Did you know Sentinel’s softly-spoken KZN Branch Manager could drive a tank? This is just one of the gems we unearthed when we sat down with Adéle to listen to her life story…
“I don’t like the focus being on me,” says Adéle van den Bergh, the manager of Sentinel’s Durban office. “And I really don’t like photos.”
Adéle is a Natalian born-and-bred; a product of Pietermaritzburg and Newcastle. After matriculating there in 1994 she applied for a spot at the prestigious South African Army Women’s College in George. Hers was one of only 220 names to be chosen from over 16,000 applicants. “Who really knows what they want to do after matric?” she explains. “It seemed like a good experience. And my older sister and my godmother had both done it, so it had always been in my head.”
In at the deep end
Basic training was a baptism of fire which included “running around with tyres”, driving a tank and learning to use and care for an R4 rifle which “becomes your little baby, you even give it a name.” Speaking to Adéle today it’s hard to believe she was once a soldier. But it’s made her who she is today. “At the time you cry,” she says. “But looking back it was an exceptional experience.”
After six months getting up to speed in George, Adéle was seconded to the army catering school in Pretoria where she was offered a job as full-time employee in the Training and Development division. She quickly made a happy life for herself in Pretoria (she even went so far as to become a Blue Bulls supporter), but three years in the army was enough for her. When she joined FNB Trust Services in 1998, she realised she had found her calling. A few years later she met her husband, Ivan.
Despite starting at FNB as a temp typist, her bosses immediately saw her potential and she rose quickly through the ranks. Before long she was an Estate Administrator and, by the time she left FNB eleven years later she was an Operations Manager. “I am one of those loyal people,” she observes. “Some of the young kids like a new challenge every few months, but that’s not me.”
Do what you love
In 2009 she got the opportunity to join Sentinel as an Estate Administrator. “Irene du Plessis and I had worked together at FNB Trust,” she explains. “Having that personal connection was a big thing for me.” While some might have seen the move as a step down, for Adéle it was “a chance to go back to doing something I really, really love. It is a privilege to be able to help families to get through something that very few know about…You are dealing with people at the height of loss, they don’t want to talk money. But someone has to see that everything is sorted out.”
Before long Adéle was able to transfer to our Durban office. Her parents and her sister had moved from Newcastle (an easy weekend visit from Pretoria) to the coast and she couldn’t handle the thought of only seeing them once a year. Being reunited with her family – and the beach – has been “incredible” she says, even if watching rugby has become a bit awkward. More so now that her folks have moved in with her and her husband has switched to supporting the Sharks!
In 2013, as part of a general reshuffle at Sentinel, Adéle was asked to take over as Branch Manager. “At first I was reluctant to accept,” she remembers. “I had moved down to have a breather and to spend more time with family. But opportunity only knocks once so I decided to grab it with both hands.”
And she has done just that, says Marietjie Strauss, who has worked with Adéle for over 20 years between FNB and Sentinel. “Adéle can be reserved in social situations, especially with people she doesn’t know,” explains Marietjie. “But when it comes to work, she takes control and finds solutions to problems.” Marietjie cites the time Adéle filled in for her as Gauteng Branch Manager for a month: “Within two days she knew exactly who everyone was and what their targets were,” Marietjie remembers. “And she did it all without getting anyone’s hair to stand on end. That is the kind of person she is.”
In addition to ensuring that everything runs smoothly at Sentinel KZN, Adéle still crams in as many of her beloved Wills, Trusts and Deceased Estates as time allows. “My title should really be Jack of All Trades,” she laughs. As if this isn’t enough, she has also been studying towards a B Comm law degree since 2012. “I don’t really need it for work,” she says. “I am doing it for myself. And I’m very fortunate that Sentinel is willing to pay for it.” While she has no plans of ever practising as a lawyer, she does hope to complete an MBA. “That’s another thing that’s always been on my bucket list,” she says matter-of-factly.
When she’s not working or studying, Adéle is a proud mom to two boys aged 20 and 16. “Family comes first for Adéle,” agrees Marietjie. “But work is never second.”
A couple of times a year, the van den Berghs all get in the car – ouma, oupa, and sometimes Adele’s sister and her family – and explore some new part of South Africa. A trip to Lesotho in 2019 was a real highlight, and in March this year they all enjoyed some much-needed beach time in St Lucia. “We tried camping a few times,” she laughs. “But my husband and my mother put an end to that! We are lucky to live in a country where it’s easy to find great self-catering accommodation that doesn’t break the bank.”
Not as lucky as we are to have Adéle on our team.