Digital is Future for Jeanette Forbes
Businesswoman’s ‘do better’ approach has paid dividends in varied career
Our cover story features someone who needs no introduction. Known in Aberdeen not only for her business acumen but also her philanthropic ideals, she is the epitome of the successful businesswoman.
It is, of course, Jeanette Forbes, probably best known as the founder of PCL Group and the winner of an array of accolades that would make Usain Bolt envious. On meeting her you are immediately struck by her vitality which makes her appear far younger than her years. But it has not always been plain sailing.
Jeanette is a ‘Yorkshire Lass’, although she would be the first person to declare she is now an adopted Aberdonian. She qualified here as a system engineer which many, predominantly males, could not understand. No gender parity then as she was subjected to the heckling of men who could not grasp why a woman would want to be in this industry. Jeanette found it tough, but she was determined and focused, and she qualified with ease.
Several years followed working for oil-related companies until the dreadful downturn began in the industry. Jeanette was made redundant at the end of 1999 and, with two children and a husband who was studying to support, she had to make tough decisions. She decided to go it alone and form her own company. In March 2000, the PCL Group was born with just £100 – the last of her redundancy money – and she has never looked back.
She has seen the company grow year on year to provide total technology provision and support globally, including cabling services to five main industry sectors – offshore, marine, commercial, industrial and renewables – establishing respect along the way for the quality of product delivery and high level of service provision, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
During her time there she has been awarded many accolades, including Business Women Scotland’s Inspirational Woman of the Year, winner of CEO of the Year at the Scotland’s Women in Technology Awards, Entrepreneur of the Year at the Elevator Awards and Business Woman of the Year at Scotland’s SME Business Awards. What is so endearing about Jeanette is that each award seems to take her by surprise as if she’s not quite sure why she is in the spotlight!
It has been well documented in the press recently that Jeanette has decided to make a bold move and pass on the reigns of the running of the company to her children, Christopher and Joanne, who have both supported her at PCL for many years.
Her focus now is about leaving a legacy for the offshore and airline technology sector. She stated: “I wanted to do this now whilst I am still around to advise and mentor my children on good business practice, whilst working on exciting digital technology initiatives.”
Recently appointed as CEO at Blue Gentoo, an up-and-coming company founded by individuals with experience of operating and designing oil-and-gas production systems, her role will include focusing on business strategy and
It is an extremely exciting time for the company as, in collaboration with Hydrafact – a Heriot-Watt University spin-out company, they have developed HydraSENS, a technology that detects the early signs of gas hydrate formation in pipeline systems. Gas hydrates are a risk to all oil-and-gas producers and, if allowed to form, they can block pipelines resulting in millions of pounds of downtime and lost production. HydraSENS gives operators an early warning of hydrates so they can be proactive, rather than reactive.
Jeanette said: “The future for oil and gas is digital and Blue Gentoo is at the forefront of this. We know the challenges faced in bringing new technology to market and in convincing people of the benefits and the reasons to change. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
As if this is not enough, Jeanette also embarked upon consulting for another start-up company called GoHawk Limited several years ago. She has helped GoHawk develop the fastest flight route algorithm in the world for the airline industry. Aberdeen Airport has been utilising this software for over 12 months and GoHawk has recently secured Glasgow and Southampton airports on behalf of AGS Group. This company has the support of HIE and intends to be operating from offices in Inverness in the new year.
As mentioned earlier, it has not always been plain sailing for Jeanette. Seven years ago, she lost her husband and became almost reclusive. Jeanette explained: “I didn’t want to spend evenings and weekends on my own. I felt there was nowhere in Aberdeen for someone in similar circumstances like mine that could go for a catch-up with friends and colleagues.”
Her response was to create the place she’d like to go! Jeanette knew about empty premises on Thistle Street, in the West End of Aberdeen and decided to diversify into another sector. Several months later, a new establishment appeared on the Aberdeen hospitality scene to rave reviews. Grape & Grain is a luxurious wine bar stocking exclusive wines from award-winning Berkmann Wine Cellars, as well as an extensive collection of Scottish spirits and local craft beers. For food, there is the option of Scottish cheeses and charcuterie alongside locally sourced artisan breads. Guests describe it as having “divine décor”, “a cool atmosphere” and “it has great service and friendly staff”.
Jeanette is extremely proud of her new venture. She commented: “It is somewhere I can go and meet my girlfriends and colleagues, and chat in nice surroundings whilst profiling the great local Scottish food and drink basket, or I can work behind the scenes with my staff on a weekend rather than sitting at home alone.”
Jeanette is keen to point out that she owes a lot to her adopted city, which is why her philanthropic nature has rewarded many charities in the area: “I strongly believe in giving back as the city has given me and my family so much over the past 20 years of being in business.
“My success is not entirely down to my own ability or work ethic; the support provided from family and my team has been incredibly humbling. I have always had a ‘do better’ approach which has helped me in life, and this has helped us to give back to others along the way.”