Annette Forster- Have a Purpose; be yourself and have fun!

In this blog, #YesSheCan speak to Annette Forster, Group Marketing Director for Ibstock plc. She talks to us about her motivation, her tips for being a female in a male-dominated industry and having a sense of equality and justice.


The story so far…

I was born in South Africa during the era of apartheid and lived through the struggle and emergence of the Rainbow Nation.  I have seen and experienced a lot of change. I have a thirst for knowledge and personal growth – 3 degrees including a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Manchester University. I have travelled extensively and pursued an International Business Career and lived in SA, USA, UK, Switzerland and Belgium. I am a mother of two (Lukas 14) and (Lilly 11) who are my greatest achievements.  I love philosophy and poetry and I am a Published Author.

Although lambasted with angry rhetoric and surrounded by a volatile society of racial tensions, growing up in South Africa helped me develop a sense of equality, justice and harmony as I experienced the rebirth of South Africa and learned that the right attitude is one’s greatest asset.  I have been based in the UK for the past 22 years which I now call home. I feel blessed that I have lived through and experienced a lot in my life, a privilege that I hope is an anchor for me and at times a source of inspiration for others. This blog is full of thoughts and quotes that inspire me, I hope to share that inspiration.

As Group Marketing Director of Ibstock plc, my days are incredibly varied.  I can be on a building site with a developer or in one of our factories or in our London office the i-studio working with architects on projects.  I absolutely love the spaces and projects we help to create.  I am also very busy developing teams, being a coach and mentor and working with the ELT (Executive Leadership Team of Ibstock plc) to strategically set the direction of travel for our company.  We are all passionate about being at the heart of the building industry, being incredible for our customers, inspiring our people, investing in our performance and innovating and improving our world.


I am so lucky that I’ve built a career working for great companies and I joined the construction industry in 2012 working for Wienerberger and then Ibstock plc.  To be involved in the manufacturing of products and systems with the humble brick at its heart but also propositions that enable construction to evolve and digital enablement of the construction industry have been life-changing.


“Imagine someone living in the depths of the sea.  He might think that he was living on the surface and seeing the sun and the other heavenly bodies through the water, he might think that the sea was the sky. He might be so sluggish that he had never reached the top of the sea and raised his head into this world of ours, and seen for himself – how much purer and more beautiful it really is than the one in which his people live”.  PLATO

Gosh … challenges.  Growing up in South Africa we could not travel until 1994 so at the age of 21, I queued for days at a time to get visas that enabled me to travel the world for a year.

I paid for that travel by introducing a new product in insurance aimed at the female market.  It allowed women to save for their kid’s education and protect their families – completely new to the industry at the time.

When Sappi (South African Pulp and Paper Industry) that I worked for introduced a family day, as a young single person I suggested that those who were single take kids from the local orphanage and became their mentors in life – initiative at any level is always welcome and appreciated.

I was one of the youngest international secondments in Sappi and relocated to Europe at the age of 28.  This was incredibly challenging both personally and professionally.

I believe that the home is where the heart is…

I passionately believe in wanting to create better homes and spaces for people to live and work in as a key cornerstone of life.  I do this in my personal life and I do this at work, I am so lucky that my purpose and the purpose of Ibstock are completely aligned.

Drive and Determination

“Courage does not mean being without fear, but it is moving forward in spite thereof” Anon


“A great deal of talent is lost to the world for want of a little courage” Sydney Smith


“If you move towards your goals… opportunity will find you as a result of your actions”.  Stuart Wilde

I always say if you know what you want you are halfway there!  Then if you surround yourself with great positive people , I think there is power in building winning teams.

Being a female in this industry

I think the Ibstock ELT (Executive Leadership Team) is a great example of diversity not only in terms of gender but also personalities and backgrounds that complement each other and lead to very rich conversations.  I am also building a team full of diversity; these are the strongest teams.

I am a passionate being, a female trait.  Early on in my career, I was told to lower my voice when I speak, wear lower heels, be less passionate.  B*llocks to all that – if you can bring your full passion and ability and talent to anything, they will benefit and you will benefit.  Just be yourself and don’t be afraid to sparkle!

What is your biggest achievement in life?

My gorgeous kids, I’m so incredibly proud of them.

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learnt along the way?

Early on in one’s career, you focus on the “it” to get results.  Tactical execution, making results happen.  Later in your career and in leadership, you focus on the “us”.  How to achieve results through others, how to get alignment, focus, inspire … how to help build careers.  It is a subtle shift but an important one.

“It is a permanent principle that one has to work beyond one’s capacities to change one’s level of being” P.D. Ouspensky

Then there is the question of balance….

I’ve learnt that balance does not mean 9 – 5.  At times it is all about career, at times it is all about family.  At times it’s about learning, at times it’s about moving forward and other times it’s about setting foundations for the next forward surge. There is never going to be a perfect balance between all aspects of life e.g career, family, growth, learning, being creative at any one particular time.  The key is to achieve balance over time!!

And Lockdowns….

Like everyone I have found the lockdown challenging and I have my moments… most importantly as an ELT we had to focus on keeping our staff and each other safe.  Personally I see this as a time to set foundations for the next forward surge..  and to get a bit fitter!

Learn every day, work hard, have an open mind with the right attitute, set goals and be ready to compromise but have fun whilst you are doing it!


“Business should be fun.  Without fun, people are left wearing emotional raincoats most of their working lives.  Building fun into business is vital; it brings life into our daily being.  Fun is a powerful motive for most of our activities and should be a direct path of our livelihood.  We should not relegate it to something we buy after work with money we earn”  MICHAEL PHILLIPS. Honest Business

What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organisations?

Find a coach (male or female)’ think about the compromises (there will have to be some) and find your own balance.  Also, support other woman and be ambitious.

I think finding a coach is important.  As women we often doubt ourselves, various coaches for various needs are important to help us grow as leaders.  My current coach helps me identify what gives me energy and what drains my energy – obviously, the version of me full of energy is much more effective.

What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions?

I think it’s important to remember that some careers are a lifestyle choice.  You will have to make sacrifices or surround yourself with the support structure to support that choice.

What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way?

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure… As we let our light shine we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.  As we are liberated from our fear, our presence liberates others!” Nelson Mandela

.  Build relationships.  Step into the bright lights and remember that it helps others to shine as well.

What would you say to your 16-year-old self?

Pursue luck with a vengeance!  Just follow your dreams and don’t be so hard on yourself…

Oh and if something doesn’t work, then change it.  Don’t be afraid of change … evolve all the time.

We love this story from Annette, some great tips and advice! Make sure to check out more of our blogs for inspiration.

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