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From Abertay to Chief Financial Officer

17 February 2014

Forbes Alexander graduated with a BA in Accounting from Dundee College of Technology in 1981, and has forged a major international career with global manufacturing company Jabil.

Through Jabil he has supported the Saltire Foundation for the last four years, giving scholarship opportunities to develop the next generation of business leaders in Scotland.

We caught up with Forbes recently to learn more about life after leaving Bell Street, and to ask his advice for our current students.

How important was studying Accounting to your career?

Very important. I left high school and entered college with the view that I was going to be an accountant, either in public practice or in industry. Studying accounting provided me with a solid foundation in accounting, computing, business and finance to enter a career and have an immediate impact.

From graduating in 1981, can you describe your journey to become CFO of Jabil?

Immediately after graduating I joined TAC Construction Materials in Manchester on a graduate trainee programme, providing me exposure to many aspects of how a manufacturing company operated and my first exposure to a personal computer in 1983!

In the mid-80s I returned to Scotland to join a US technology start-up in Livingston called Apollo Computer, who manufactured high-speed workstation computers. This was a true start-up, where I was exposed to introducing and establishing process, systems and controls in a finance department.

I held various financial positions at different companies before joining Jabil in early 1993, when it had revenues around $300 million a year. In 1996 I moved with my wife and two daughters to St Petersburg Florida to Jabil's headquarters as Assistant Treasurer, becoming Treasurer in November of that year.

From 1996 to 2004 I was afforded the opportunity of working in an exciting technology led manufacturing growth industry, involved in expanding Jabil globally.

In 2013 our revenues were $18.3 billion. Jabil is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange and a member of the S+P 500 group of companies. I was named Chief Financial Officer in September 2004 when revenues totalled $6 billion and am now in my 21st year with the company and 10th year as CFO.

How important are initiatives like the Saltire Foundation to inspiring students to become business leaders?

The Saltire Foundation is extremely important in my opinion. Providing students with the opportunity to understand how they can apply knowledge and skills they are gathering at university is truly an advantage.

Real-life experience in global organisations with exposure to different cultures and ways of life, along with exposure to some of the most senior levels of management, in my opinion allows students to see what is possible. 

What qualities do you value when recruiting new graduates to your team?

I look for self-starting individuals who can demonstrate initiative. My goal has always been to recruit graduates who can show early potential in the workplace, who show commitment and the desire to grow in their professional careers, all the while staying humble.

And do you have a message for students finishing their degrees and preparing to enter professional life?

Stay focused as you finish your degree, as you determine what's next. Reach out to people who you or your family and friends know in the profession of your choice, shadow those individuals, discuss what they may have done differently or not.

If you choose to move into a professional job, be sure to establish that any prospective employer can provide you with the experience and business culture you are looking for, and will afford you the opportunity to learn and grow while making a significant contribution to that employer.

Have you got a story to tell? Get in touch –

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