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In a world where the landscape of leadership is always evolving, both the voice and the vision of women at the helm are pivotal to a successful future. Ruth Gardiner Forbes, President & CEO of FortisTCI, a trailblazer in the Caribbean’s utility sector, stands as a beacon of success for women in power with a distinguished career spanning transformative roles within the company.

In this exclusive interview with Laura Takamizawa, Principal at IFAC, Ruth shared her insights on navigating the challenges of work-life balance, the skills crucial for women in leadership, and the significance of diversity and philanthropy in creating inclusive environments.

Ruth Forbes standing and smiling, wearing a black suit

Laura Takamizawa (LT): You’re not only the first native Islander to be appointed President and CEO of FortisTCI, you’re also the first woman to hold the post and one of few female CEOs in the entire Caribbean utility sector. Can you tell us about your educational background and the journey that led you to become who you are now?

Ruth Gardiner Forbes (RGF): I was born and raised in the Turks and Caicos Islands, where my primary and high school educational foundation was shaped. I obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting from Barry University. I am also a Certified Management Accountant (CMA) and Certified Public Accountant (CPA). I recently completed the Directors Education Program and received the ICD.D designation from the Institute of Corporate Directors through the University of Toronto - Rotman School of Management.

Becoming an accountant had always been my heartfelt aspiration, a dream I relentlessly pursued. Once I obtained my academic qualifications, I sought to pursue my career in an environment where I could excel. I began working as a Senior Auditor at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Turks and Caicos Islands. After spending four years there, I joined FortisTCI and started in a mid-level role. The pace of my advancement at FortisTCI was nothing short of remarkable. Within a few years of joining the company, I was appointed to the position of Vice President of Finance and Chief Financial Officer, and was also entrusted with the oversight of Human Resources, Supply Chain and Information Technology.

Subsequently, I was promoted to the role of Senior Vice President of Corporate Services, tasked with leading a dynamic division responsible for a spectrum of critical functions including Customer Service, Corporate Services and Communications. Assuming the role of President and CEO in 2020 marked a pivotal moment in my career journey. My first task was to navigate the unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. As an essential service provider, we needed to pivot quickly and be innovative while delivering reliable electricity to our customers. This experience tested my resilience and strategic foresight and reinforced my unwavering dedication to leadership and driving organizational excellence.

LT: What skills do you believe are essential for women aiming for powerful positions in the business world, particularly in male-dominated sectors such as utilities?

RGF: To step through the door of opportunity, women must not just check boxes for qualifications. They must also showcase their expertise uniquely. It goes beyond degrees and skill, to establishing your authority as a thought leader. Women need to determine and articulate their purpose and simultaneously understand the purpose of the organization they are employed in. This is a good foundation for making a solid contribution. Of course, being prepared to work hard, build a strong team around you, and help others progress on the job will also define the kind of leader you will be and the ways you can be noticed.

Qualities like integrity, tenacity, attention to detail, and professionalism are also important. I have learnt that ascending to positions of great responsibility and leadership does not have to be solitary journey. We all need a strong support network to learn from and feed into, so others can progress.

LT: As a leader, how do you prioritize and champion Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) within your organizations? 

RGF: As President and CEO of FortisTCI, I am guided by a philosophy of inclusion and equity for all, which is embedded in our people, strategy and policies. We pursue equal-opportunity hiring and promotion practices, resulting in, among other achievements, a diverse, multigenerational workforce, and gender parity on our executive team. We recognize that in shifting from traditional energy production and delivery to alternative and renewable energy sources, a multigenerational staff is essential to a sustainable transition and we are mindful of cultivating a balanced team.

Additionally, we train all employees in DEI matters and incorporate DEI into our social programs. For example, we host an international cuisine and culture day to celebrate our team's diversity of nationalities and cultures. We identify many other occasions to honour and celebrate our team, including International Men's Day and International Women's Day events.

 As President and CEO, I am also focused on harnessing the talent and energy of young people as much as possible. Through programs like our annual Youth Energy Roundtable, young men and women who participate in our yearly summer employment program have an opportunity to learn about the utility sector and engage in meaningful conversation about the sector's future. This year, FortisTCI will launch a Youth Energy Ambassador program, another initiative to get young men and women interested in the utility sector and to support their careers, should they choose to work with us.

LT: You are also known for your philanthropic work, particularly with "Jewels Ablaze." How do you see the role of philanthropy in creating an inclusive and fair environment, both within and outside of the business world? 

RGF: There is a well-known saying, “To whom much is given, much will be required.” I keep this as a guiding principle in my philanthropic work. Giving back is a sure way to get others involved in affecting their communities through positive social programs. This way, we can create an inclusive environment and opportunities for others. My philanthropy is primarily directed at women and girls. I am particularly interested in helping them find their voices and their way, whether in their career pursuits, as leaders in the community, or within their families. 

