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Oromo: From Cab Driver to CEO: An Immigrant’s Drive for School Bus Success July 10, 2017

Posted by OromianEconomist in Business and Economy.
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From Cab Driver to CEO: An Ethiopian Immigrant’s Drive for School Bus Success

By Nancy Kirk,  School Bus Fleet, 26 June 2017

The transition from Ethiopian culture to that of the U.S. may have been drastic, but for Metropolitan Transportation Network (MTN) Inc. President and CEO Tashitaa Tufaa, an Ethiopian of the Oromo ethnic group who immigrated here in 1992, adjusting to baseball-consumed television and the occasional unrelenting Minnesota snowstorm was a small price to pay for a life of security.

“Let me put it this way: Whatever I did not have back in Ethiopia, I have it now through my freedom,” Tufaa says. “If you are free, then your mind is free, and you can use your talent wherever you want to go.”

While Tufaa’s talent eventually brought him to own and operate MTN —  a school bus company based in Fridley, Minnesota, that provides student transportation for dozens of local public, private, and charter schools and owns more than 300 vehicles — the road to success was windy and unpaved. Although he majored in political science and diplomacy, he couldn’t legally work for the U.S. State Department because he wasn’t yet a U.S. citizen, so he started working a civil service job with the Minnesota government.

Tufaa’s drive to drive
Tufaa wasn’t earning enough to pay his mortgage, so he started working nights and weekends as a driver for Metro Mobility, a Minneapolis-area transportation provider for people with physical and mental disabilities. There, he discovered an unexpected passion.

“I fell in love with driving, really,” he says. “It’s very flexible and there’s fresh air, and instead of being in the office, you go to the parks and drive around with open windows. There are so many different things to love about it.”

Desiring more flexibility and hoping for higher pay, Tufaa left Metro Mobility and started driving a cab, where, he says, “I would drive drunk people from the bar, people coming from work, and everyone else.”

Despite his formal education and his urge to succeed, Tufaa struggled to hold these jobs. Unsatisfied with unsteady employment and energized with his newfound craving to get behind the wheel, Tufaa was determined to dive into the city of Osseo’s school transportation scene.

“In the summer of 2003, I started actually writing letters and delivering them to the school districts, offering them services that weren’t around,” Tufaa says. “Many of them made fun of me, but there was one transportation director who was willing to give me a chance because I had been bothering him so much.”

“We put ourselves in our customers’ shoes, and we listen to the feedback we receive. As a result, people want to do business with us, and we don’t turn our backs.”
Tashitaa Tufaa, president and CEO, Metropolitan Transportation Network

Expanding the business
Because of his persistent effort, Tufaa was awarded a single opportunity to transport three homeless children to school with the van he owned, a task that he says he succeeded at, receiving no complaints. From there, the director started offering him more consistent work, and this one-time errand steadily matured into a full-blown company that he now conservatively estimates to be worth $35 million. Today, Tufaa employs over 400 people who transport more than 15,000 K-12 students to school every day across the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

Fleet Facts
Headquarters: Fridley, Minnesota
Vehicles in fleet: Over 300
Fleet mix: IC Bus, Thomas Built Buses
Fueling mix: Diesel, CNG
Service area:Metropolitan Twin Cities area
Routes serviced daily:Over 400
Drivers: 275 and 125 contracted
Staff members: 30
Students transported daily: Over 15,000

“I did see a need here in the school bus industry for a contractor that was dedicated, that was doing business wholeheartedly,” he says.

Tufaa capitalized on this recognized need and founded MTN in 2004. More recently, MTN’s expanding customer base inevitably resulted in the need for a space about 30% larger than the existing one. The new facility is expected to be ready in July. The redevelopment will cost about $2.7 million and is being handled by Thor Companies, a real estate development and construction company that is also based in Fridley.

“It will have corporate offices, a break room where drivers can enjoy themselves, a fleet maintenance shop, and parking storage inside for the buses,” Tufaa says. “It’s a much better and newer space — a good image for both our customers and those who work here.”

The majority of updates will focus on the exterior site improvements, such as landscaping, a complete resurfacing of the asphalt parking lot, and enhancements to the security systems.

Top-notch equipment
Because the agency is responsible for the well-being of thousands of students, Tufaa says he ensures that each bus is equipped with top-notch technology, from two-way radios to GPS to surveillance camera systems.

“We want the maximum safety possible in all of our buses in order to protect the families and children that we service,” he says. “Safety is number one.”

He recounts an instance where a driver’s bus had broken down and hisradio had stopped working. Fortunately, the team realized it had broken down because of its lack of movement on the GPS system. Sure enough, upon physically locating the bus through the ground tracking system, Tufaa and his team found it immobile and were able to service it.

Because Metropolitan Transportation Network transports more than 15,000 students daily, Tufaa says he ensures each bus has quality safety equipment, such as two-way radios, GPS, and surveillance cameras.
Because Metropolitan Transportation Network transports more than 15,000 students daily, Tufaa says he ensures each bus has quality safety equipment, such as two-way radios, GPS, and surveillance cameras.

