Apart from Saudi-Ethiopian billionaire Mohammed Al-Amoudi, Samuel Tafesse is arguably the most popular businessman of Ethiopian origin. The 60-year-old real estate mogul is the founder of Sunshine Investment Group, a construction and development company that develops residential, leisure, and commercial properties in Ethiopia and the Middle East. Since its founding in 1983, Sunshine Investment Group has built more than 5,000 residential and commercial properties in Ethiopia, including the first Marriott-branded property in Africa – the landmark Marriott Executive Apartments in Addis Ababa. Sunshine is also a major contractor to the government and constructs and maintains thousands of miles of roadway across the country with every year.
With annual revenues of more than $100 million and a workforce of more than 2,000 people, Sunshine Investment Group is one of the largest indigenous companies in Ethiopia.
I recently caught up with Samuel Tafesse in Addis Ababa and had a brief chat where he recounted the early years and opened up on his plans for the future.
What was your childhood like?
I was born into a very poor family. I remember that my parents struggled to pay tuition for my siblings and I. As an older sibling, I decided to take up the responsibility of supporting my family at a rather young age. At the age of 14, while still in High School, I took up a job as a parking attendant at the Addis Ababa Stadium and while working as an attendant, I used the opportunity to peddle everything from chewing gum and soda to cigarettes. After completing high school, I worked for a small construction firm where I was involved in roof and painting maintenance for our clients. I went on to join Addis Ababa University at the age of 19 to study Engineering but I dropped out after 3 years in order to continue to support my family.
What was your first big break in business?
Because I had worked in the construction business, albeit in a small capacity, I had become fascinated by the industry, and I wanted a way in. In order to have a construction license in 1986, one needed a minimum capital requirement of 10,000 Ethiopian Birr which is roughly $365 today, but was worth a lot more in those days. I did not exactly have the money, so I borrowed from a friend and I registered Sunshine Construction Limited. I subsequently started scouting for jobs and I landed a contract for a roof maintenance job at Wabe Shebelle Hotel. It was a decent job and yielded me quite a tidy sum. In retrospect, that was my first big break in business With the success in getting that contract, I was bold enough to go to other hotels, commercial buildings and government organizations to get similar construction and maintenance contracts, and from there we snowballed into a full-fledged construction outfit and grew our capital base as we progressed.
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