Every entrepreneur will face their share of struggles, but PCL Group CEO and founder Jeanette Forbes has dealt with more than most.
A woman who’s taken on the oil & gas and IT industries, she started the Aberdeen-based IT service provider with just £100 in the bank in 2000.
Over the course of 17 years she’s brought the company through some tough times – including £179,000 of bad debt and the death of her ex-husband, who also worked in the business.
With an accent that’s an excitable mix of Yorkshire and Scottish, the woman who at four years old used to wait on the garden wall at 4am to help her grandparents sell fish and chips has never given up.
Even on the morning of her ex’s funeral, an experience she describes as her toughest time, she was in the office tidying.
“When I got the debt I thought that was a bad knock but when you lose someone close that left a huge hole,” she told BusinessCloud.
“I wasn’t sure if the kids were going to recover – and they worked with us too – so I had to be supportive to them. We had members of staff breaking down crying but I had to remain resilient and I said to myself I have to carry on.
“I’m not saying that when they’d all gone home I didn’t sit at my desk in floods of tears thinking I’m never going to get over this but I did, and I think you have to put it in perspective and say life goes on.”
This attitude served Forbes well when breaking into the industry and in her early years in oil and gas, when she would often be the only woman out on the rigs and had men stapling her overalls together and playing pranks.
She realised that to survive in a male-dominated industry she had to change her mindset, which was a turning point while working offshore.
“I realised the men didn’t want to hear about women’s things – knitting patterns or menus or anything – but if I started speaking sports they could relate to what I was on about, so I used to read the sports pages in the newspaper every night. Then I could have a conversation with them in the morning and they warmed to me.
“They could see that I knew what I was doing because I was very competent, and let’s face it women won’t let that side of it down, but more so they respected what I was doing and saw that I was prepared to put in the hard graft and not shy behind my gender. Never have I said I can’t do it because I’m a woman.”
Forbes took the lessons of connecting with team members to heart when building PCL and puts great stock in developing her staff. This paid off both when the company incurred debt and when her ex-husband died, and the team rallied round her.
“I took the decision that we would trade out of the debt,” she said.
“The staff aren’t going to get pay rises for years, it’s going to be a bumpy road, they might have a job tomorrow they might not. Not one member of my team left. They said we’ll stay with you and come through this too.
“That’s a massive thing when you get that loyalty – you think, you’ve got mortgages to pay and children to feed.
“You need to be able to say ‘we’re going to stand together and I know it’s going to be tough but if I can turn it for you my word I will’. It’s the old adage – get back up, brush yourself down, get back on the horse, do it all over again.”
Forbes is now applying that grit and enthusiasm as a consultant for GoHawk as it builds the fastest flight route algorithm in the world. She also wants to start a centre of excellence for students as a stepping stone to build their confidence in the industry.
“Everyone has a piece of entrepreneurship in them – it’s just about finding it,” she said.