Girma Wake: A “guru” in African aviation

Girma Wake. There are few who know this name. But those who meander the civil aviation world know who he is. A great man, a manager, but above all a bold man when it comes to aviation.

Recently, he was in Maputo at the invitation of LAM’s new General Management. He was part of the conference organized by Airports of Mozambique and gave a lecture for LAM employees.

In his direct and objective speech, Girma advocates planning followed by enforcement. “When we talk about aviation, we must first sit down and establish a plan. A plan that allows us to delineate where and how we want to be in five, ten, twenty years. Then, the little things will work out naturally depending on the expected results”, the aviation industry executive explained.

He was instrumental in leveraging some of the African airlines where he worked in the past. “It is important to work as a team because everyone must feel part of the materialization of the plans for which they contributed. The manager is not the plan implementer. He is the driver, the one who brings employees together. I worked as a team to get results that were satisfactory for everyone.”

Focusing LAM's current situation, Girma says: “I was talking to the Managing Director and told him that if they want to leverage LAM, they should forget the plans to acquire small aircraft. They should 'think big', sitting down with the Government to outline an ideal and workable plan. The Government shouldn’t interfere in the management but should finance the company”.

For Girma it is not enough to have a plan. “Remember that quantity is not quality. If there are no trained staff, temporarily import specialists to help stabilize the company while local employees are trained. With all of this underway, and with the support of the Government, the sky will not be the limit”, he says.

The capitalization of human resources is extremely important. “Sometimes we leave the team in the dust, making all the decisions, as managers that we are. This is wrong. You need to involve all staff in order to make it thrive. We may buy Airbus aircraft but if we don’t have the right people we won’t get the results we want. We can’t approach an employee who performs very well the same way we do with one whose results are negative.”

According to the executive, in an aviation company all play a preponderant role and “there is interconnection and sequential work. Those who clean the floor, clean the seats of the plane and the office are an integral part and should be taken into account. Imagine having large airports, lots of airplanes but with dirty floors and toilets?”

A few years ago, the boldness shown by the managers at Ethiopian Airlines, of which he was part, made them the target of protests by some African companies.

While some criticize the liberalization of airspace, Girma defends the opposite idea and explains why: “The opening of airspace in Africa was the best thing to have happened to us. It doesn’t prohibit participation. It boosts competitiveness. If the management lets a company go bankrupt because it can’t stand with others in an open environment, it means it’s a loser. Only prepared companies win with liberalized airspace.”


A bold man

Passionate about aviation, the world he joined in 1965 through Ethiopian Airlines, Girma Wake is celebrating a career spanning 53 years and says that if they questioned him today about what industry he would like to work on, he would answer without blinking that it’s aviation. “As an African, my dream is to watch African companies come together and work together. These companies are not competing. They must unite and share experiences”, he suggests.

Girma was one of the first Ethiopians to ascend in the executive hierarchy of that airline. After thirty years, he left the company and followed other paths. Meanwhile, in 2003, Seyoum Mesfin, president of Ethiopian Airlines and then Ethiopian Foreign Minister, offered Girma, who was at Gulf Air, the position of CEO at Ethiopian Airlines.

Girma Wake, who also developed Togo’s ASKY Airlines and later RwandAir, of which he Chairman until 2017, considers boldness - the attitude and thinking desirable when it comes to aviation - to be indispensable.

“We have to 'think big' and 'implement big'. That's how we did with Ethiopian Airlines, which is a benchmark in Africa. There is a strong contribution from the staff, which follows a designed strategy. And one thing that shouldn’t be neglected, which is the commitment of the Government in helping to materialize the strategy”, the manager says.

Maputo, 01st of October 2018