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How soup was the secret for our bread and butter, says PCL Group founder

Press and Journal Morning Briefing (business breakfast) at the Marcliffe Hotel ; 
Pictured - Panellist, Jeanette Forbes, CEO, PCL Group, speaking.      
Picture by Kami Thomson  /
Press and Journal Morning Briefing (business breakfast) at the Marcliffe Hotel ; Pictured - Panellist, Jeanette Forbes, CEO, PCL Group, speaking. Picture by Kami Thomson /

A leading north-east businesswoman said she turned to soup-making to help pull her firm together through the downturn.

Jeanette Forbes, founder of PCL Group, told a packed meeting of industry bosses from around the region yesterday morning that small incremental changes can revolutionise the way a business performs.

Ms Forbes was one of five panellists who spoke at the latest Press and Journal business briefing held at the Marcliffe Hotel and Spa.

She joined Scottish Enterprise chairman and former Wood Group CEO Bob Keiller, Professor Gary McEwan, chief executive of Elevator, David Ramsay, group director of Kelvin TOP-SET and Duncan Fraser, chief executive of Aberdeen Football Club.

Ms Forbes said after encountering years of recession, the referendum, political turmoil and then the oil and gas downturn she had to start thinking “out of the box” to boost morale within the firm.

She said: “A lot of clients were being paid off at that time and my staff were suffering.

“You could see visibly what was happening. It was as if someone had switched a switch.

“Prior to the oil and gas downturn servers, desk tops, IT equipment was rolling out the door and I was sat there thinking I need to get more people.

“And it was as if somebody switched the light switch off. Suddenly morale was low, particularly low, and I recognised it in a number of conversations I was having with the staff and I wondered how I could change that.

“Do I give them a pay rise? Not a good idea when there were 61,000 people worldwide being paid off.

“Do I take them out for a drink? I don’t really think that’s going to do the trick.

“Meals out? That seemed to be frowned upon in oil and gas when everyone else was making cuts and people were being paid off.

“I came up with the idea early one morning to do something called Soup-er Wednesday.

“I went to Asda or Aldi on a Tuesday night and picked up vegetables and made a pot of soup and one day a week we had lunch together.

“A lot of people would think to themselves why on earth would she do that? Well I believe that the way to a man’s heart is through food.

“Morale was restored and the best thing about Soup-er Wednesdays is that before it I didn’t really know that much about my staff. After I found out one was a magician and did children’s parties at the weekend and one of the apprentices was a keen paintballer and visibly had the bruises to show me.

“These were all things I hadn’t recognised in my staff before because I was so busy trying to think about how we were going to cope with the downturn and be more creative I had actually missed a trick.”

Mr Ramsay, whose firm sponsored the breakfast, said it was investment in good people and good training which would ensure the success of a business. He added: “Our company is delighted to have worked closely with the Press and Journal on bringing this breakfast event to Aberdeen.

“It was great to see a good attendance and the buzz created at such an early hour.

“The combined expertise and experiences of the panel made for a thought-provoking briefing and, hopefully, a stimulating start to the business day.”

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