She took over her husband’s panel beating business, added towing services, grew it and diversified

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Meet Selinah Mtilene, the bodacious businesswoman who runs Diamond Panelbeaters in Mabopane.
Meet Selinah Mtilene, the bodacious businesswoman who runs Diamond Panelbeaters in Mabopane.

These days there is no such thing as a “man’s world”.

The idea of certain type of industries and roles being reserved for men only is outdated, as Melinda Gates, the billionaire who helped her ex-husband, Bill, become one of the richest men alive, has said.

Importantly, “women have to lift each other up – not to replace men at the top of the hierarchy, but to become partners with men in ending hierarchy”, the author and philanthropist writes in her book, Moment of Lift.

Selinah Mtilene may not be a billionaire – yet – but she has the same keys to success used by Melinda: a supportive partner, building a network of sisters one connection at a time, and the determination to make a mark in the world and give back to her community. 

She was not always the type to question the gender order, Selinah admits. But when her husband started running a backyard panel-beating business, she developed a passion for the “masculine” motor industry.

So deeply did she fall in love with the business that, 11 years in, she eventually decided to run their Mabopane-based business, Diamond Panelbeaters, with her husband full-time.

After three years in the venture as partner, he left the business, and Selinah now runs it on her own. 

Selinah found running the business tough, especially when it came to accessing finance. After her three-year stint as a solo business owner, Selinah was forced to return to a full-time job so that she could obtain a personal loan to buy the necessary equipment. 

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During that period, she relied on her assistant, Valencia Khoza, who ran the business while she was working. 

“Having a woman I could rely on, and a fixed income to steady the course, I grew in self-confidence and at the same time, my confidence in the strength of women also grew,” she says. 

The underrepresentation of women in the field, however, meant there was little support from a “sisterhood”, commonly found in women’s social circles and family networks, Selinah notes. 

“But no matter how long or how hard the road was, I couldn’t and didn’t allow myself to lose focus.” 

All the hard work and sacrifice finally paid off when she landed a big client – insurer MiWay. This was a game-changer for the Mabopane businesswoman.

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From running her business with just one employee to now employing 48 people, Selinah has levelled up.

“My vision has always been to give back to the community and create opportunities where poverty is rife and where there is high unemployment, especially among the youth.”

She says landing the contract with the insurer gave her the wings to fly.

“Becoming a MiWay service provider meant that Diamond Panelbeaters had the foundation to expand its services to include 24-hour towing and roadside assistance, something it previously had to outsource. The new towing business has created a further 20 jobs in the surrounding community.

“Today, Diamond Panelbeaters still employs Valencia, but we also have 48 professionals who are employed full-time.” 

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