 At FortisTCI, we are passionate about giving back to our communities. Our corporate social responsibility programs focus heavily on youth. Each year, we undertake several youth education and sports programs with longstanding, supportive partners in the community. We are always looking for ways to build the next generation of energy sector employees and leaders, and therefore, we offer scholarship opportunities, summer employment, and internship programs to introduce students and young professionals to the industry. These programs are a great way to give aspiring persons an opportunity and valuable working experience in a caring environment.

LT: Balancing work and personal life can be challenging for anyone, especially women in leadership positions. How do you manage this balance, and what challenges have you faced along the way?

RGF: One of the keys to work-life balance in a leadership role is having a supportive network, both on the job and at home. At FortisTCI, I am blessed to work with a high-performing executive team, each an experienced expert, a consummate professional and a compassionate leader. We are a performance-based organization with a highly developed culture of excellence at every level, which makes my job easier because we are going in the same direction at all times.

 In addition to my role as President and CEO, I also hold the cherished responsibilities of being a devoted wife and a loving mother to a vibrant 13-year-old son. These roles are at the core of who I am, and I am fortunate to have a robust and supportive network of family and friends that uplift me in all aspects of my life. While my home life provides me with immense joy and fulfillment, managing my time effectively can pose challenges. I have learned that intentional and strategic energy direction is essential in navigating my various roles smoothly.   One of the ways I prioritize self-care and personal growth is through spiritual time with God. This is nourishment to my soul and brings inner peace. These moments of reflection and prayer serve as anchors in my busy schedule, grounding me in my values and beliefs.

Among my passions is a love for traveling with my family. We enjoy exploring new destinations and experiencing different cultures, and whenever the opportunity arises, we make it a point to travel, unwind, and recharge.

LT: What recommendations do you have for other women who aspire to leadership roles within their organizations or industries? 

RGFFirst, know your purpose and keep it at the forefront of your career aspirations. A purposeful life grounded in a desire to help others and make a positive difference will reap dividends beyond what you can imagine. If you desire to lead, you must also be willing to serve, so it is vital to remain humble and have a learning mindset. While qualifications will get you started, there are no shortcuts. Be prepared to work hard, apply yourself, and be innovative in whatever role you find yourself in; keep honing your people skills and building positive relationships along your journey. Treat everyone with respect and the way you would want to be treated.

 As for women in energy, I want them to know that they can excel to the heights they imagine for themselves. The glass ceilings have been broken, and it is up to you now to define where and how far you want to go. Know that hard work and sacrifice along the way will be necessary.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the interviewees and do not necessarily represent the views of IFAC.

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Ruth Forbes standing and smiling, wearing a black suit
Ruth Gardiner Forbes

President and CEO

Ruth Forbes is President and CEO of FortisTCI in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) and is one of the few female CEOs in the utility sector serving the Caribbean region. Under her leadership, FortisTCI is focused on achieving a supportive regulatory environment to transition to a greener, smarter energy future. 

 Prior to assuming the leadership role, Mrs. Forbes was Senior Vice President of Corporate Services, Chief Financial Officer, and Company Secretary and has 17 years of experience in utilities. She has been instrumental in driving transformative change and innovation, having had oversight of several business functions, including finance, internal audit, legal, information technology, customer service, corporate communications, human resources, and supply chain management.
Mrs. Forbes has a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting from Barry University. She holds the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) and Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designations. Mrs. Forbes also completed the Directors Education Program and received the ICD.D designation from the Institute of Corporate Directors through the University of Toronto - Rotman School of Management.
She serves as a Director on the boards of FortisOntario and Fortis Belize Limited and is also a Director on the board of The Caribbean Electric Utility Services Corporation (CARILEC). She has served for almost three years as the Governor’s Appointed Member to the Public Accounts Committee of the Turks and Caicos Islands. 

 Mrs. Forbes joined IFAC’s Professional Accountants in Business (PAIB) Advisory Group in January 2024. She was nominated by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA).
Mrs. Forbes is a devout philanthropist and founder of “Jewels Ablaze”, an organization that empowers and supports girls and women.


Laura Takamizawa
Laura Takamizawa

Principal, IFAC

Laura Takamizawa is a Principal in IFAC's thought leadership team, focusing on initiatives in support of finance and accounting professionals working in business and the public sector. She was previously an Audit Manager at Grant Thornton, specializing in public sector audit in the UK, and prior to that worked for the Audit Commission. She also spent a year on secondment to the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC), where she was responsible for managing their public sector and business network programs.

Laura is a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), and holds a Bachelor of Science (Hons) degree in Mathematical Physics from the University of Nottingham (UK).