Selamawit Samuel is the Vice President of Sunshine Investment, founded by her father Samuel Tafese, a local contractor and business tycoon. Involved in the areas of construction, hospitality and philanthropy, the family run company has been a pioneer on many fronts in Ethiopia. Selamawit is also making a name for herself, as she is set to inaugurate a chocolate factory in the capital while completing an MBA. Recently, she sat down with Samuel Getachew of The Reporter to deliberate on the work of Sunshine, her own business endeavors and how she envisions herself a decade from now. Excerpts:
The Reporter: It appears that you are emerging as a successful businesswoman in your own right. You are now on the verge of opening a chocolate factory. Share with me some of the projects you are currently working on?
Selamawit Samuel: I currently oversee the development, asset management and operations of Sunshine’s current and future hotel and commercial real estate projects. There is also the chocolate factory you mentioned, which will be the first bean-to bar chocolate production with some innovative teff and coffee components here in Ethiopia. According to the reputable publisher “The Economist” the middle class of Ethiopia will be quadrupling within the next 5 years so, the Fast-moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) sector is something I want to infiltrate further.
You currently serve as chairwoman and executive vice president of the company. Tell me about some of the work the company is currently involved in?
Sunshine is involved in various activities. We are in different segments such as road construction, real estate and hospitality. Our Core business is construction, the largest industrial subsector sustaining Ethiopia’s growth.
We are currently thriving in the road sector with around 173 KM of road on hand and over 874 KM handed over. We are also resilient in the real estate market with over 3000 housing units handed over and several more in the pipeline. Our brand stands for reliability and excellence. Hotels are also in our portfolio with partners such as Marriott and Hilton. We plan to grow our hospitality wing by partnering up with foreign investors and developers in the future.
Sunshine ventured into the hotel business in recent years, opening the first Marriott brand in 2015. At its opening, you reflected how it is “an outstanding brand which will add great and unique hospitality flair to the diplomatic capital of Ethiopia”. Has it fulfilled this promise?
Yes, the first Marriott Executive Apartments in sub-Saharan Africa has filled an important supply gap in the capital for long stay and short stay guests. The hotel sector in Ethiopia has evolved as demand outpaced the supply. Marriott benefits from Addis Ababa hosting the third largest diplomatic community and the attraction of the growing presence of global brands entering the country. With growing tourist arrivals of 5 % this year, Marriott will further continue to benefit from the high demand for branded hotels in Ethiopia.
When is the second Marriott opening in Bole?
We have completed the design process, which was undertaken by 15 foreign consultants and designers, for the second five-star Marriott. The design has been approved by Marriott’s head office. The hotel will feature 3 basement parking spaces which have already been completed. Construction is well underway with opening projection in 2020. With Hilton Hawassa, we are diversifying our portfolio demographically. It is currently in the final stage of design. The city is emerging as a hub through the newly built airport and highway, which will further enhance connectivity.The newly inaugurated Industry Park is further indication that the city is flourishing.
One of the areas that set your company apart is its corporate responsibility mantra. Tell me about that?
We build and operate three schools in Agena, Axum and Nekemet for 1200 students providing them with necessities including daily stipends under our Sunshine Philanthropy Foundation umbrella.
My parents (Samuel Tafese & Fetlework Elala) are keen to break the cycle of poverty by providing quality education to disadvantaged communities in order to reach their full potential. We strive for encouragement through programs such as Woman of the month, Pedagogy and Innovation programs and Best reader programs to encourage students to excel in education through social change. Sunshine’s Philanthropic activities have been involved in numerous corporate responsibility undertakings. We are also currently building retirement homes for homeless elders in order to provide basic needs.
Many people know your father, as a self made rags-to-riches successful business man. Tell me the Samuel Tafese that you know?
The Samuel Tafese that I know is hilarious, audacious, persistent, compassionate and generous.
You are in the process of completing an Executive MBA from Dubai. Why do you think an MBA is a worthy investment to make it in today’s business environment?
Executive MBA gives you a competitive advantage to adapt to the new business environment. It broadens your skill set; it makes you think outside the box. I started looking at my businesses in different perspectives. It enhances your leadership skills, if it’s through leadership workshops or lectures from elite professors. You learn to adapt with the pace of change in business. It also gives you a diverse pool of professionals to learn and interact with and provides a massive opportunity of networking.
How do you relax and release some of the pressure of what I can only imagine is a super busy life?
By traveling to different countries and learning about different cultures.
Where do you see yourself in the next decade?
I see myself building my business portfolio in different sectors. I want to focus on the FMCG sector and the service sector, which have enormous potential with population and purchasing power rising. Further, I want to create employment in a very competitive labor market. I also want to be a pioneer investor in women in business. I want to create a platform such as Lean or dress for success to create a support system for women in business.
What is the best date night restaurant in the capital for you?
The best date night restaurant for me is Pepper Spice at Marriott Executive Apartments. They offer different theme nights every Saturday. From Greek, Arabian, Asian, Indian, Mexican, Spain and African it’s like traveling to a different country every Saturday.
What is your new year’s wish for Ethiopia?
My wish is for Ethiopia’s peace.