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Fleeing famine and communism in Ethiopia, Tadiwos Belete came to America in the 1980s for a chance at survival and success. With a fresh start in Boston, Belete enrolled in cosmetology school. Working his way up from assistant stylist to salon manager, Belete pooled resources with seven friends to open a hair salon.
In 2002, the 53-year-old entrepreneur returned to Ethiopia. This time around he ventured into the hospitality industry, opening Boston Day Spa in Addis Ababa. Later he opened the upscale Kuriftu Resort and Spa in Debre Zeit.
“Whenever you hear about Ethiopia, you always hear about hunger and starvation,” Belete says. “I came back to be part of the development here. I want to be one of those people helping to put Ethiopia on the map again.”
Belete’s resolve to execute his vision twice is unusual. Below are three strategies in Belete’s journey that you can incorporate into your personal and professional efforts.
Be flexible. “This is important because life is not linear or predictable,” says Barry J. Moltz, serial entrepreneur and author of Bounce! Failure, Resiliency and Confidence to Achieve Your Next Great Success (Wiley; $24.95). “When people set big goals, they have to set small steps to achieve them and not just keep talking about them without making progress to get there.”
On previous trips to Ethiopia, Belete performed a feasibility study complete with detailed startup costs, market analyses, and projected earnings for Boston Day Spa.
Be prepared. One evening in Boston, while giving haircuts to a married couple, the wife, Tera Chung, asked “why I had to work so hard if I owned the place,” Belete says. “I told her I was planning to start a business in Ethiopia.”
Chung then asked to see a feasibility study, which Belete presented to her the next day. Belete’s preparation paid off, leading Chung to invest in his company. The two remain business partners.
“If [Belete] had come back in months, she may not have been interested anymore,” says Moltz. “You have to strike while the iron is hot.”
Be principled. “Define success not just in money terms,” says Moltz. “You cannot call it victory if you break all your principles along the way.”
Belete remains determined to change the business landscape of his nation. Convinced that Africa has to be changed by Africans, he believes in hiring local talent. “Almost 68% of them were laborers from the local village,” Belete says of his employees. “I sent most of them to school to be trained so we can help the community. We’re not just trying to do business; we want to add value wherever we go.”
This article originally appeared in the March 2010 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.