After matriculating at a school in Ladysmith, Thembi Sithole went to Johannesburg to visit her sister and saw a local panel shop, Ventura Motors, who wanted someone to wash cars. Not long afterwards, she was doing any odd jobs in the shop from cleaning the offices, answering the phone to helping out with plastic bumper repairs.
“I was never too proud to accept any job and loved the challenge. I was promoted to receptionist and then started taking on more admin work dealing with insurance and towing companies.”
Ventura motors was later sold to the Master Family, she was fortunate enough to still be employed in that business in an administrative and office management role in 1991.
According to Thembi, being given that initial break and hearing compliments from suppliers and customers gave her the push to finally start her own company, G&T Autobody, in Strijdom Park. Like many in the business world, finding the start-up capital was a challenge and after being turned down by various banks, she decided to use her own Provident Fund money and credit card to get the business on its feet.
Luckily, in her second year she managed to get funding from the Department of Trade and Industry(DTI) which she used to buy equipment. On top of that, she was able to become a member of the The South African Motor Body Repairers Association (SAMBRA), which helped her receive accreditation as a structural repairer.
“With SAMBRA’s support we were able to get the necessary grading and be placed on the insurance company list for work. It also gives customers peace of mind to know you are part of a bigger organization.”
For someone who just entered the automotive industry by chance, she has developed a deep love and passion for all things cars, but it hasn’t always been a smooth sailing, she still gets customers who don’t believe that females can do the job.
“They still think panel beating is for men. I am glad though that it’s changing slowly. I’m even training a female panel beater. We want to change the mindset of people. Women are very thorough. One guy said to me, “I can see that this workshop is female-owned, females have attention to detail.”
Thembi Sithole’s rollercoaster journey to success is evidence that determination can be enough to keep the sometimes faltering hope of a better future on track – as South Africans know well. We can be certain that life will continue to test us, but if our hold on belief is consistent, we’ll make it.
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