Bertina Engelbrecht’s appointment as CEO of Clicks Group was a groundbreaking moment that captured attention not only for its significance in South Africa’s retail community but also for inspiring women worldwide. Coming from a humble background in a rural Eastern Cape town and the Cape Flats, Engelbrecht’s rise to the top is a story many will continue to draw inspiration from
From an early age, Engelbrecht’s family encouraged her pursuit of education, and she excelled, eventually obtaining her Masters in Commercial Law and starting her career as an attorney. Her journey took an unexpected turn into HR leadership, where she steadily climbed the ranks to executive management positions. Through hard work and support from her community, both at home and in the workplace, Engelbrecht’s path led her to Clicks Group, where she made history as its CEO.
Engelbrecht’s tenure at Clicks began in 2006 when she joined the health and beauty retailer as the group’s human resources director, later transitioning into the role of executive director. Her portfolio expanded in December 2020 to include strategic stakeholder engagement, showcasing her versatility and leadership capabilities. Before becoming CEO, she held the position of corporate affairs director, which she used to advocate for gender equality, hoping that such leadership appointments become the norm rather than an exception.
In an exclusive interview Biz Community, Bertina Engelbrecht shared her journey, from her upbringing in the Western Cape to her impressive educational background and early career as an attorney. Despite modest beginnings, Engelbrecht’s parents instilled in her the value of education, and her teachers played a significant role in securing opportunities for her, such as the AFS scholarship that allowed her to study in the USA.
As CEO, Engelbrecht credits her HR experience for equipping her with the necessary skills to lead Clicks Group effectively. A study comparing leadership assessments of CEOs and chief human resources officers (CHROs) found that the profiles of these two roles significantly overlap, suggesting that HR leaders are well-suited for executive positions. Engaging with internal and external stakeholders, managing relationships with diverse groups, and understanding various disciplines have groomed Engelbrecht for the top job.
Discussing her climb up the career ladder, Engelbrecht highlighted the support she received from her family, mentors, and a husband who advocated strongly for gender empowerment. Hard work, volunteering, continuous improvement, and fostering a pursuit of excellence within her teams have been essential to her success.
Engelbrecht is an advocate for gender diversity in executive teams, pointing out that studies have shown a correlation between diverse leadership and financial outperformance. Although there are currently only eight female CEOs on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), she believes the tide is turning, and more diverse leadership in the retail industry will benefit customer-centric innovations and market success.
The qualities needed to lead a company like Clicks Group, according to Engelbrecht, include a strong work ethic, market knowledge, resilience, leading by example, and a genuine liking for people. She emphasizes the uniqueness of Clicks Group’s role in South Africa, which is to deliver affordable and accessible healthcare to all.
As a transformational leader, Engelbrecht finds joy in making a difference and driving visible changes in the company. Clicks Group’s focus on satisfying customers’ health, beauty, and wellness needs provides her with an invigorating environment influenced by macro and micro environmental events.
Regarding workplace diversity, Engelbrecht believes that embracing differences helps break down barriers and promotes understanding among people. Harnessing the value of diversity has the potential to lead to greatness.
Maintaining a work-life balance is crucial for Engelbrecht, who enjoys reading, cooking, spending time with friends, and traveling with her brother as her preferred companion.
Looking to the future, Engelbrecht envisions a world where gender disparities are eradicated, gender-based violence is effectively addressed through collaboration across sectors, and gender equality becomes the norm in leadership positions. Her hope is that gender-based achievements are no longer newsworthy, reflecting a society where women’s success is celebrated and normalized.