Photos: Kuriftu Resort and Spa in Debre Zeit owned and operated by Boston Partners
By Eden Habtamu, Ezega News
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, July 8, 2009 – “I was a laborer for 6 years before the Boston Partners Building begun construction. My salary was 9 birr per day. When the building finished and started operating, the owner of Boston Day Spa, Ato Tadiwos Belete, approached and told us that we were going to stay with him. First we became janitors. Then, we were trained according to our interests. The training was fully covered by the owner. Through this process, we became professional therapists on Aroma, Swedish, Hot Stone and Thai massage therapy. Many employers do not attempt to change and improve their employees, but he was an exception. He was eager to see our progress. My life has now changed completely and I cannot thank him enough”, said Tigist Belay, a massage therapist that I found at the Boston Day Spa. Tigist (shown in right photo) is one of the employees who was a construction worker before and later became a trained massage therapist.
Ato Tadiwos Belete is the co-owner of Boston Day Spa, Kuriftu Resort and Spa (in Debre Zeit and Bahr Dar-Lake Tana), Boston Partners, Kuriftu Guest House, Hora Resort, and Burayu Resort with his Taiwan-American partner. He introduced a well-established and standardized sap at Boston’s Partners building five years ago. He and his business partner then brought Kuriftu Resort and Spa at Debre Zeit and Lake Tana from dream to reality. Hora and Burayu Resorts are not finished and operational yet.
Tadiwos was born in a small village called Lemo in Arisi, and he later came to Dessie with his uncle. In 1980, he left for Sudan and stayed there for three years. He spent a very hard time in Sudan, lacking basic necessities, including sufficient water and food. He later became a servant. He engaged himself in different fields and faced challenging time for three years. He finally found a sponsor who took him to Chicago. After a year in Chicago, he headed to Boston and lived there for 19 years. Tadiwos deeply believes in challenging himself to the fullest and in working closely with and improving the lives of his employees at any cost.
Eden Habtamu of Ezega.com interviewed Tadiwos recently and asked him about his investments and his background. He kindly invited her to his office at Boston Partners Building where the following interview was conducted.
Ezega.com: I thank you for welcoming me to your office.
Ato Tadiwos:I thank you, too. It is my pleasure.
Ezega.com: What was it like returning to your country after almost two decades?
Ato Tadiwos:I always wanted to come back to my homeland. But I wanted to bring something to my country. I always wanted to be here and be a part of my country’s development. But I needed support from a willing business partners for so long. After a lot of effort, I found this lady who agreed to be my 50% partner. So, that made things easier for me to come here and start business.
Ezega.com: If I am not mistaken, you started your investment in Ethiopia with Boston Day Sap. What was your first role at Boston Day Spa?
Ato Tadiwos:I started as a hair stylist at Boston Day Sap after we finished construction. I worked as a stylist for one year, six months, and seven days. I was on duty from 7:00am-11:00pm. I trained my subordinates to become the best hair stylists they can be. I also shared my life experience with them, encouraging them to become whoever they want to be. We have a very transparent operation and communication here. I had a very good time doing this.
Ezega.com: How was your stay abroad? Please tell me this along with your educational background and work experience?
Ato Tadiwos:I was 2nd year student going for associate degree in accounting, but I could not finish my third year because I had to support my family. Then, I got nine months of training on hair styling that paved the way for me to work in many hair salons. Afterwards, I managed to co-own two hair salons (which were some of the best in town) with my friends in Boston. When I came here I started this investment with my partner. I am happy that she had full trust and confidence on our investment plans.
Ezega.com: Please tell me about Kuriftu Debre Zeit Resort and Spa. How did it start and what features does it have?
Ato Tadiwos:Kuriftu resort is the 1st standard benchmark for a lodge here. It proves that we Ethiopians can make and operate 5-star resorts. In addition, it shows that Ethiopian created equipment and materials can be applied to our resorts harmoniously.
We trained fresh graduate students for one year and eight months. Now they are the ones who are managing the resort. For me it’s like a child. I saw its progress with time. It is now a successful venture, but the start was really difficult. As you know, during the Dergue regime, the service sector was completely dead. So, it was difficult to start such an investment. However, you can see now that things are changing. You can take a look at the spa business. There was no spa when we started Boston Day Spa. Now there are many spas at different places, some of them even better than ours.
Photo: Kuriftu Lake Tana
Ezega.com: How is Kuriftu Lake Tana different?
