He is one of those people you wouldn’t look at twice if you passed him in the street unless you were returning one of his infectious grins. Modest, respectful, and quietly spoken but when he says something; it carries weight, substance, and direction. Africa’s biggest airline by profit and fleet size, Ethiopian Airlines shocked the continent’s aviation industry when it announced the retirement of its legendary Group CEO Tewolde GebreMariam.

GebreMariam was the face of Ethiopian Airlines because of the phenomenal success he achieved cementing the airline’s status as a global brand. Despite significant setbacks to the global aviation industry, Ethiopian Airlines continues to grow. Ethiopian Airlines couldn’t have been in safer hands during the pandemic than those of the group chief executive officer. The former CEO requested early retirement, citing his personal health issues as the reasons for his decision.

Remarkable success

GebreMariam requested early retirement from the Board of Management of Ethiopian Airlines Group (the “Board”), in order for him to focus his attention on his medical treatment. He has been under medical treatment in the USA for the last six months. The Board, in its ordinary meeting held on Wednesday, March 23, 2022, accepted his request for early retirement. GebreMariam was already notably absent during a media event on February 1, when Ethiopian said it would re-introduce the Boeing MAX 8 into its flight schedule, three years after the fatal accident of ET302. The crash on March 10, 2019, was the low point in GebreMariam’s career. His sorrow was captured on strong images when he was alone at the site of the crash, in which 157 occupants of a MAX 8 died.  

GebreMariam led the airline for over a decade with remarkable success reflected in its exceptional performance in all parameters including exponential growth from $1Bn annual turn-over to $4.5Bn, fleet growth from 33 to 130, and from 3 million passengers to 12 million passengers (pre-COVID).

Under his leadership, the airline group grew fourfold in all measurements, building more than $700 million worth of vital infrastructures like Africa’s biggest hotel, Cargo terminal, Maintenance Repair Overhaul (MRO) hangars, shops, Aviation, and Full Flight Simulators.

The carrier, in a statement, said: “The Board, the senior management, employees and the whole Ethiopian Airlines family express their gratefulness for his contribution and wish him a full recovery soon.  The Board will announce the new Group CEO and the successor to Ato Tewolde GebreMariam shortly”. 

 New appointment

Former CEO of Ethiopian Airlines, Ato Girma Wake recently was appointed as Chairman of the Board of Management of Ethiopian Airlines Group by the Ethiopian Public Enterprises Holding & Administration Agency. The carrier further stated that Wake is a highly experienced, successful, and well-regarded business leader and a well-known figure in the aviation industry who previously led Ethiopian Airlines for seven years as a CEO and laid the foundation for fast and profitable growth of the airline. The combination of his experience, work culture, and drive make him capable of chairing the board and taking the airline to the next level. Wake’s decision-making skills are tested and well proved.

Career

GebreMariam began his career in 1985 as a transportation agent. He worked his way through the ranks until he landed the top job in 2011. Ethiopian was a fairly small company for the first 60 years but over the last 15 years, it’s been revolutionized and has arguably proved itself the most adept airline in the world during coronavirus.

GebreMariam recently told AirInsight, “We launched Vision 2025. Then, we had 34 airplanes, now we have 130. Our revenue was around $1.3 billion, it is now more than $4.5billion. We flew to fewer than 60 international destinations in 2011. Now, we have 127. This is not common in the industry”. As part of its Vision 2035, the carrier recently announced an MoU for five Boeing 777-8Fs to strengthen its cargo fleet. 

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