Pearl Forrester, the 203rd person I’ve met on my quest to have lunch with 500 strangers, learned from an early age the importance of looking behind the facade to discover the real person. 

Pearl hung around with a lot of juvenile delinquents when she was growing up in Malaysia – not because she was bad, but because her father served as principal of reformatory schools and worked in welfare services. These childhood interactions taught Pearl two valuable lessons. First, that with support there were positive opportunities. Second, that people were far more nuanced than they initially appeared.

Decades later, when Pearl became CEO of an aged care facility, she was willing to hire candidates who mightn’t have looked so good on paper, but who she knew would be quality employees because she’d taken the time to discover the person behind the CV.

Pearl moved to Sydney in her mid-twenties with a belief that Australia would be a land of opportunity if she was prepared to work hard. She quickly got one full-time job and two casual jobs, which allowed her to buy a unit after just seven months in the workforce.

As Pearl progressed in her career, she couldn’t ignore the values she’d absorbed as a child. So, about 15 years ago, she shifted from the corporate to the not-for-profit sector. These days, Pearl provides business advice to aged care and disability organisations, and serves on the board of Wheelchair Rugby League Australia and the advisory board for Blue Haven Aged Care.

What really struck me about Pearl is that she’s a great listener and genuinely curious about other people. Her childhood lessons have served her well.