‘Moving fast’ to nurture Forbes’ community, and ‘better than expected’ readership

“What I realised after the last Summit was I almost did a disservice to the 1,600 women in the room, not to continue on that community.”

Almost a year ago to the day, Forbes Australia editor-in-chief Sarah O’Carroll stood on a stage, in front of 1,600 women, and was greeted by smiles. She was 10 seconds into her opening speech at the inaugural Forbes Women’s Summit, and she’s been trying recreate that feeling of connection ever since.

Next week, she’ll get her chance at the second Women’s Summit, headlined by speakers including actor Yael Stone, Professor Megan Davis – who was one of the architects of the Uluru Statement from the Heart – founder of ModiBodi Kristy Chong, consent activist Chanel Contos, and CEO of Xero, Sukhinder Singh Cassidy.

While O’Carroll often focuses on what went wrong or what can be improved, she felt different after last year’s Summit, which her team launched “exactly six months to the day” after launching the Forbes brand in Australia.

“When I left the Forbes Women’s Summit, I said, ‘tickity tick, job well done’ … women in Australia really were craving this new business network that they didn’t really feel they have had,” O’Carroll tells Mediaweek.

“What I realised after the last Summit was I almost did a disservice to the 1,600 women in the room, not to continue on that community.” 

This time around, she’s going to ensure she capitalises on the networks formed at the conference, and nurture them afterwards in the form of a networking community, Forbes Women. She’ll be speaking to a smaller room – the event has moved from Sydney’s ICC in Darling Harbour to Roslyn Packer Theatre in Walsh Bay, which has a capacity of 1,000 people – so the primary goal “wasn’t to sell more tickets.”

“What I want to do from this one is to continue that community in the forms of Forbes Women, which I’m going to launch at the event, which will be a community that will continue on an ongoing basis to really help build on those connections,” O’Carroll says.

Forbes Australia

O’Carroll and Christine Holgate

It’s powerful to see that many women in business at a conference and on stage, O’Carroll says, but she hopes the upcoming Summit on Tuesday 26 March also maintains the intimacy she felt last time. During her interview with Christine Holgate, the former CEO of Australia Post, “she just opened up as if we were sitting in a sitting room. And even though there were 1,600 women watching, you could have heard a pin drop.”

NAB Private Wealth returns as presenting sponsor, and Kyndryl is a platinum sponsor. Forbes’ commercial partners “have that opportunity to collaborate with us across all the platforms and engage with this ambitious Forbes community we are really carefully fostering.”

O’Carroll sees Forbes’ overall event model as a pyramid, with Forbes Club – an “exclusive small group … which has criteria for entry” – at the top, then Forbes Forums – “workshop based forums, but it’s more intimate, probably between 100 and 200 people” – and the Forbes Women’s Summit and Forbes Business Summit.

“There’s loads of other ideas that I have,” she admits, including, “creating a new membership-based community, in print, in person“.  O’Carroll wants to recreate the feeling in the room at the Women’s Summit, or at the Forbes Australia launch party in 2022. There, she saw stalwart investor David Paradice talking to Craig Blair, co-founder of Airtree, and Forbes’ first issue cover stars, ‘billion dollar brothers’ Robbie and James Ferguson.

“There were just all these different types of people who would never normally be talking to each other … And I thought, ‘this is what it’s all about.'”

Forbes Australia Women's Summit

Roy Morgan data from February shows business and financial magazines increased readership by 27.9%. In 2023, Forbes reached 271,000 readers, which was “better than we expected”.

“When we were launching Forbes in Australia, the idea wasn’t to launch a print magazine, because just launching a print magazine in 2022 wouldn’t be ideal.

“The magazine is like a window into the Forbes world that we’re creating. And we’ve been extremely encouraged by the partners and the advertisers that have come on board.”

O’Carroll is just two weeks away from being at Forbes for two years. In that time, she’s learned, “It’s not easy. it’s been a bit of a wild ride, and it was a steep, steep learning curve.”

“What I did really learn was the strength of the Forbes brand,” she says. “It was my job then to really be the custodian of that brand and make sure that I localise it and do justice to the 105 year heritage it has.

“You’re always wondering, ‘do people need this’, [and you] never know until it’s out there. But people needed … some of the best entrepreneurial stories in the country.”

She’s focused on hiring the right people, calling out managing editor Stewart Hawkins, ex-AFR and Bloomberg, and creative director Huw Reynolds, who previously worked at Harper’s Bazaar.

“When I was looking for a creative director, I didn’t want somebody who’s worked in business publications, and has been putting pictures of men in suits outside a building [on front covers],” she explains.

“We’re telling business stories in a new and beautiful way. And design is a big part of that, especially if you want a magazine to survive.”

As for what’s next, O’Carroll is determined to build communities around her readership and event attendees, introduce more Lists alongside the likes of the Australian Rich List, and to not shy away from innovation and experimentation, just like the entrepreneurs on which Forbes reports.

“There’ll be lots more on the horizon. We’re not afraid, and especially our CEO [Michael Lane] is not afraid, to innovate and move fast. You have to keep trying and moving fast. We’ve launched so many things in the last 18 months, and some go better than others, but we’ll just keep moving.”

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