Here’s how Dean Forbes went from homelessness to leading a $1 billion software acquisition

BY Preta Peace Namasaba January 15, 2024 9:41 AM EDT
Dean Forbes. Photo credit: Forbes Family Group

Dean Forbes’s story could easily have ended as a twice homeless and failed soccer player. But ever since the most unfortunate period in his life, he has since turned multiple a tech startup into a Silicon Valley unicorn. In 2022, Forbes led Forterro, where he serves as CEO, to a $1 billion acquisition.

Forbes was born on a council estate in South London in 1978. He first experienced homelessness at age 14 when escaping from a bad family situation. Later at age 17, his mother lost her job and the family home. The family broke up and Forbes had to leave home to earn a living. He was now responsible for the welfare of his mother and found her a smaller place. Forbes eventually bought her a home four years later.

Forbes explained his home:
“Looking back on it now, it’s just incredibly difficult. The emotional aspect of losing your home is something I can’t put into words, and especially for us – our home was our refuge from a very, very difficult earlier situation. We didn’t just emotionally lose the roof over our head – we lost the sanctuary from the thing we were escaping from.”

His dream was to become a professional soccer player. He loved playing the sport and was on the books of London-based Crystal Palace. A talk with his agent brought Forbes to the realization that his future was not in soccer. These challenges built up his tolerance and prepared Forbes for executive leadership.

Following his short-lived soccer career, Forbes joined Motorola as a sales manager. He worked in sales at Isis Telecommunications and later Primavera Systems, a private equity-backed US software company in pursuit of growth in Europe. Forbes was the leader of the international unit and built it to 51% of global sales. He was key in Primavera’s sale to Oracle for approximately $550 million. He served as GVP Worldwide Sales at Oracle Corporation for a year.

Forbes learned from his past failures.

“I describe the start of my career journey as a twice homeless failed footballer who found himself doing telesales to service a mountain of debt that he’d accumulated to keep up with football friends. I’m really grateful for that debt because it meant I had to fail at [soccer] quickly in order to get into the professional working environment,” he adds.

Forbes served as Executive Vice President – Commercial Operations and later CEO of KDS, a Paris-based SaaS firm. He turned around the struggling business and led its acquisition by American Express in a multi-million-dollar deal. By then, Forbes had gained a reputation for resuscitating troubled business and was brought on as CEO at CoreHR. He turned around the company and sold it to Access Group.

In 2021, took over as CEO of the Forterro project, backed by Battery Ventures. The company is a European leader in mid-market manufacturing enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions and serves over 15, 000 customers across 11 countries. Forbes led Forterro’s acquisition by private markets firm Partners Group for approximately $1 billion a year later.

Forterro is currently expanding through acquisitions and organic growth. Forbes has led the acquisition of 12 geographically focused, manufacturing-centric ERP software companies. They provide different products and serve diverse businesses and profiles of customer. Forbes plans on turning Forterro into a $4 billion company.

Additionally, Forbes is a partner at Corten Capital where he advises the firm on European technology acquisitions. He has an agreement with the firm to increase its support for founders and entrepreneurs from under-represented communities. His non-profit foundation, The Forbes Family Group provides investment, networking and development opportunities to young people and entrepreneurs. It has helped more than 1,170 young people move from difficult situations into education or promising careers.