Farida Gibbs has been nominated for Muslim Business Woman of the Year twice, winning in 2013 and being a finalist at this year’s ceremony in January.
It’s one of a number of awards she has won, including the Asian Achievers Awards, the RBS Asian Woman in Achievement Awards and Global Enterprising Woman of the Year Award.
She is modest about the awards. “I’m very humbled to be considered given how hard others work – it is good to be recognised,” she says, but adds that she feels awards are more satisfying if they are for her team. “I wouldn’t be where I am without them,” she states.
Nevertheless ,she realises the importance of role models, particularly for people who might find it harder to take the leap of faith necessary to run their own business. “When you see someone who used to weigh 30 stone and is now a size 10 it makes you want to know how they did it,” she says.
“It works similarly for role models in business, especially for younger people and girls, who might have less confidence. They might not know how you can get from working in a supermarket – as I did – to running your own business. It’s important to have role models who are not from a privileged background who can show them that with hard graft you can do it.”
Farida knows all about the value of hard graft and not having things handed to her on a plate.
Farida’s parents were her role models. They worked hard to raise their four children. Her dad ran a corner shop and from the age of 13 she was getting up at 4am to help unload newspapers before school. At 16 Farida started doing shifts at Safeways. At 17 while she was at college doing a BTEC in business and finance she joined a start-up call centre called the Decisions Group.
She transferred to the University of Roehampton after two years and all through her studies worked full time, putting in a 50-hour week on top of her studies. She loved the work and that she could help out her parents financially. She was soon allowed to supervise and she also used what she had learned from her business studies course to help her father.
After getting her degree she had a huge student debt and her sister suggested a move into the recruitment industry. She started working for tech recruitment companies and became fascinated by the sector as she quickly worked her way up. She describes it as a very male environment and says she wasn’t very impressed by the kind of values and customer service on offer in the various companies she worked for. She felt she could do better if she ran her own company.
“From there I started thinking why not do it myself. I had always wanted to have my own business in any event,” she says. She was also encountering political problems at work since through her hard work she was outearning the directors of her company and they didn’t like it. She says they tried to change the commission structure without consulting her. She felt that was unethical and left to go freelance.
Striking out on her own
At the time she was pregnant with her daughter and was approached by a US firm to set up a recruitment company in London. Two years later the company was sold and the UK office closed. Farida was made redundant. It was 2005 and she was a single mum with a two and a half year old, having gone through a difficult divorce.
“I thought this is my time,” she says. “I had £2K in redundancy money and I felt I had enough experience to be able to set up my own recruitment company specialising in technology recruitment in the financial world.”
Starting the business also helped her to focus on something positive during the divorce.
From the start and based on her own experience, Farida felt it was important to reward her staff for what they put in so she ensured they were able to get the best commission rates in the industry.
She set the business up from her living room, working around her daughter’s nursery times, getting up at 6am and then working until 1 or 2am after she had gone to sleep. “I worked hard, but I was happy to do that because I also had the flexibility I needed to pick her up and spend time with her when I wanted to,” she says. “I wasn’t wasting time commuting.” In any event she loved what she was doing and it was exciting. “It was my dream, “ she states.
Credit crunch and collaboration
Then came the credit crunch in 2008. Farida had to make some hard decisions and make some of her staff redundant to keep the company’s head above water. “It was sink or swim, but we believed in ourselves. It would have been easy to throw in the towel, but I had worked too hard to throw it all away,” says Farida. Early in the year Farida was introduced to Cindy Pasky of the US company Strategic Staffing Solutions. Cindy was interested in acquiring Farida’s company, but Farida didn’t want to sell. The two women, however, found that they shared similar beliefs and values about business.
Cindy invited Farida to go to Detroit. The two ended up agreeing to be equal partners in Gibbs S3, with Farida running operations in the UK and EMEA. “It works very well. It gives us more credibility and a global presence,” says Farida. “As they say, when one door closes another one opens. The most important thing to me is looking after my family. As I get older that is all that matters to me. Becoming Gibbs S3 gave me, my family and the people in the company a more secure life.”
She adds that she is a big believer in working with others. “As a woman business owner things can be quite tough. It’s not all about you. You have to collaborate to grow,” she says. Gibbs S3, which has won several awards in part for its unique model which mixes traditional recruitment with project outsourcing consultancy work, recorded a 52 per cent growth in 2015 compared with the previous year, and total revenue is predicted to be $75m. The hard work is clearly paying off and Farida hopes eventually to take things easier and do some of the things she was unable to do when she was younger, such as travelling.
Farida, who has remarried, says her daughter, now 13, appreciates her hard work and knows she does it for her. She admits to feeling a little guilty if she has to work late or miss a school event, but says she has quality time with her daughter and that she needs her more now than when she was younger and Farida was building the business and working all hours.
Nowadays, Farida picks her daughter up from school three days a week and works later in the evening. Sophia’s father has her for two days when she can do long days. “We’re a global company so there’s no 9 to 5. It’s good customer service to get back to people quickly. Nowadays you can be anywhere in the world and still deliver the same service as long as you have a good team and a Blackberry,” she says. “It’s a very agile world and people need to realise that. That opens up possibilities too. I firmly believe you can do anything you want to if you put in the hard graft.”