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Abbey Forbes (MBA '24)

Abbey Forbes (MBA ’24) cried every single day the summer she won at Wimbledon.

Tennis fans saw the 18-year-old’s power as she took home the junior doubles title. What they didn’t see was her pain. Just weeks earlier her 15-year-old brother, Luke, was diagnosed with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a blood cancer.

Forbes left her hometown of Raleigh for UCLA’s top-10 tennis program as Luke, who is autistic, began nearly four years of chemotherapy at UNC Children’s Hospital. By the time he finished his treatments and was in remission, Forbes had transferred to Carolina and won a NCAA National Championship in 2023, her first year on the tennis team.

In August 2023, Forbes was by Luke’s side when he learned his cancer was in remission. He’ll be there when Forbes graduates with an MBA from UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School in May 2024.

“I put one foot in front of the other easily today because I have so many people behind me,” says Forbes. “Luke is one of those people. Just watching him go through what we went through with such grace and humility, the way that he’s fought for his life for the past five years, it’s had such an impact on my life. I’ve learned so much from him. I’m stronger because of him.”

Embracing a dream

When something is hard, Forbes does it anyway.

She became laser-focused on her game at UCLA, eventually becoming a PAC-12 Champion and a two-time Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) All-American Singles winner. In her first year at UCLA, she founded its first Black Student-Athlete Alliance, a nonprofit providing virtual mental health support for Black student-athletes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Abbey Forbes University of North Carolina Women's Tennis v Kentucky Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center Chapel Hill, NC Saturday, January 27, 2024

After she earned a degree in political science in just three years at UCLA, Forbes’ next step wasn’t clear. She had two years of student-athlete eligibility left because of the pandemic. She considered law school. What she wanted most was flexibility.

Forbes never dreamed of playing tennis professionally, but while at UCLA she became passionate about helping other athletes achieve financial stability and success. There she saw several fellow athletes dive into the complicated financial world of professional sports and falter. She didn’t want to see any athlete give up their dream for financial reasons.

“My mom has been in corporate America since the ’80s. My dad started his own business and has a degree in accounting. My grandmother was high up at JP Morgan in their human resources department,” says Forbes. “But I had never thought about business before. I had no prior business experience. What I knew was that I wanted to be an advocate for those athletes who need it the most.”

Returning home to family, especially Luke, was enticing. UNC Kenan-Flagler’s MBA Program and a UNC women’s tennis coaching staff who understood the rigor of the Full-Time MBA Program sealed the deal.

“I remember visiting the first time and I went to the Capital Markets Lab and thinking to myself that I love this building. I wanted to take classes in this building,’” says Forbes. “I took finance and fell in love with it, too.”

That passion has landed her a position at Ellison & Kibler as a financial advisor at BofA Securities in Charlotte. She’ll join a team specializing in financial services for athletes and entertainers.

“I know deep down that this is what I want to do,” she says. “I feel like I can truly make an impact on people’s lives.”

A new path

When she joined the UNC tennis team, Forbes was the powerhouse she had always been. She was the first-ever graduate student on the women’s tennis team, and Forbes was called a “dream recruit” by coach Brian Kalbas, the winningest coach in ACC history. The same year her team won the national championship, Forbes was named to the ITA Indoor Championships All-Tournament team in doubles.

But she was a student first. Her nervousness over her lack of business experience quickly fell away. Finance Professor William Moore kept up with Forbes regularly, going over everything about the program. Two MBA Class of 2023 students going into finance, Ali Zimmerman and Mollie Kelly, took Forbes under their collective wing. Facing what felt at first like a daunting schedule, Forbes worked with the MBA student wellness team to craft a manageable approach.

“The support that I got from the UNC Kenan-Flagler community was unlike anything I had ever seen,” she says. “I’m very glad I came here because we pride ourselves on community and collaboration.”

Abbey Forbes (MBA '24)

This was now her team.

She started to love analyzing Excel spreadsheets and financial models. She enjoyed her Managing the Professional Service Firm class with Professor Atul Nerkar because he made it clear that every opinion in the class was valued. Though her classes had typical lecture slides, the faculty cared about students learning from each other.

“I felt like I was part of something bigger than myself,” says Forbes. “All of these people are going to go on to work at amazing companies and do amazing things, and I get to say that I know them and that we did this together. It’s not a cutthroat program where everyone’s competing with each other. It’s one where everyone wants each other to succeed.”

Team player

Forbes’ family is full of Tar Heels. Her uncle, Jonathan Linton, played running back for UNC football from 1993 to 1997.

The youngest of the Forbes siblings, Matt, will head to UNC as a tennis team recruit in the Class of 2028. Forbes plans to make regular trips up to Chapel Hill to watch his games — and she’s already trying to convince him to join the UNC Kenan-Flagler family – and spend time with her parents and Luke.

She’ll also come back because UNC Kenan-Flagler is now her team and helped her discover the player she truly is.

“I needed to believe in myself to be able to do all the things that I’ve done,” she says. “I was able to speak up. I’ll tell you exactly what the MBA program gave me — a whole lot of confidence. I’m happy. I feel fulfilled. I’m hungry for more.”