The new face of entertainment
Wondwossen Kassie is a notable Ethiopian businessman in the East Africa Region and the man behind Nahoo TV Network, one of the few recently emerged private TV network channels in Ethiopia. Apart from that, he owns a nightclub in Mombasa, Kenya and is also engaged in different types of business in the same country. Wondwossen first arrived in Kenya in 1991 and stayed there for five years before making his way to Australia where he worked for some ten years. Service is a bit of a passion for Wondwossen and in Australia he owned restaurants and coffee shops before finally returning to Africa. Now he is living in Mombasa where he is engaged in different kinds of business. He says he aspires to open a sport academy in his home country, Ethiopia, some day. Nahom Tesfaye of The Reporter caught up with Wondwossen in Kenya recently where they sat down for a brief interview at Sheba Lounge located in Mombassa and discussed the latter’s life and business ambitions. Excerpts:
The Reporter: You are engaged in various kinds of business activities. Can you please walk me through your journey in business all these years? What is the first business you operated?
Wondowsen: I have a lot of experiences in business. I don’t even know where to start; so let me start from the scratch. My father was in the military. I was born and raised in Abomsa, the Arsi zone of the Oromia Regional State. I joined the business sector by selling a tractor full of sugarcane while I was fifteen years old. And then, my uncle brought me to Mombasa, Kenya and stayed there for some time. When I arrived at Mombasa, I joined the business sector straight away. Back then, I was selling staff which enters via the port. And then, I went to Australia and again joined the business there and opened a restaurant by the name The Blue Nile. I worked there for 10 years, however, due to the minimum wage labor law, which is quite pro-labor, I could not make headway in profit. Though I had many customers in the restaurant much of my income went to my employees. Due to this, I decided to quit the restaurant and opened a small coffee shop and employed only myself. After that, I decided to return to Africa and when thinking of returning to Mombasa was the first place that came to my mind. It is mainly because I knew the language and the location earlier and I came back to Mombasa and joined a construction company where I stayed four years. Later on, I established my own construction company called Ozi Developers. Then, I opened a nightclub in Mombasa.
You were working in the construction sector and then moved to a service sector. How do you describe the shift from one sector to the other and what pushed you to join the service sector?
Customer service is not something that you get through formal education; it needs personality. And in this regard, personally, I am an easy person. I don’t have any problem to communicate with others. And that’s why I think I joined the service sector. I used to entertain some 50 and 60 customers at a time while I was working in my coffee shop in Australia. And, I think that is the pushing factor to open a nightclub in Mombasa. For this reason, I joined the nightclub business five years ago by opening the Queen of Sheba Lounge. The key in this sector is customer service, love, knowhow and understanding of the nature of the business. I do not advise anyone to join the service sector just because he has the capital; there is love for serving others at the center of the business. For the last three years, we received so many awards, including the Coast award organized in Mombasa city; and we don’t expect to lose in the coming four to five years.
Can you please tell me the challenges of dealing with or working with foreigners in a foreign land?
I believe in a strict sense working in the foreign land needs determination. We are migrants living in a foreign land. However, there has to be strong ambition and determination to achieve your goals and succeed. The first thing that should come to our mind should be valuing the work. If you work hard, you will become successful no matter where you are; but you need aim, targets and you should be strong at the same time. As a foreigner, there are a lot of challenges but always focus on the job than on other issues because at the end of the day that is what matters.
Recently, you have joined a different, new sector, which is the entertainment sector by launching Nahoo TV. How do you join the entertainment sector? How do you assess it and what are the challenges so far?
The plan for a TV station in Kenya was in working for more than nine years. It was in the process since then; it requires a huge budget. Meanwhile, when I get the chance to open a TV station in Ethiopia, I moved my company, which is established in Kenya. Apart from generating income, it gives me much pleasure; that is why I joined the entertainment sector.The other reason to join the entertainment sector is my aim to contribute something to the public at large. Through our programs, if we can change at least one or two lives that’s a success for me. The majority of the issues we air in our television station are more of Ethiopian issues. If you see the name itself, it is derived from a Geez word which means the time is now. We are ready to change society. It is challenging and an entertaining sector at the same time.
You are engaged in various other fields of professions and have passed through a lot and registered tangible success with these entire different sectors. To what do you attribute your success in general?
The biggest secret is seeking appropriate counsel from professionals. Professionals lead all my business and I want to work with professionals in television also. There were no such professionals in the television sectors in Ethiopia so far but I believe professionals will be born in the future. I personally believe that it would be difficult to get the chance to operate a television station in Ethiopia four or five years down the road. That is why we had to act now and launched the television station.
You have stated that you believe in professionals. How do you handle members of your staff?
First of all, what matters most is training. The other thing is to understand that your staff are made up of human beings and that you should love and respect them. You should work on your staff so that they are motivated and that they love their jobs. Irrespective of our earning variations we all are created equal as human beings. So, the human side of employee management is the most important in my opinion.