Ethiopian entrepreneur Tadiwos Belete on defining success, overcoming failure and managing poor performance

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Tadiwos Belete is a pioneering hospitality entrepreneur, who runs a brand of successful resorts in Ethiopia. Having spent his early life in Ethiopia, he was forced to migrate to Sudan at the age of 16. His company, Kuriftu Resorts and Spas, is now in five locations across Ethiopia, with a further two coming soon.

How do you encourage creative thinking and idea sharing in your organisation?

It’s the one thing I cherish: my door is open to all my staff from the bottom up. I left Ethiopia when I was 16.  I was a refugee in Sudan. For three years I was a housemaid there. So, I like to give an opportunity to everyone who works in my company, anyone who has a very good idea is encouraged and has direct access to my office at any given time.

How do you define success?

To achieve your desired goal and to bring the people around you up to their desired level. So, afterwards, you can look at yourself and say ‘I have done my job and changed so many people’s lives.

Has your definition of success changed over time?

It has. When I started what I was doing now, my goal was to make sure my family lives well and that they are comfortable. But now, it’s not all about us anymore. It’s about making difference, changing people’s lives and making sure Ethiopia is on the map. It’s a bigger picture.

What is the driving force behind your success?

I’m in the tourism business and since I started my business in Ethiopia about 15 years ago, every day we have been doing something new to bring more tourists to the country or locals using our product. I get up and I am driven by the desire to see more people on the continent, I want to connect Africa, promote Ethiopia to the rest of Africa and to see more Africans proud of their continent. That is my drive right now.

What would you put on a billboard?

Work hard.

Are you an optimistic person, if so, what would you say to a pessimistic person?

I'm a very optimistic person and I never think anything is impossible. I think it's a natural thing, so I always try to encourage those who don’t have that ability. Because as you see the whole world, a few percentage of people are working very hard to create businesses and most of them are working. So life has to have its own balance.

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What advice would you give to a new graduate?

A lot of advice, but I don’t have time because every new graduate, thinks, once they have their degree, they think they are consultant, or they know it all.  But they have to give it some time.  Education is maybe 1% of what you’re going to do for the rest of your life.

What is the worst advice you have received?

Not to come to Ethiopia.

How do you communicate the core values?

I am a person that never keeps a secret from my staff. I always come up with ideas and I invite everyone from every different levels to discuss them, share their feelings and fight on the ideas.  Whoever wins then we proceed to make it a project. So, my door is always open. I always communicate and always share ideas.

How do you manage poor performance in your team?

Every morning when I finish my swimming I go to my office and I will call every day my corporate office and we discuss what we are going to do, every single day.  Everyone is involved.  No one has special privilege to sit with me.  Even if we make a mistake, it is a team mistake.  When we make mistakes, we try to sit down and identify the mistake and correct them and go forward.

How do you develop and mentor, up-and-coming young entrepreneurs?

In our company we have never hired anyone from somewhere else. Our employees are trained and retrained and retrained, and that’s what you have to do. In terms of management, every manager is a fresh graduate, whom we provide with proper training.

How do you overcome failure in work?

As a business you make mistakes, every day you do and that can lead you to a major failure. What I do is we always sit down, identify the problem, regroup as a management team, attack the issue for the bottom-up. For us to be a company that can last for another 50 to 60 years, I think teamwork and really understanding that when you fail, you really have to accept and understand and diagnose.  We do that every single day, because we make a mistake every day.

What made you want to get into the hospitality industry?

I think I am born to serve. I like to see people happy and enjoying themselves. I like to give, and I really like to see people smiling at all times.  I was not always in the hospitality industry but for me it comes naturally. For example, the way I grew up, I was born in a small village called Arsi. In the village, one calls round to another to have a nice coffee together, enjoying that small beautiful life.  I think that is lived inspiration to me to really develop and change the continent. Because I’m tired of looking at these international hotels coming into the country, I want to this economy to be powered from within the country, within the continent.