Leadership style
Tufaa calls himself a “field guy,” meaning he does not like to remain in the office. In fact, despite MTN’s recent expansion, Tufaa decided not to build himself a personal office. Instead, he works in available desk spaces when necessary and still drives buses every day.

“I don’t want to be a guy who just stays inside. I want to be out there in the field,” he says. “I sit with the drivers and I listen to them. I listen to their stories in the morning and the afternoon, and then I drive the bus to see what the issue is. This way, instead of someone reporting to me, I see it firsthand.”

Tufaa attributes his leadership style to his perilous upbringing in Ethiopia. Because he spent many years of his life in danger, he’s able to more easily adapt to everyday business challenges.

“We put ourselves in our customers’ shoes, and we listen to the feedback we receive. As a result, people want to do business with us, and we don’t turn our backs,” he says. “In Ethiopia, I was raised in harm, and so it’s easier for me to understand where people come from, whether it’s with our customers or our employees.”

MTN is undergoing a $2.7 million expansion, which includes renovated corporate offices, a fleet maintenance shop, a break room, and parking inside for the buses.
MTN is undergoing a $2.7 million expansion, which includes renovated corporate offices, a fleet maintenance shop, a break room, and parking inside for the buses.

Employee appreciation
Appreciation for MTN employees stands tall on Tufaa’s priorities as a business owner. Every year, the company holds an employee appreciation banquet where everyone, from the human resources team to the workshop mechanics, is invited to mingle with their peers, along with their plus-one.

“We want to show our employees that we value them,” Tufaa says. “We are a family, and the MTN family gets together once a year, every year, to enjoy this classy corporate-style dinner.”

Other MTN-planned gatherings that aim to boost company morale include a monthly bulletin that informs the team about company happenings and employee birthdays, as well as weekly prepared breakfast for drivers, blood drives, summer barbecues, and day trips to support the local pro baseball team at the Minnesota Twins stadium.

Sometimes the recognition goes beyond simple social events, like when Tufaa expressed his gratitude by naming a newly built site the Iverson Terminal, after the last name of a driver who had suddenly passed away.

“We named it after her because our drivers have an ownership in our company,” he says. “We don’t want to be just another corporation.”

Challenges, rewards
Tufaa’s triumph does not come without its challenges. As with school bus contractors and districts across the U.S., he has been affected by the widespread driver shortage, and he worries about Minnesota’s slippery roads in the winter. He’s also had to forgo significant family events in order to keep his business afloat, especially while it was just getting started.

“There are some things I’ve had to compromise to get where we are as a business, but as long as my wife and family understood me, that was all that mattered,” Tufaa recalls. “I had to work extremely long hours in the beginning, and sometimes it came down to paying the people who were working for me before being able to pay myself.”

Eventually, the achievements overcame the hardships, and now Tufaa and the whole MTN team work fervently to transport the community’s youth to their daily education.

“As a contractor, it’s important to love what you do,” he says. “I still drive, and I love taking those children to school.”

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Tour operators cancel holidays as unrest tightens grip on Ethiopia. #OromoProtests #OromoRevolution October 29, 2016

Posted by OromianEconomist in #OromoProtests.
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 By Hugh MorrisThe Telegraph, 28 OCTOBER 2016

Saga Holidays is among a number of major UK tour operators to cancel trips to Ethiopia as a wave of unrest spreads across the African country.

The Foreign Office (FCO) is advising against all travel to some regions in the east and all but essential travel to central parts that include places such as Lalibela, popular with tourists for its rock-cut churches.

Saga, Kuoni and Cox and Kings are among those to have cancelled tours for this year, offering refunds or alternatives to customers.

The Ethiopian government this month declared a six-month state of emergency and arrested more than 1,600 people as the FCO warned of clashes between protesters and security forces. Protests have been most fervent in the Amhara and Oromia regions.

In August, some 90 people were believed to have been killed after police used live bullets on protesters chanting anti-government slogans and waving dissident flags.

Foreign Office advice Ethiopia
The Foreign Office has different advice for different parts of the country CREDIT: FOREIGN OFFICE

“Demonstrations have been taking place in the Oromia and Amhara regions in 2016 and further protests are likely,” the Foreign Office said.

“Tensions in Oromia have significantly risen since October 2 when up to 100 people died during a stampede at the Irreechaa religious festival.

“There has been widespread disruption to road travel across Ethiopia. Unauthorised and official roadblocks can appear with little or no warning.”

The country had recently been experiencing a boom in its tourism industry, thanks to its unique mix of history, wildlife and culture. Last year, the country was praised by the European Council on Tourism and Trade for its “excellent preservation of humanity landmarks”.

Beside the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, other draws include the Simien Mountains National Park, Lake Langano, and the Danakil Depression, one of the hottest places on earth.

A spokesperson for Kuoni, which offers a tour of the highlights of Northern Ethiopia, said it had stopped selling the trip and would be monitoring the situation.

A spokesperson for Saga, too, said all 2016 departures had been cancelled, adding: “The initial change to FCO advice was that some areas should be avoided. As a result tours were amended to ensure that our holidaymakers were nowhere near those areas. However… the advice changed again and advised against all but essential travel to certain regions of Ethiopia. As a result we took the decision to cancel all 2016 departures.”

