GARBERS-KIRSTEN: Marshalling with gentle persuasion

The reigning Namibia Business Woman of the Year Henriette Garbers-Kirsten is more than just a woman in business.

She embodies more than the values of a woman in business.

Garbers-Kirsten is the owner of Kirsten & Co Inc, a law firm that has carved a success path from humble beginnings to its current blossoming stage.

The soft spoken legal practitioner, who exudes an aura of confidence and passion for her job, narrated how she had wanted to become a dentist and after enrolling at the University of Pretoria, abandoned the idea after seeing medical students perform an autopsy. That sight of a dead body forced her to settle for a law degree programme instead.

Commenting on how she felt being the reigning Business Woman of the Year she said, “It was a huge surprise, I was not even dressed for that event and I didn’t have a speech. I was still in court,” she reminisced.

Her success track started in 1997 after leaving the public prosecutor post she had with the Ministry of Justice to join Kirsten & Co Inc and get a taste of working in private practice. It was a coincidence to work for a Firm called Kirsten considering her husband’s surname is Kirsten. She recalled how she worked hard during the first year and meeting all the set targets.

After a year her employer decided to immigrate to New Zealand and she bought the company which had only one client on its books.

Today, Garbers-Kirsten legal practitioners boasts of numerous clients that, combined with hard work, professionalism and honesty, has propelled the firm to the highest echelons of success.

At its inception, Kirsten & Co. Inc. had three employees and Garbers-Kirsten doubled up as legal practitioner and messenger during the early days of the firm.

“Our motto is ’going the extra mile for your client’,” She says.

At the moment, the firm has a staff compliment of 12, eleven women and one male who is the messenger. Four of the staffers are lawyers.

That the company is predominantly female is a coincidence and Garbers-Kirsten pointed out that a male receptionist who joined the company left after a short time because he could not cope with the work load.

The road to success has not been an easy one, Garbers-Kirsten emphasizes. The first years had the usual teething problems and for her, it was physically strenuous as she was pregnant with her first child.

It was difficult, she conceded, to fulfill professional obligations and motherhood, but eventually she managed with the ‘help from above.’

As winner of the award, she has to meet the organizers’ obligation of implementing community projects during her tenure. Garbers-Kirsten said she will do two projects; the first one is borne out of her experience after finishing college and starting to work.

She said there are areas in the training of legal practitioners that need sprucing up because the course is mainly theoretical. “For instance, I didn’t know how to address the magistrate or when to stand up or sit down when I started working. That is not taught at college.”

Garbers-Kirsten has consulted with the Dean of the Law Department at the University of Namibia, Nico Horn for the implementation of her project that will see law students take up employment with various private legal practices during the December vacation.

Her first job after graduating was as a prosecutor in the Ministry of Justice where she prosecuted in the magistrates court for four months before moving to the regional court. At the end of 1993, Garbers-Kirsten went to South Africa and worked for the South Africa police as legal adviser. Her stint with South African police was lackluster because, “I missed the courts terribly.”

She rejoined the Ministry of Justice in South Africa as a specialist for children’s rape cases in the regional court, before coming back to Namibia again to rejoin the Ministry in 1996.

Garbers-Kirsten’s project will benefit students who are genuinely interested in a legal profession and is aimed at teaching them court proceedings and early exposure to private practice.

She added that law graduates who joined private practice go through a culture shock and most end up compromising their work and the service rendered. Proposals have also been submitted to the Law Society. Her second project will be carried out in conjunction with the Ombudsman, John Walters, aimed at increasing the awareness among children of their human rights. She will be exposing children to rights such as education and health as well as teaching them about good morals so that they do not end up on the streets or indulge in crime and drugs. She stressed that it is vital to educate the children and honor their rights for a sound society. Information dissemination will be mainly through pamphlets distributed to schools throughout the country.

Besides meeting the ambassadorial role, Garbers-Kirsten officiates at various functions in the country including attending international business forums. To balance her roles as professional woman and mother, Garbers-Kirsten said her priority is her two children, Rolize-Mari and Geo.

“I have a very supporting and loving husband and my mother is only 3km away and comes in handy when there is pressure at work and mu husband Jannie is out of town.”

“Women should stop competing with men. You are first a woman then a professional. Be the woman that you are and you will always do things differently”. PF