Beyond its own operations, Ethiopian Airline has also been helping other African national carriers. It revived and owns a 49% stake in Malawi Airlines and a 45% stake in Zambia Airways, among others. It has also been in talks to establish smaller regional bases in Djibouti, Chad, and Equatorial Guinea. It already operates hubs in Malawi and Togo. This strategy of reviving defunct national airlines, launching more connections and setting up more hubs across Africa has helped Ethiopian Airlines become a leader in its industry. Recently, the Board of Management of Ethiopian Airlines Group announced the appointment of Mesfin Tassew Group’s new CEO replacing Tewolde GebreMariam, the outgoing CEO. Kaleyesus Bekele of Origins Business sat down to discuss with Mesfin about his future plans; excerpts;
Born, raised and finalized preparatory school in Debre Markos town, Mesfin studied Electrical Engineering at Addis Ababa University Institute of Technology.
Mr. Mesfin has 38 years of experience in airline management and operations in the areas of aircraft maintenance and engineering, procurement, information technology department, flight operations, capability development, capacity building, development of corporate strategies, airline operation management, and corporate leadership.
In 1984, Mr. Mesfin was a gold medal award winner of Addis Ababa University (AAU) Faculty of Technology — BSc. Degree in Electrical Engineering as an Outstanding Graduate of the Year. He also specialized in MSc. Degree in Communications in Electrical Engineering from AAU.
He earned Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) from Open University in the United Kingdom.
In the different capacities he served during his 38 years of service, Mr. Mesfin has been a key player responsible for planning and execution of strategies that led the airline to shine in the African skies and beyond. He assumed responsibilities including but not limited to overall maintenance of Ethiopian fleet, capability and capacity development, leading the automation project of the Maintenance and Engineering Division Vice President and managing projects related to aircraft acquisition.
He worked as Avionics Engineer and Supervisor Avionics Engineering Group from 1984 – 1994, Manager of Planning and Automation, Maintenance and Engineering Division from 1995 – 1997, Chief Information Officer from 1998 – 2006, and Vice President of Maintenance and Engineering from 2006 –2010.
Last year, Mesfin appointed as CEO of ASKY Airlines in Togo, Lomé.
Recently, Mesfin become a successor of the Ethiopian Airlines Group former CEO Tewolde GebreMariam after his resignation due to health issues.
A father of three, Mesfin was a Head of Chief Information Officer at the Airlines in 2000, at a time when the Y2K bug, a computer flaw, or bug, which may cause problems when dealing with, dates beyond December 31, 1999. The flaw, faced by computer programmers and users all over the world on January 1, 2000, is also known as the “millennium bug.”
“I worked to protect the Airlines from such a difficulty. The global glitch didn’t affect the operations of the Ethiopian Airlines,” Mesfin said in an exclusive interview with Ethio Trade and Investment Forum radio show
Surviving the hectic early phase of the Covid-19 pandemic
The global aviation hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. Most of the Airlines ceased flights. But the Ethiopian Airlines decided the opposite.
One of the most devastating impacts of the pandemic besides health risks was the massive loss of jobs and sources of livelihood for families at a global level.
Given the policies to prevent the spread of Covid-19, including business lockdowns and restricted face-to-face interactions, commerce has been the most affected sector followed by services throughout all countries. As an expected outcome of the lockdown and travel restrictions, the aviation industry suffered huge losses worldwide.
It is however interesting and worthy of mention that no Ethiopian Airlines staff was laid off amidst all these.
“Collective and smart decision making by our management has made the Airlines strong in face of the pandemic,” Mesfin stressed. “We decided on the matter to shift the Airlines focus to cargo services, which is a successful and timely decision,” he remembers.
Chartered flight operations provided by Ethiopian Airlines to citizens of different countries who then needed return back to their countries was among the success ingredients mentioned by Mesfin.
“Ethiopian Airlines is one of the Airlines that flew higher than the pandemic without any losses,” Mesfin said. “We are recovering from impacts of the Covid-19. Though we did not get back to the pre-Covid-19 period performances, Ethiopian is still a profitable company.”
Ethiopian Vision 2035
Achieving fast and profitable growth is the core principle of Ethiopian Airlines Vision 2035. To meet the vision, ensuring a double-digit growth is a major goal, according to Mesfin.
“We believe in achieving our target as we have been working on human resource and infrastructure development in addition to efficiency of work,” he explained.
Ethiopian is well known for development of its local execution capacity, he says. “We’ll handle global (external) pressures so long as we are building our internal capacity.”
Pre-covid-19 profit growth rate was stood at 25%.
Observers said that in the post-pandemic period, Ethiopian Airlines is not in a profit mode rather engaged in survival activities.
However, the new CEO believes that flag carrier Ethiopian Airlines will continue to register remarkable profit ahead.
Ethiopian has a share in Malawi and Mozambique Airlines in addition to ASKY Airlines, managed by the Airlines.
The Airlines is too engaged in Hotel business. Due to all these factors and high rate of growth it has been registering so far, observers feared that Ethiopian Airlines could face with a decline of growth rate anytime soon.
Mesfin however refutes such argument.
“Ethiopian Airlines will continue to grow,” Mesfin speaks confidently.
“We are planning to inspect our internal capacity than ever before,” Mesfin told Ethio Trade and Investment Forum radio show.
“Registering growth without strengthening internal capacity will pose its own risk against Ethiopian profitability,” he said, adding, “If Ethiopian cannot build a capacity to carry out a robust growth that would create its own problems”.
By the same token, focusing solely on consolidation will have its own demerits, he says.
Mesfin said registering a robust growth in the last 15 years is what makes Ethiopian Airlines successful. “Therefore, both consolidating and registering growth of the Airlines activities will be conducted commensurably,” he said.
Mesfin has been assigned to provide leadership to ASKY Airlines, which manages by the Ethiopian. He was assigned to lead the ASKY for three years. But, he returned back to Ethiopian following Tewolde GebreMariam’s resignation over his health issues.
“I didn’t hesitate to lead Ethiopian after I have offered with the opportunity to be the new CEO,” he explained.
“I used to dream about engaging myself in education and research before I joined the Ethiopian Airlines,” he remembers. “Later on, I found the Airlines very attractive one to work passionately and changed my plan to be engaged in research activities at higher educational institutions.”
The majorities of the Ethiopian staff are working overtime until job is done and also busy during weekends.
“Including the Management team, staffs are proactively working in their leisure time by their own will, even without overtime payments,” said Mesfin.
Each time spent in the Airlines has its own lessons for each of staff, which makes Ethiopian the preferred Airlines, Mesfin concludes.