intersection of business, government, and non-profit organizations (an area which Excellence Hall of Fame inductee Henry Mintzberg holds is vital to rebalancing society), Jean has worked to help corporations build the wellbeing of people and the planet into their organizations. This has included working with twenty-five Virgin companies in fifteen industries to help them on the path to changing business for good. She also had a dual role of leading Virgin Unite and being a Virgin Group Partner as part of the leadership team heading up their People efforts for several years.
She has worked on the incubation and start-up of numerous global initiatives, including The Elders (an independent group of global leaders, founded in July 2007, who offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, address major causes of human suffering, and protect the interests of ordinary people around the world), The B Team, The Africa Donor Collective, Ocean Unite (which merged into the Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance, of which it had been a founding member, in 2021), The Caribbean Climate Smart Accelerator, 100% Human at Work Network, The Virgin Unite Constellation, and The Branson Centres of Entrepreneurship. She also played a key partner role in the incubation of many other initiatives such as The Audacious Project (an initiative to support social entrepreneurs and those with potentially world-changing ideas).
In 2009, she worked with Richard Branson and other partners to establish the Carbon War Room (CWR), a not-for-profit focused on market-based models to reduce carbon. After a number of successful initiatives, the CWR merged into the longer established Rocky Mountain Institute in December 2014, when Jean joined the RMI’s board of Trustees on which she served until 2023.
In 2013, Jean married Chris Waddell, a man who has pursued excellence himself and has represented the US winning medals as a skier in 4 consecutive Winter Paralympics (1992-2002) and one Summer Paralympics, winning over 13 Paralympic medals. He has won the most medals of any male Paralympian skier in history.
In 2014, guided by the belief that connections and collaboration can help people achieve wonderful things to positively impact others, Jean co-founded the not-for-profit Plus Wonder with a group of partners to help people nurture connections in their lives, progress on their journeys to excellence, and scale collaborations to contribute to society.
In March 2022, she joined the Board of NOVONIX, a battery technology and materials company traded on the US and Australian stock exchanges, as a non-executive board member.
She serves on the Advisory Boards of The Elders, The NewNow (an NGO which works to ensure the voices of the young are heard and supported through collective), the Sara Blakely Foundation (an organization setup by the founder of Spanx to support women), the “human flourishing accelerator” Humanity 2.0, Vintro (a Chicago-based organization that aims to remove barriers between those with ideas and those with resources), Unite BVI Foundation, and Just Capital (a non-profit that works to lift the voice of the American people to help businesses and investors understand how they can be just companies and look after all stakeholders). She also serves on the Penn State Board of Visitors. She is also a B Team leader.
Her book Partnering, which outlines the power of collaboration and how to nourish relationships based on learning from numerous partnerships (including Ben and Jerry and Desmond and Leah Tutu) was published by Penguin in 2022.
Jean was the inaugural recipient of Penn State University’s Gerry Susman Sustainability Award in 2021 and has also been awarded the Bernie Glassman Trailblazer Award, the FilmAid Philanthropic Leadership Award, and the 2021 Beta Gamma Sigma International Honoree Award.
Jean was voted into the Excellence Hall of Fame by the Institute’s Fellows in recognition of her lifelong pursuit of excellence and her contributions to society.