Tewolde Gebremariam, chief executive officer, Ethiopian Airlines
Despite being stateowned, Africa’s largest airline by revenue and profit has long been free from government meddling. This is one reason why Tewolde Gebremariam, Ethiopian Airlines’ CEO since 2011, has survived the country’s recent political revolution. New prime minister Abiy Ahmed has purged senior staff from other state-owned enterprises, but Tewolde’s team and vision remain intact. Another reason is that under his stewardship the company has made extraordinary progress. Its net profit in the 2017/18 financial year rose to $233m, from $229m the previous year, while its operating revenue rose by 43% to $3.7bn – figures unmatched by any other carrier on the continent. Vision 2025, a 15-year strategy drawn up in 2010, has been so successful that Tewolde is already working on a scaled-up successor for 2030. The fleet is only 20 planes away from its target of 120 by 2025, which would make it the continent’s largest. “It is a remarkable success,” Tewolde told The Africa Report in his office next to Bole International Airport, which is fast becoming one of the continent’s busiest hubs. “Some of the targets we set in 2010 to be achieved by 2025 we achieved by 2016.” Tewolde, who joined the airline in 1985, attributes its success to long-term planning. For instance, in 2008 the company put in an early order for a fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners; in 2012 it became the first airline in the world outside Japan to fly them. “To succeed in the aviation business […] you need to plan for a longtime horizon,” he says. Today, the company is busy exporting its model across Africa, buying stakes in existing airlines in Djibouti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea and Equatorial Guinea, as well as setting up new ones in Chad, Ghana, Guinea, Mozambique, Nigeria and Zambia. He brushes off criticisms that such rapid expansion risks a crash landing. “We are very conscious about that,” he says. “We don’t want to do it too fast and too far.
The airline boss talks to The Africa Report about Ethiopian’s new stakes in African transport companies across the continent and the challenges of planning for the long term