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Ian Forbes: Driven by sports, volunteerism

Published:Thursday | March 28, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Ian Forbes, managing director of Sherwin-Williams (West Indies) Limited, emphasising the impact of his parents on his altruistic approach to life. - Ian Allen/Photographer

Sacha Walters-Gregory, Staff Reporter

Crafted from lessons of sports and volunteerism taught by his parents, the Jamaica Institute of Management/Gleaner Company Limited 2012 Manager of the Year has developed into a manager determined to serve.

Ian Forbes, managing director of Sherwin Williams (West Indies), has learnt to rely on teamwork to get the job done.

"As I told my staff, this award is not only for me, but for the entire Sherwin Williams family because, without their commitment dedication and support, it would not be possible," he said of the staff which serves the paint company which will celebrate its 40th anniversary this year.

"We live in a very challenging environment. It's a huge challenge, but we have a very good team which is committed, which makes things a whole lot easier," said Forbes of the company's staff who serve one of the top two paint companies in the country.

But he didn't learn that lesson of teamwork only in the boardroom, but mostly from sports.

"I actually started out as an official at about age six. Started out tying the tape across the track at the finish line," said Forbes who got aspects of his name from sports legends. The Garfield from well-known cricketer Sir Garfield Sobers, and the McKenley, not from the athlete Herb McKenley, but from the runner's father.

"Herb McKenley's father was a doctor and actually delivered my father and, of course, Herb became a great athlete," he explained.

Forbes graduated to a runner, taking results from the timekeepers and judges to the recorders for them to document the results. "Then I was trained as an anemometrist, that's just a fancy name, I'm just showing off," he said jokingly. "It's actually the wind-gauge reader who measures the wind speed and direction. So I was trained as a wind-gauge reader from high school," said Forbes who went on to officiate as an anemometrist at the Penn Relays in 1996, which he still does today.

Sunlight Cricket

But his involvements in sports are too numerous to list. As a high-school student at Jamaica College, he captained the Sunlight Cricket team for two consecutive years; represented the school in football to Under 16; ran the 800 and 1,500 metres, eventually competing at Boys' Champs to the semi-final meet in 800 metres.

"And I do think I played at least one game of basketball," said Forbes chuckling.


"I was very involved in sports, fully immersed in it," he said. This is still so as he belongs to numerous sports-related organisations. "It instilled certain values in me like depending on others to succeed, which I've taken over into my professional life. Teamwork, focus and digging deep, especially when things don't seem to be going as they ought to."

His love for sports came from his father Headley, an avid cricketer. But both his parents have left a indomitable mark by way of volunteerism. Headley served scouting for more than 74 years and was Scout commissioner for Clarendon for 74. His mother Carmen, now deceased, was a Scout mistress.

"As a Cub Scout, I learnt a lot about life, about survival, you name it," said Forbes. "It became natural for my siblings and myself to be heavily involved in volunteerism, " he added.

His professional life has had brushes with sports. He started out teaching, admittedly a strange combination of English and physical education, at Jamaica College.

While there, I actually taught/coached Jimmy Adams as a youngster, I along with Kwame Dawes who is now a professor in literature. Another person who came under my influence in terms of coaching was Senator Norman Washington Grant alias Screechy. He was a fast bowler," Forbes said with a laugh. His professional life took him to GraceKennedy, the Jamaica Biscuit Company and Facey Commodity Company Limited where he accumulated years of managerial, sales and marketing experience.

In four months, he will have served at Sherwin Williams for 12 years, whose community involvement reflects Forbes' approach. The father of two daughters said his community work keeps him busy, but his family has grown to accept his passion for service.

"I feel strongly about giving back, so I'm a member of a number of boards, many of which are voluntary," he said. These include chairman of the United Way, second vice-president of the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association, executive member of the Salvation Army Advisory board, the Jamaica College board, and vice-president of the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association, among others.