Meet the Boss: Henok Teferra, CEO, ASKY Airlines

Henok Teferra, CEO of Togo-based ASKY Airlines, speaking at the 2016 Africa CEO Forum in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire.

Henok Teferra, CEO of Togo-based ASKY Airlines, speaking at the 2016 Africa CEO Forum in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.

1. What was your first job?

I used to work part-time at university teaching English.

2. What parts of our job keep you awake at night?

The airline business is tough. Being an airline CEO is like being a baby because you wake up every three hours with this or that issue. Sometimes it’s the price of fuel whenever it surges and other times it’s because we are very sensitive to external shocks. So whatever happens, the immediate result is [felt] in the airline industry and our market. It is not a dull job. It’s actually very exciting because it’s dynamic… but there are a host of issues that keep us awake.

3. Who has had the biggest impact on your career, and why?

I would say the former foreign minister of Ethiopia. He was a board chairman of Ethiopian Airlines. He is someone I greatly admire and respect and who has had an impact on my career path. And of course the former CEO of Ethiopian Airlines (Girma Wake) and the current CEO (Tewolde Gebremariam) who promoted me.

ASKY Airlines is a strategic partner of Ethiopian Airlines. For example I am employed at ASKY on the basis of the management contract that exists between Ethiopian Airlines and ASKY.

4. The best professional advice you’ve ever received?

To always be bold and take initiatives. Sometimes you may fail, sometimes you might succeed, but you should never hold back.

5. And the top reasons you have been successful in business?

Basically it is to take initiative – by listening to others, of course, but by always doing what your gut tells you is right.

6. In your opinion, where is the best place to prepare for leadership: business school or on the job?

Definitely on the job. Business school can give you the theoretical background and the tools to cope in the business environment, but nothing replaces the on-the-job experience and the [challenges] you meet every day – especially as a manager and business leader. You always need to have double vision: one eye on what is going on at present, and another eye on the future.

7. How do you relax?

First of all I like to spend a lot of time with my children – I really enjoy them and being with family. And then I like to also play sports, either soccer or tennis.

8. By what time do you like to be at your desk?

If possible, before 7:30am.

9. Your favourite job interview question?

Basically it is how they define success, professionally and personally. I think that can tell you a lot about their drive and passion, which is most important. Skills can be learnt, but passion is the most important part of any employee.

10. What is your message to Africa’s young aspiring business people and entrepreneurs?

Africa is the future. We are a young continent and have everything going for us – a huge land mass, 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land, a budding young population, fast urbanisation, all the natural resources you could imagine, and improving governance. So really the future is bright, but we need to take our own destiny in our own hands and basically do things ourselves. It is no longer a world where you can wait for others to give it to you. Of course we need a helping hand, but we have to be bold to get our due.

Henok Teferra was appointed the CEO of ASKY Airlines in May 2015. The airline, which was founded in 2008 as an initiative of West African governments, is headquartered in Lomé, Togo, and operates across several West and Central African countries. Ethiopian Airlines holds a 40% stake in ASKY. Teferra was previously vice president for corporate strategy communications and alliances at Ethiopian Airlines.