Tihitina Mulushewa Legesse

“Working hard and trying to get to the top is much easier. Then, if you go down, you will know your way up”

Tihitina Mulushewa Legesse, speaking about the value of hard work.

For an observer, walking into Tihitina (Tutu) Mulushewa Legesse’s office is a bit of a window into the personality that sits within. It is obvious from the vibrant paintings on the wall to the live plants in the corner and the crystal ball full of candy opposite the busy desk, there is warmth and a driven person is occupying the space. She prefers to use her mother’s name as a middle name, even though she does not officially go by the name Tihitina Mulushewa Legesse for legal purposes. Born and raised in Addis Abeba, as a second generation, she manages the business her family formed twenty seven years ago. Along with her sister, she manages 200 employees in their organization, WARYT. She tells me that WARYT is her grandmother’s name, which also stands for Work AndReach Your Target.

In her day to day, she believes in always being alert and ready for anything, having a system in place in her organization and the ability to constantly adjust the system as the business grows and changes has been instrumental. She prefers to have a close relationship with her staff, preferring to refer to them as her children and creating an environment that resembles a family. As managing director, she describes her leadership style as very hands engaging with her staff on individual basis and encouraging her employees to practice participatory decision making and solution oriented problem solving. She believes in sharing her knowledge with every day being a learning process, she invests in her employee’s personal development and innovative capacity, of which she is proud.

Challenge is her passion, finding that challenge is a great aid in the learning process as well as a great motivator to think differently. She recalls starting work in the organization seventeen years ago, starting out by cleaning cars and pumping fuel in one of the fuel stations. The challenges of working in different positions within the organizations, having been mentored gave her opportunities that have challenged her, giving her a chance to think differently and an opportunity for growth. Her father, founder and chair of WARYT, taught her the value of work and the value of money. Her experience and hard work in different departments in the organization has given her unique insight on how the business operates as managing director.

WARYT has been in operation for twenty seven years, covering import and manufacturing of household and office furniture along with two sister companies. The business has grown organically with the right business and demographic ecosystem that has permitted the business to thrive over the years. The biggest achievement while working as managing director has been the water purifier sales, currently in high demand with lines of people waiting to buy the product, which was not always the case. Work ethic has been a center of her life from a very early age, always addressing her parents formally during work hours, only reverting to their comfort zones when the work day was over. Her first work experience came while she was still in high school, when washing cars was a stipulation for her high school’s graduating committee to receive sponsorship from the organization.

After graduating from Nazareth School, she received her degree in Psychology from Addis Ababa University, spending her breaks working in the offices and car wash, pitching in as needed. In retrospect, she appreciates her parent’s prudence in letting her start at the bottom, which has been instrumental in her leadership. Soon after, Tutu received her MBA from Hult American University in London in 2004 and she makes sure she receives diverse perspectives by getting involved in the community through participation in boards and through various trainings, having taken twenty four trainings to date.

Joining the AWiB Board in 2013 with the intention of working on herself while contributing to AWiB, Tutu found the experience transformative. After serving in the Board for two and a half years, she says her experience helped her to stand out and to speak out. Her experience in the AWiB Board was a unique foray into the formal board leadership despite other previous engagements. To date, having served in two other organizations’ boards since, her experience in AWiB has been an incomparable learning experience. Her charitable engagements include Muday, Mekedoniaya and Misgana in Mekele as well as other institutions.

She leads the organization by thinking of the community while operating since taking up the post of Managing Director in April 2013. The organization has a Corporate Social Responsibility policy focused on Environment, Education and Health and Safety. One of the CSR initiatives involves recycling packaging and scrap materials into handicraft projects through partnerships with charitable organizations such as Muday, raising awareness on recycling. The organization buys back bags made from recycled scraps and packaging that is branded and telling the story of the process. The health and safety initiatives operate in partnership with the traffic police focused on speeding in the areas WARYT operates.

Furthermore, as managing director, Tutu is leading an initiative in partnership with the Addis Ababa Labor and Social Affairs office to work on providing employment opportunities for Saudi returnees. While in Dubai seeking treatment for a spinal injury, her father came across a Korean treatment, the CERAGEM bed which successfully cured his ailment. Motivated by making a difference in other people’s lives, the organization started importing the bed. The company implemented the free service policy for those who can use the machine and providing stock for those that want to buy the machine. This service lasted for ten years.

In education, the organization works with a children’s home called Yemiserach based in Mekele as well as a result based collaboration that was initiated ten years ago for underprivileged female university students in five universities. The work with Yemiserach children’s home is a continuation of the collaboration with universities. As the face of WARYT, Tihitina is engaged in the establishment and formation of various organizations; one of which is the EICG. The Ethiopian Institute of Corporate Governance is established under AACSA serving her second term in the board.

Tihitina is patient, approachable, and never holding a grudge. Tihitina is happily married and mother of two children, a 9 year old boy and a 7 year old girl, whom she considers her greatest accomplishments. She loves to cook, experimenting with her cooking and refusing to dwell on any shortcomings, being always in constant motion, independent and always working, she is grateful for her close knit family and her children. She encourages others to look beyond their capacity for personal development, to know them and open the way for innovation and growth.

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