Cox and Kings said it would only be able to resume its trips should the FCO advice change.

Responsible Travel, which hosts a number of tour operators on its website running trips in Ethiopia, said some of its clients are continuing to offer tours.

“Several of the holidays we market in Ethiopia are run by local tour operators, who will continue to offer and run the same trips as they always have done,” said marketing manager Sarah Faith.

“It is then up to each individual traveller to consider the FCO advice and to purchase insurance that will cover them given the FCO warnings.

“Our local operators in Ethiopia are extremely well-placed to understand the day-to-day situation on the ground in the country.”


Click here to read related article: Financial Times: Ethiopian unrest triggers collapse in tourism. #OromoProtests #OromoRevolution

Financial Times: Ethiopian unrest triggers collapse in tourism. #OromoProtests #OromoRevolution October 27, 2016

Posted by OromianEconomist in #OromoProtests.
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Ethiopia:“Things are effectively on hold,” said Jim Louth, owner of Undiscovered Destinations, a UK travel company. “If anyone inquires, our policy is to say people are being advised not to go.”  Financial Times

#OromoProtests: “Strikes, ‘ghost town days’ and non-violent protests are more common now because they’re so much harder to police, even under the state of emergency.”  Financial Times


Ethiopian unrest triggers collapse in tourism

Protests and state of emergency see bookings to historic sites grind to a halt


orompoprotests-picture-from-the-economist-13-october-2016
oromoprotests-image-from-financial-times
A wave of anti-government protests has caused a collapse in tourist bookings to Ethiopia 

A wave of anti-government protests and the imposition of a state of emergency has triggered a collapse in tourism bookings in Ethiopia, underlining the effect the unrest is having on one of Africa’s best-performing economies.

As the demonstrations spread across the country, governments, including the US, UK, Australia, Canada and Ireland, have advised their citizens against all non-essential travel to the country or Amhara and Oromia regions at the centre of the instability.

Hailemariam Desalegn, Ethiopia’s prime minister, has said the death toll from the demonstrations, which began last November and have been exacerbated by the authoritarian regime’s brutal crackdown on protesters, could be as high as 500. Thousands of people have been arrested and the government imposed a state of emergency as it grapples with the biggest threat to the Horn of Africa nation’s stability in years. The protests originally began over land disputes, but the state’s harsh response caused them to spiral into broader protests against the government.

An American woman was killed after being caught up in a protest on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, the capital, this month.

Travel companies said bookings to the country — home to ancient Christian sites and spectacular highlands — have virtually ground to halt as the unrest and travel warnings keep visitors away.

“Things are effectively on hold,” said Jim Louth, owner of Undiscovered Destinations, a UK travel company. “If anyone inquires, our policy is to say people are being advised not to go.”

Tourism has become an important part of the economy, which has been growing at an annual average of about 10 per cent over the past decade as Ethiopia has attracted increasing levels of foreign investment.

The government estimates the sector contributes about 4.5 per cent of gross domestic product, or $2.9bn. The indirect contribution, through investment, is the same, while about 1.5m people are thought to earn their living from the industry.

More than 750,000 foreign tourists visited Ethiopia last year, with the US by far the largest country of origin, followed by China, Britain and Germany, according to government data.

oromoprotests-and-fascist-tplfs-human-rights-violations-anaginst-civilians-2016-bbc-sources

The blow to tourism comes amid rising investor uncertainty as foreign companies, particularly flower farms and textile factories, have been targeted in a string of attacks that have caused tens of millions of dollars of damage.

The International Monetary Fund warned just before the state of emergency was imposed this month that attracting foreign investment will be crucial to sustaining the high growth rates.

Some travel companies said one problem is that while some of Ethiopia’s most popular sites — such as the city of Aksum — are not located in Amhara or Oromia, people have to travel through those regions to reach them.

“People on their first visit will want to go to the main sites and not be stressed,” said the UK-based Ultimate Travel Company. “More adventurous travellers might still go to places like the Omo valley that haven’t been affected, but most people will simply wait.”

The Ethiopian Tourism Organisation, a government body, insisted that “all tourist areas of the country are safe”.

“It is as safe now for tourists and business visitors to travel in Ethiopia as it has been for the last 22 years since the new constitution has been introduced,” it said in a statement.

Kiros Mahari, the general manager of the Ethiopian Tour Operators Association, said that “while there has been some unrest for a while, the situation has been restored back to normal”.

Emma Gordon, an analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a risk consultancy, said such statements “come across as unbelievable”.

“The situation is quieter now than a few weeks ago, but the protests have not stopped,” she said. “Strikes, ‘ghost town days’ and non-violent protests are more common now because they’re so much harder to police, even under the state of emergency.”

Ms Gordon predicted that once the protesters had worked out how to cope with the state of emergency, which bans all protests, political communication on social media, and political gatherings, “there will be an upsurge in unrest”.


 

#OromoProtests, #OromoRevolution: The point of no return in Ethiopia

Ethiopia Ranked 4th Most Fragile State