From Traffic Officer to CEO of Africa’s Biggest Airline: The Rise of Tewolde GebreMariam

Tewolde GebreMariam, the former CEO of Ethiopian Airlines, personifies the proverb “despise not small beginnings.” Tewolde’s rise from humble beginnings as a traffic controller to the helm of Africa’s most successful airline is an amazing monument to tenacity and drive.

Tewolde, who was named African CEO of the Year by Jeune Afrique and the African Development Bank in Geneva in 2012, was present to discuss a proposal to sell Kenya Airways to US Delta Airlines. The transaction, however, fell through when Kenya Airways failed to repay a $841.6 million loan from the US Export-Import Bank in 2017.

Tewolde’s escapades highlight his exciting and interesting career in the sector, with over 37 years of expertise in African Aviation. During his tenure, Ethiopian Airlines surpassed Emirates to become the largest connecting airline between Asia and Africa, as well as inside Africa. According to reports, the airline has surpassed all others in Africa in terms of passenger volume and fleet size.

According to sources, Ethiopian Airlines doubled its fleet size, from 33 aircraft carrying three million people to 130 aircraft carrying 13 million passengers. Under Gebremariam’s leadership, the airline expanded its Addis Ababa base and invested in smaller operators in Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia.

Notably, Ethiopian Airlines increased its annual revenue from one billion USD to 4.5 billion USD. Under Gebremariam, the airline has constructed about USD 700 million in key infrastructure such as Africa’s largest hotel, Cargo terminal, MRO hangars and stores, Aviation Academy, and Full Flight Simulators.

His accomplishment earned him the title of “The Airline Strategy Award for Regional Leadership” for the first time in the award’s 12-year history. Airline Business Magazine, a magazine of Flight Global, the world’s premier aviation media brand, bestows the award annually.

Tewolde has been praised for his strategy’s pan-African breadth, modern governance and financial openness, and the quality of social, human, and environmental policies. These awards not only recognize his exceptional leadership, but also highlight the transformative impact he has had on the aviation industry and the continent as a whole. While we celebrate his accomplishments at the airline, let’s take a look at how he rose through the ranks.

GebreMariam began his work as a traffic inspector with Ethiopian Airlines in 1985. He rose through the ranks from traffic officer to Manager, Cargo Traffic Handling. Tewolde, who was headquartered in Addis Abeba at the time, was eventually assigned as Area Manager and Regional Director for India in Bombay and Saudi Arabia in Jeddah.

A few years later, he was recruited to supervise the airline’s Sales and Marketing Department. On July 1, 2006, he was named as the Chief Operations Officer, COO. Tewolde oversaw the Airline’s operational divisions as COO, which included commercial, flight operations, customer service, maintenance, and engineering.

His ascension provided him with the opportunity to see several sectors of the aviation business. As a result, he was promoted to Group Chief Executive Officer in 2011. As CEO, he was a member of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s High-level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport (HLAG-ST).

Tewolde resigned from the airline after 37 years to focus on his medical treatment in 2022. Tewolde has been receiving medical care in the United States for the previous six months, according to an airline statement announcing his early retirement.

Tewolde will also be unable to continue guiding the airline as Group CEO, a position that necessitates his close presence and undivided attention around the clock, according to the firm. GebreMariam now works as a Senior Strategic Advisor for Delta Air Lines after retiring. Tewolde, who owns and controls the consulting firm TGM Advisory Services LLC, was honored with the 2022 Airline Strategy Awards for his efforts at Ethiopian Airlines.

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