Appointed on 24 March as head of the Ethiopian Airlines group where he spent his entire career, Mesfin Tasew will be taking over from Tewolde GebreMariam, whose resignation was announced the day before. It is back to Addis Ababa, therefore, for the Ethiopian who arrived in Lomé, Togo, in May 2021 as chief executive officer of ASKY Airlines.
Although he has reached the highest level of civil aviation on the continent, the new boss of Ethiopian Airlines has an air of discretion. He does not express himself on social networks, such as Twitter and LinkedIn, or in the conferences that periodically bring together the profession, nor does he take part in interviews and photo sessions. As for his personal life, it remains a mystery, even for those who regularly meet him.
He joined the Ethiopian group as an avionics engineer in 1984 after graduating. He holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Addis Ababa University, a master’s degree in electrical engineering – specialising in communications – from the same university, and an MBA from the Open University in the UK.
In 1984, the year he graduated and joined the group, he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Faculty of Technology of Addis Ababa University as the ‘Outstanding Graduate of the Year’.
3. Close to Tewolde GebreMariam
Mesfin Tasew quickly rose through the hierarchy of the Ethiopian company, where he was director of operations from 2010 to 2021, and was one of the trusted advisors of the former CEO, Tewolde GebreMariam, who was hired by the company a year after him, as was Busera Awel.
The latter – who also worked for ASKY – will be in charge of the operational management of the Ethiopian company until the new boss leaves his position in Lomé for Addis Ababa. He will be working with Girma Wake, the chairman of the board of directors, who is also the former CEO of Ethiopian Airlines.
He arrived as the head of the first company in Africa, which he helped to develop – since he has, in the past, notably managed the acquisition of new aircraft. Mesfin Tasew does not intend to stop there and announced, during his appointment, his intention to “continue the rapid and profitable growth” of Ethiopian Airlines and “to move it to the next level”. According to a statement from the company, it has achieved $3.9bn in turnover in 2019-2020.
5. Trained in leadership
Now in charge of some 17,000 employees, the former engineer has attended numerous local and international seminars in leadership. He has also trained in airline operations management, aviation regulation and aircraft maintenance.
Perceived as a hard worker with an eye for detail, the new boss keeps his feet on the ground and listens attentively to his teams, whom he does not hesitate to tease, on occasion, in order to diffuse a studious atmosphere.
Whether it’s for work schedules, meetings or aircraft take-off, Mesfin Tasew is not known for deviating from the planned schedule.
According to the airline’s 24 March statement, he has ensured the cost effectiveness of the West African airline’s growth strategy while at the helm of AKSY. It is also the “profitability” of his management that is highlighted to illustrate his 11 years as director of operations of the Ethiopian carrier, during which he worked to optimise processes and develop internal resources to cope with the company’s growth.
These management skills will be in high demand as the war in Ukraine drives up fuel prices, increasing costs for airlines and forcing most airlines to raise ticket prices.
The digital transition remains a challenge for African airlines. While processes are well underway for passenger transport, Ethiopian Airlines launched a mobile application in January for cargo customers to track their shipments. The company said this was a first step towards the total digitisation of the entire logistics value chain.
This is a challenge for Mesfin Tasew, who, as operations manager, led a project to automate the maintenance and engineering division.
9. Non-French speaker
Although based in Lomé for a few months, the new boss of Ethiopian did not master French – the operational language of civil aviation remains English.
The Ethiopian state, which owns 100% of its national carrier, does not interfere in the management of the company, several experts in the sector have assured us. However, the situation could change if a new shareholder were to enter the capital. In 2018, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had indeed announced a vast program of privatisation of its national companies, among which the carrier.
Although “suspended” as of October 2020 due to the international context, the measure could return to the forefront during Mesfin Tasew’s tenure. Although Addis Ababa’s priority will undoubtedly be the sale of a 40% stake in the telecom operator Ethio Telecom, the process – of which is more advanced – was frozen by the government on March 18, again “due to the national and global context”.
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