Ato Tadiwos:Bahir Dar Kuriftu is the second child of Kuriftu. We learned a lot from our experience at Kuriftu Debre Zeit and tried hard to excel in our services. We trained our employees for one year before we came into operation. The resort complements Bahir Dar’s natural beauty, making it a very spectacular, breath-taking, and a must-see resort.
Ezega.com: People complain about the price of your resorts, which range from USD 143 to USD 235. Do you believe you are offering an affordable price to the middle class people in Ethiopia?
Ato Tadiwos:People may have their own prices in mind and may estimate our priceless services in money. You cannot measure the value of our service in numbers that easily. One guest is served by five workers. People may not have taken such values into account. This fact may surprise you but 87% of our customers are Ethiopians. People are happy with the service they are getting. We are booked for longer periods of time and we even extended our services from 18 to 40 different kinds of rooms and bungalows. So, I can’t say it is unaffordable.
Ezega.com: Most of your investments were not common in our country a short while ago. What do you expect from other investors to develop our country in parallel?
Ato Tadiwos:I believe we should work jointly. When we started the Kuriftu resort in Debre Zeit, I wanted to upgrade nearby hotel services too. I believe we will be more successful if we can work together and share our experience and knowledge. In order to upgrade the image of Debre Zeit and our investment, we started a hotel association which was a very unusual thing in this investment culture. I personally gave nine months of training for individual hotel owners to work together and to enhance the standard of their services. I am happy now when I observe the change we brought to the Debre Zeit area. We are doing the same thing in Bahir Dar. We cannot bring change just by ourselves. We should work together for a better outcome in every direction.
Ezega.com: Your investments are getting bigger and wider. How many people do you currently employ in all of your businesses?
Ato Tadiwos:We have nearly one thousand permanent and temporary employees in Boston Day Spa, Boston Partners, Kuriftu Guest House, Kuriftu Debre Zeit and Bahir Dar, Hora Resort, and Burayu Resort. Amazingly, 68% of our employees are the same people who built our properties. We wanted to add value to these people’s lives so they do their work passionately.
Ezega.com: Is it not difficult to invest on non-trained employees?
Ato Tadiwos:Most Ethiopian employers believe in keeping distance between their employees and themselves. But I totally disagree with that concept. I myself was serving individuals. So, it was not difficult for me to see. I knew what it feels like. These people lack confidence and we should restore that confidence back. So, I encourage them every day and tell them that they are as good as, or even better than myself. So, we became successful. We believe this is the biggest achievement of our company.
Ezega.com: What do you think was the biggest drive that brought you to where you are now?
Ato Tadiwos:I think this is mainly due to believing in myself, working hard, and tackling challenges. That’s it.
Ezega.com: What was your biggest challenge in life that may have contributed to your success?
Ato Tadiwos:There are many, but Sudan was the major one. It was quite a lesson for me and changed my definition of life. It was a school for me and I have learned a lot from it.
Ezega.com: Can you please tell me about you family? What kind of family man are you?
Ato Tadiwos:I am afraid, I must be a lousy one; I am workaholic and may not be spending much time with my family as I should. My wife is a very strong person who is always supporting the family. I have three beautiful children and I will try my best to spend more of my spare time with them.
Ezega.com: What do you advise Ethiopians who are living abroad with skills, knowledge, experience and capital?
Ato Tadiwos:First and foremost, I believe it’s only Ethiopians who can change our country. Many fellow Ethiopians are not living in their country for various reasons, but we cannot question their love for their homeland. I wish they understand the very true reality of our country and bring their knowledge and experience to Ethiopia.
Ezega.com: As you have lived in the land many of our youth dream off, what do you say to these ambitious fellows?
Ato Tadiwos:Since my age also allows me to give advice as I am getting older (laughing), my advice is this. 99.9% of what we observe in the country’s development came from people who live here, not from anywhere else. So, if you want to develop yourself and your country, you should work hard and bring change here, not anywhere else.
Ezega.com: I thank you for your time
Ato Tadiwos: I thank you, too.
This article was written by Eden Habtamu reporting for Ezega.com from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She can be reached by email at News@Ezega.com. The article can be reprinted in full or in part elsewhere but only by giving full credit to Ezega. If reprinted on a website, we ask that you place this active link: Ezega Ethiopian News, pointing to http://www.Ezega.com.