Jeanette Forbes, CEO, PCL Group and Tom Smith, Chairman of Aberdeen City & Shire Economic Forum and founder of Nessco Group Holdings Ltd, have been recognised for their outstanding business achievements by the Association of Colleges (AoC).

Every year, the Association of Colleges’ celebrate the achievements of former further education students who have excelled in their chosen field. Colleges from around the country are given the opportunity to nominate former students who recognise the impact their college had on their careers for a Gold Award. To acknowledge the wealth and calibre of the nominations AoC receive each year, a special Roll of Honour was created to which, this year, Jeanette and Tom were added.

Past Gold winners include Stephen Fry (City College Norwich), Baroness Betty Boothroyd (Kirklees College), Marlon Devonish MBE (Henley College Coventry), Deborah Meaden (City College Brighton an Hove), Alan Titchmarsh (Shipley College) and Jamie Oliver (Westminister Kingsway College).

Established by CEO Jeanette Forbes in March 2000, PCL Group is a total cabling and IT service provider to the offshore, marine, commercial, industrial and renewable sectors.

Jeanette completed two courses at Aberdeen College which gave her the foundations to start her own company. In 1996 she attended college one day a week to obtain an HNC in Computing which she followed with a Diploma in Management in 1999. The qualifications which she gained were instrumental in helping her begin the remarkable journey which has taken her to the top of her profession.

Jeanette said, “In order to make up for the day away from my employment, I went in on a Saturday to catch up on my work. I didn’t have a computer at home, so I went to my workplace at four in the morning on weekdays to do two hours of course work before going home at 06:00hrs to get my two young children ready for school before returning to work at 08.30hrs.”

Her hard work and determination paid off and once qualified she was headhunted by a number of organisations and earned a reputation for being honest, committed and very efficient at completing projects ahead of schedule.

In 1999, Jeanette was made redundant following a downturn in the offshore sector. That prompted the decision to start her own company, and with £100 remaining of her redundancy money she set up the business working from home at her dining room table.

The growth of her company has been impressive. Working from premises in Regent Quay, Aberdeen, her team of qualified engineers and support staff now provides a service to clients around the world. In recognition of the role which Aberdeen College played in helping her gain the skills to start up her own business, Jeanette still maintains a close relationship with the college and is a partner in its Women in ICT project.

Jeanette is now acknowledged as one of Aberdeen’s most well-respected and influential businesswomen. Jeanette has won a number of national and local awards and industry accolades for her work in promoting the career opportunities for women in a  traditionally male-dominated sector.

In 2012, she became the North-east of Scotland’s first UK Female Entrepreneurship Ambassador (UKFEA). One of only 50 women in the UK and 250 women across Europe invited to become an ambassador, her role is to campaign on behalf of women, to encourage and inspire them to become entrepreneurs and set up their own business.

Principal Rob Wallen said, “It is clear that the education and practical skills which Jeanette gained at Aberdeen College have been instrumental in helping her carve out a very successful career and have positioned her as a leading businesswomen in her own right who is recognised as a role model for young women. Her continuing support of Aberdeen College confirms that she recognises this and is working hard to encourage other students at the college to realise their full potential.”

After leaving school, Tom Smith attended Aberdeen Technical College (later to become part of Aberdeen College) on its pre-Apprenticeship course in Engineering. He then went on to be an Apprentice Fitter & Turner at the local shipyard of  Hall Russells. However it became clear that the UK shipbuilding industry was going into rapid decline and Hall Russell would be in the vanguard.

Tom decided to apply for the full time course in Radio Communications at the College which was a real revelation to him. The College ignited Tom’s interest in Maths and Physics resulting in him gaining several levels of City & Guilds qualifications in Telecommunications Technology in parrallel with the core subject of Marine Communications.

On leaving the College, Tom joined Canadian Pacific as a Radio Officer. He was marked out for promotion and his employer put him through the Advanced Marine Electronics Diploma at Southampton College of  Technology. After qualifying he was promoted to Electronics Officer and served on vessels across the world with Canadian Pacific.

One of the last postings was on a tanker converted to load oil off of one of the North Sea’s first production platforms, Montrose Alpha. This gave Tom an insight into a new industry emerging on the doorstep of his own home town. Tom realised that he was uniquely placed to use his skills within this sector and after working for Plessey and Shell he founded his own company Nessco Ltd which he grew to become the UK’s largest independent provider of telecommunications services to the Oil & Gas industry.

Over the years Tom contributed significantly to his local economy as well as to the oil and gas industry. Holding a number of prestigious offices, he has also received many  accolades for his leadership and personal achievments over the years.

In 2011, Aberdeen College named him a Fellow of the College, in recognition of his significant contribution to the local economy and the oil and gas sector and as a positive role model to students.

In 2012, Tom sold Nessco Group Holdings Ltd to a Houston based  Nasdaq listed company, RigNet Inc. At this time Nessco Group employed 150 staff and had a turnover projected to reach £40M in the current financial year. RigNet retained all of the staff and nominated the Nessco Aberdeen operation as their global center of excellence for O&G projects.

Of his College experience, Tom says, “Looking back on my career, I am certain that the time spent at Aberdeen College proved to be invaluable and was the springboard to anything I was fortunate enough to achieve from that point.”

Principal Rob Wallen said, “We are delighted that both of our nominations were deemed worthy of a place on the Roll of Honour, and we send them both many congratulations. Tom and Jeanette have worked hard to get to where they are today and we feel proud that the College played its part in helping them to become highly successful business people. They are truly an inspiration to our students and we thank them for their continued support.”