The longserving CEO of Africa’s largest airline Ethiopia Airlines has stepped down, citing ill health. Starting at the firm in 1985, he become CEO in 2011. He leaves behind a strong legacy, the envy of other African airlines who struggle to match Ethiopian’s operational efficiency.
Tewolde GebreMariam is a towering figure of African aviation, dragging Ethiopian Airlines through a profound modernisation process, and running the state-backed company profitably, in comparison to many continental peers.
“I pay tribute to the work of a man who has led Africa’s largest airline for over 11 years”, says Abdérahmane Berte, head of the African Airlines Association (AFRAA).
“Under his leadership Ethiopian Airlines became the largest African airline. A position maintained for many years”, he says. “For the sake of history I also note the important role of Ethiopian Airlines as one of the founding companies of AFRAA.”
Ethiopian Airlines tripled its fleet under Tewolde GebreMariam’s watch, from around 40 when he took over as CEO in 2011, to 120 today.
Turnover also grew from $1.3bn in 2011 to $3.9bn in 2019-2020. And Ethiopian’s Addis Ababa hub now flies to 120 destinations, compared to 80 in 2010.
While the Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact, kicking a billion dollar hole in the budget, Ethiopian Airlines has managed to be operationally flexible, refitting several passenger planes into cargo carriers, the fruit of a long-started diversification exercise.
Ethiopian Airlines was the continent’s fifth largest carrier, after South African Airways, Egyptair, Royal Air Maroc and Kenya Airways. But post pandemic, thanks to this agility — and the decline of other carriers — it finds itself Africa’s biggest as measured by turnover in our exclusive ranking of Africa’s Top 500 Companies.
“Ato Tewolde was a game changer in African aviation. He bumped Ethiopian Airlines into the new century with a solid and steady hand, expanding the airline in terms of scope and profits beyond what was thought possible in Africa”, says one African aviation expert who asks not to be named. “His agility was apparent in Ethiopian’s stunning quick turn once the pandemic decimated passenger traffic by quickly converting passenger aircraft to freighters, earning the awe and admiration of business leaders worldwide. Honestly his handling of ET during Covid was spectacular.”
“I have already retired due to ill-health & the resignation I submitted to the gov’t was accepted”, Tewolde told Ethiopia Check.