Forbes was born in New Deer, Aberdeenshire, in Scotland, the son of Agnes (Moir) and Robert Forbes, a storekeeper, and tailor. After studying at University College, Dundee (then part of the University of St Andrews), in 1897 Forbes worked as a reporter and editorial writer with a local newspaper until 1901 when he moved to Johannesburg, South Africa, where he worked on the Rand Daily Mail under its first editor, Edgar Wallace. He emigrated to New York City in the United States in 1904 where he was employed as a writer and financial editor at the Journal of Commerce before joining the Hearst chain of newspapers as a syndicated columnist in 1911. He left Hearst after two years to become the business and financial editor at the New York American where he remained until 1916. He founded Forbes magazine in 1917 and remained editor-in-chief until his death in New York City in 1954, though assisted in his later years by Bruce Charles Forbes (1916–1964) and Malcolm Stevenson Forbes (1919–1990), his two eldest sons.
“History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heart-breaking obstacles before they triumphed. they won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats.” B.C. Forbes