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8 December 2021
Humbled by the help of many hands
As a child attending schools in the crime-ridden neighbourhoods of Elsies River and Bishop Lavis, Bertina Engelbrecht (née Groepe) knew it would take more than luck and determination to pursue the opportunities the world offered beyond the Cape Flats. 

Reminiscing about her long journey to the cool corporate office that she now occupies as the Group Corporate Affairs Director and CEO-designate of the market-leading health and beauty retailer, Clicks Group Limited (CGL), Bertina says she’s not just aware of the contributions of others to her success – she’s humbled by them. 

Her first role models were her parents, both of whom were professionals (her dad a teacher and her mom a nursing sister) who impressed upon her the value of education - not just through words of advice and encouragement, but by their own example.

She says, “My earliest memories are of my father teaching illiterate adults to read and write in the evenings at our home and the joy and sometimes tears of adult men and women who mastered their own signatures.”

While her consciousness of education was shaped by her parents, two different teachers started the chain of events that led her to the University of the Western Cape.

“Through his networking, my Afrikaans teacher, Tobie Titus, opened up the opportunity for me to study matric on an AFS scholarship at the Acalanes High School in Lafayette, California. And at that school, Mr Meeks encouraged me to enter a speech contest that led to me winning the Lions International Speech competition in 1981 with a speech themed ‘My World, My Answer’. I was the first non-American to win since 1937. The prize money ($6,000!) enabled me to pay the full tuition cost of doing a BProc at UWC.”

Bertina met her husband Willie Engelbrecht (now deceased) at UWC. They married in 1989 and have one son, named Wilber. Willie served as the SRC Treasurer during 1984 and 1985. He completed his Bachelor in Theology degree in 1984 and Honours in Philosophy in 1986. After a stint as a junior lecturer in the faculty, he worked for The Galileans, an ecumenical youth development agency, and served on the Western Cape Council of Churches before taking up full-time ministry in Atlantis. He returned to do his Master’s in Theology degree on ‘The ecumenical movement and the People’s Church’ in 2009. 

Bertina was active in the Law Students Society and the Legal Aid Society and won a prize (awarded by the Tygerberg Attorneys’ Association) as the best final-year law student in 1985. After graduating in 1986, Bertina took up a short-term post at Kensington High School as an educator in English before she commenced her articles as a candidate attorney with a firm in Mowbray. She was admitted as a practising attorney of the Supreme Court in 1989. 

She completed the Management Development Programme of the University of Stellenbosch Business School in 1992 and obtained a Master’s in Law (Commercial Law) at UCT in 1994 for her dissertation titled, ‘Towards a basis of liability for insider trading by directors in South African law’. 
She joined Spoornet as a researcher in 1992, her first foray into the corporate world, and was promoted to an assistant manager position in her first year. Bertina moved to SAA as Manager (ER) of Cabin Services in 1993 and was appointed the Senior Manager (ER & EWP) at SAA after less than three years. Her rise in executive management was even more rapid. Within a year, she became the Corporate Manager (EE) of the Transnet Group and, in 1996, Executive Manager (On-board Services) at SAA. 

After a short stint as a consultant, Bertina moved back to Cape Town to join the Sea Harvest group where she was responsible for organisational effectiveness. As Group Organisational Effectiveness Director, she essentially had strategic control over all HR operations. From 2004 to 2006, she was simultaneously the General Manager (HR and Services) and Regional Manager for Shell Southern Africa, and was appointed to the board of Shell SA as an executive director. 

Her tenure at CGL began in 2006, following her appointment as Group HR Director and Executive Director in 2008; in 2020, her portfolio was expanded when she took up the position as Group Corporate Affairs Director. Reflecting on her long career, Bertina says she’s proud to have contributed to transformation at CGL.

“We have always embraced our heritage as a proudly South African company and our commitment to shaping an inclusive organisational culture, as more than 60% of our employees are female and of course our customer profile is predominantly female as well” she says.

Bertina says her biggest highlight among many as a corporate leader at CGL occurred in 2018 when, after seven years, “our employee share ownership scheme fully vested, resulting in the first 50% pay-out of R1,3 billion to employees and a final pay-out of R1,5 billion in February 2019 – one of the most successful employee share schemes to date”.

Both professionally and privately, Bertina has supported numerous education and people development initiatives, which for her is simply a matter of paying forward the advantages she has enjoyed in life.

Bertina says: “I know that I am privileged. I have a quality education which facilitated my career progression. Over the past years, I have been reflecting on our times at UWC, and how best we can support the university as it strives to enhance its legacy. I concluded that those of us who studied there during our formative years have much to offer, and should do what we can.”