May Edinburgh Supper Club – Gordon Forbes – 2016 WeDO Entrepreneur of the Year Award winner

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  • Supper Club
     7 May 2024
     6:00 pm - 9:30 pm

Our Supper Clubs are immensely popular, consistently selling out due to their informal and relaxed atmosphere; combining inspiration, good food, and engaging conversations.  These events provide a prime opportunity for members to connect, meet new members, catch up with familiar faces and of course be inspired by an engaging speaker sharing their entrepreneurial journey.  Our speakers don’t share a ‘rose-tinted glasses’ story, they share the challenges they’ve faced along the way, as well as lessons learnt.

We’re delighted to be welcoming our 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year Award winner, Gordon Forbes to this Supper Club.  Gordon built his business from a standing start with £20K in the bank to £20M turnover at a profit margin of 85+% with 2 people in the business – a phenomenal achievement as we think you’ll agree!  Now happily retired, Gordon is an outstanding entrepreneur and will be sharing the ups and downs of his journey, along with plenty of thought-provoking nuggets we can all consider for our own businesses.


Gordon was educated at George Heriot’s School and Old College, University of Edinburgh, where he graduated in Law with Honours.

Eschewing the legal profession, he spent the next 16 years working out of London and Manchester in business consulting, with Accenture, Digital, and Ernst & Young, where he covered the full spectrum of consultancy services from his somewhat fraught years programming in COBOL in the mid-eighties, to the far more suitable business change consulting and global programme management division. His EY career ended in April 2002 when he led the Private Equity Transaction Advisory service for EY, working with APAX Partners and Cinven on a number of international Mergers and Acquisitions in the healthcare sector.

Not being hugely comfortable with the thought of advising clients in a business setting without having managed his own business, he decided to throw the balls up in the air for the second time in his career, and left to set up his own business with his now ex-wife, with a mere £20,000 in the bank, a mortgage, and two teenage kids in private education.

Optimise Limited grew slowly, but steadily through the 2000s, focused largely on the UK healthcare market.

The approach that Gordon developed was centred on helping CEOs of organisations to re-engage and re-empower their workforce on things that mattered to them that needed to be fixed for staff, customers, and for the business to thrive. That approach was called Listening into Action, focused simply on coaching senior executives in an organisation to listen to what staff said got in their way of delivering a fantastic service to their customers and clients, and helping them to help themselves to fix it. Perhaps uniquely at the time, in the evolution of the industry, the Optimise USP was to build a suite of online solutions to ensure it was the client workforce who led and owned the change themselves, not the traditional consulting model of hiring expensive external support to do the change to the organisation.

Over the following 20 years, Gordon and his business partner grew the business to a turnover of £20m over the period until COVID hit in 2021. At a profit margin of 85+% before partner dividends, Optimise and Listening into Action changed the way that the NHS does change. Of the 220 NHS Trusts in England, Optimise worked with 160 of them over that period, transitioning the business from a consulting model to a repeatable, licensed, software solution set that delivered annual repeat business with very few overheads and little maintenance.

Five Optimise clients won National NHS awards for their adoption of Listening into Action and the impact it had on the quality and safety of patient care, workforce retention and savings hundreds of millions of £ in efficiencies. Ten Trusts were taken out of the NHS ‘Special Measures’ regime after their adoption of Listening into Action, and eight Trusts were the NHS Journal ‘Trust of the Year’ using the approach.

As a two-partner firm over this time, working with – and for – the fifth biggest employer in the world with an annual budget of £140bn, Gordon and his partner succeeded on insisting NHS clients engage them under Optimise Terms and Conditions, without ever being on the national framework agreements for public sector work.

In 2016, Gordon and his ex-wife won our 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year Award amongst tough competition.  Commenting on the Award win at the time, he said:

“We are absolutely thrilled to win the WeDO Entrepreneur of the Year award.  Our Listening into Action (LiA)® approach is spreading like wildfire in the NHS – the fifth biggest employer in the world with 1.4 million staff – and we are really excited about taking this to a new level in 2017 with apps-based innovations and expansion into new markets. Being recognised for the work we do to improve patient care through clinician and staff-led change is fantastic and makes us very proud.”

Gordon has been retired since 2021, keeping out of trouble with his interest in golf, wine, yoga, investments, reading, cooking, and travel (not necessarily in that order!).  He’s a member of Luffness Golf Club, Northumberland Golf Club, a Special Forces Charity supporter and is currently studying for a WSET Diploma in wine.


In Edinburgh, our Supper Clubs are held in the private dining room of the 6th floor 1820 Rooftop Bar at the Johnnie Walker Princes Street with breathtaking views of the city and access to the outdoor roof terrace.

Places are strictly limited with tickets available for members on a first come first served basis.  By keeping these events intimate, we ensure there are plenty of opportunity to ask questions as well as an open forum where all attendees will have the opportunity to discuss the emerging themes from the speaker as well as their own experiences.  Shared experiences are at the heart of WeDO, ‘individually we can be successful, together we can be extraordinary’ and Supper Clubs give us the opportunity to do just that!

Have a look at the video below to hear feedback from a previous Supper Club.

If you’re interested in finding out more about WeDO, click HERE.

To apply for membership, click HERE.


Venue Phone: 0131 376 9494

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145 Princes Street, Edinburgh, EH2 4BL