Investing in People
Dawit Hailu is the Managing Director and owner of Wudassie Diagnostic Center – a pioneering company involved in image diagnostic service. Among his growing portfolio business are investments in the hospitality, educational, coffee and import and export business. On the occasion of Wudassie reaching its 10th anniversary since its foundation, the once souvenir seller, now corporate leader reflects on his biography, the early years, operating on the ideals of corporate social responsibility mantra and where he wants to take his company forward. Excerpts:
The Reporter: Wudassie Diagnostic Center is set to celebrate its 10th year anniversary this year. You are seen as a pioneer in providing this image diagnostic service in Ethiopia. Share with me the highlights?
Dawit Hailu: Thank you! Yes, it has been a decade since we started this fulfilling and exciting journey. The company is named after my wife, Wudassie as you may know. We started small, with eight employees, but with lots of passion and dedication to succeed in the business. At present, we have 150 employees at the Center and along with our sister companies, we have about 350 employees.
We operate on the principles that we are not only business entities, but also capacity builders whereby our employees are empowered through advanced training and with good compensation schemes. The business works as a family. They, in return, offer our customers quality services which I would want to receive if I were the recipient of the services. Whatever we do, we always keep that in mind and is how we want our brand to be.
You were a souvenir store owner when you started and you are now in charge of Wudassie Diagnostic Center. How did the transition happen?
It was a simple coincidence. About 14 years ago, I was being visited by a friend from Israel. He came to Ethiopia for a visit and told me he was in a CT scan business. Then, I did not know what that was. I was merely a souvenir seller, as you mentioned (laughs) but I was also very ambitious and wanted to grow, both as a person and a businessman. I had a store nearby Tikur Anbessa Secondary School and was expanding it and had just opened my third branch not far from it in a short time frame.
I was not just selling other peoples’ products, but I was manufacturing what I was selling. I was also involved in the exporting of these products to the international market as well as offering them locally. It was an exciting time for me and the opportunity was wide and far.
Going back to my friend who introduced me to the CT scan business, when he mentioned the kinds of business he was involved in, I assumed it was some kind of a sophisticated photography business linked to urban planning. I thought that was what “city scan” meant. It was foreign to me. I thought it was something that takes the photograph of a city. I had to google what that was and when I did; I was intrigued, surprised and heartened by it. I quickly envisioned it working in Ethiopia and for the many people that needed it.
As I discovered it more and the impact it has on public health, I was simply hooked. I convinced him, it was also needed in Ethiopia and we quickly agreed to try it, through WWJ Diagnostics in 2005 as co-owners. However, in a few years, he decided to move to the United States and I was forced to continue the journey on my own. That was in 2009. Along with my wife, ten years later, we are owners of the family business.
When I completed my studies in accounting and sociology from the Addis Ababa University, I did not think this was what I wanted to do. But it has been a great ride and I am humbled by its impact. You just do not know where life takes you. But if there is some wisdom I want to pass on to younger people is that, do not necessarily take the conventional road and try to emulate the success of ours, but try to create your own road and take calculated risks. Try to find a role for yourself where you get the most satisfaction, not just the financial rewards. Always find content in what you do!
What was your initial vision when you started it?
Remember, we were a pioneer in the business and there was no such business like ours. There was no roadmap on how we should be and operate our business. But we were eager to learn the experiences of others, locally or around the world. Our vision was to train many people on how to operate a CT scan machine and then offer quality and affordable services to health practitioners. Once we did, we also learned the fact that there were many people who could not afford our services and started offering free services to those referred by public health institutions. There is much need in what we do!
There is this young doctor I know; she mentioned to me how you have helped hundreds of vulnerable people with your diagnostic services. She recalls referring many to your center, even as a practicing student doctor and she was taken aback how you were able to afford to offer these many free but expensive services while running a profit-making business?
We value people. That is our starting point. We do not always run after money. Those who do will ultimately falter when the competition is stiffer. To begin with, we like to share our profits with our employees, by way of adequate compensation, benefits, and not just meeting standards but exceeding them. That is why they remain loyal to us.
The same value works with our customers. We help them when they need a helping hand and they in return become our ambassadors. We take into consideration the fact that our clients are not just our customers, but they are also our friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens. That is how we see them. We are investing in good relations which ultimately pay off.
If I may, I also would like to highlight on the 13th month of the year (Ethiopian calendar) annually, we dedicate most of our services to those who cannot afford it and invite these people to come and see us. We are happy to see these people walk through our doors and take advantage of our services. In the traffic of people who come to us, we are able to see the need of what we do and in return take much inspiration from it.
I note that you have also expanded other areas of business through sister companies.
We operate a school in Bishoftu – Jorgo Academy – that is up-to grade 8 and we are in the process of adding a high school within a year. We now have more than 800 students and it is expanding. In addition, we have opened “Akkoo Coffee” - a brand of premier coffee products and a restaurant. We also import medical equipment to Ethiopia in collaboration with ElsMed Health Care Solutions, from various countries around the world.
Now that you have reached a decade in service in the health sector, what is next?
We want to excel in what we do and we want our growth to be organic. We do not want to jump high and fail. We also want to do our share to consistently contribute to the growth of Ethiopia. We focus on continually providing our services to those who cannot afford them and to those who can with no compromise or favoritism. Rest assured, we will continue to provide high-quality services that satisfy our customers, the one they get in developed nations by way of medical tourism but without traveling elsewhere looking for it.