Alemayehu Ketsela was a young employee of Ethiopian Trade Contacts (ET-CON), an import company, when he joined Yazew Bekele for dinner with business partners at the Sheraton Addis. There he would run into his uncle, who was dismayed at seeing his nephew at an open bar, no matter how fancy the hotel.

“What are you doing here, at this time?” the uncle enquires. Alemayehu recomposes himself and answers, “I am just here with my boss. Ato Yazew?” He points to the managing director and founder of ET-CON sitting with his family.

“Ahh,” says the uncle, recognising Yazew, going on to explain that they knew one another from their days of making bets over games. Indeed, Alemayehu, now a public relations director at ET-CON, a company where he remained for about 16 years, would come to find that his boss was quite laid back and had an appreciation for personal friendships.

“He liked to relax; didn't want to be too stressed out,” Alemayehu says.

More memorably to his employees, he believed in engagement, where ideas are arrived at through discussions instead of a top-down approach. It is a management style missed by his colleagues at ET-CON after Yazew’s passing last month due to complications from the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). Survived by three daughters, he was laid to rest on March 17, 2021.

Yazew’s foray into business started later in life. After a childhood spent moving around Ethiopia, owing to his father’s vocation, he landed his first job in the late 1960s at the National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE), where he worked inside its foreign exchange department. It was an auspicious opportunity that would, nearly two decades later, inspire him to open a business mainly engaged in the import of equipment for companies in the banking industry.

His next job was in the import business with a firm known as Sakafet, which brought cars in from Italy. He worked in the finance part of the business, further exposing him to the world of banking and goods import. But before he would get around to establishing ET-CON, he was introduced to the world of nonprofits.

A Swedish children’s charity, where he rose to become a country representative, gave him a lifelong passion for engaging in non-profitable projects. He later became a member of the Cheshire Home, as well as the Rotary Club in Addis Abeba. Yazew also engaged by himself in charities later on. Among them was building Debay Elementary School in Merhabete Wereda in Amhara Regional State.

ET-CON was established in the early 1990s when Yazew was in his 40s. Combining his experience in import and finance, he established a business he hoped would serve as a chain between banks and new technology. The timing was favourable. For 17 years, the finance sector had remained closed to private players under the socialist policies of the Dergue. Its downfall was followed by the opening of the finance sector to the domestic private sector, providing ET-CON with the perfect opportunity.

Although the company focused on importing banking equipment, it also brought books and construction goods and even planned to expand into manufacturing. Yazew was particularly proud of his contributions to the automation of services in the banking industry through the supply of multicurrency detection, serial printing machines and exchange rate boards. One of its largest sales was the provision of 1,400 units of note counting machines to Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE).

His daughter, Gelila, attests to his contributions to the sector, stressing that it did not interfere with his family duties. Much was owed to his sociability.

“He was friends with our friends,” she says. “He was very modern, the sort of person you can talk to about everything.”

PUBLISHED ON Apr 03,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1092]

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