Zelealem Fisseha: Failure’s Result is Success
Growing up in a full house of extended family, Zelealem Fisseha remembers a pleasant childhood with a great relationship with her parents. The co-partner and managing director of Arsho Medical Laboratory was born and raised in Addis Ababa with five siblings—three girls and three boys total. The pleasant feeling of her youth dramatically changed, Zelealem recalls, as the Derg Regime took over; it was a time of trouble and no freedom. And when her parents divorced (they remained friends), it was decided the children should live with their father. She remembers another pleasant experience: being encouraged to do and try everything without gender limitations. Boys and girls were not treated differently by the parents, and her father was extremely encouraging for her to try different experiences. She feels this foundation helped her be courageous and confident through the years.
Zelealem attended Addis Ababa University for her Accounting degree and followed with her Masters at the Prague School of Economics. She started her professional career with the Leather Corporation, an invaluable experience as she had direct contact with the leadership team and received guidance and mentorship.
Meeting her husband, Teferra Woube, through friends who knew they would be perfect for each other, Zelealem moved into motherhood and left the professional world for a few years. She focused on their two daughters but eventually started helping out with limited hours at her husband’s accounting firm. That is how she met Arsho.
As tax advisors to the laboratory company, the couple learned when the founder, Arshavier Terzian, passed away, one of the children still active with the company was looking for a partner. Zelealem jumped on the opportunity. With her husband’s advice of different thoughts bringing better decisions and outcomes, they welcomed another partner. Eventually, the original Armenian family left the company and another partner was added. Today Zelealem’s partners are Bikale Mesfin and Tesfaye Hailemariam.
Arsho Medical Laboratory celebrates 48 years with 10 locations; it has been 18 years under Zelealem’s leadership. The Arat Kilo establishment is the latest and will be the company’s headquarters. The inviting design is the work of her daughter who is an architect, Kidusawit. An 11th laboratory is in the making. At Arat Kilo, preventative health care and family-focused service will be available as well as a clinic which is women-focused. A 10-seater dialysis center is in the works.
Living for others—serving others—is what Zelealem lives for, her philosophy of life reflecting directly on her professional work. Value is in honoring the next person; to honor God, you honor other people. Everything she does is human-related, she said, and with that focus everything else—the success—follows. People come first.
To Zelealem, there are many types of success, but building her family is her biggest success. With that, she feels great achievement in raising the children Meiraf Teferra and Kidusawit Teferra; the couple also raised two sons, Shume Gizachew and Tamiru Seifu. Then work follows in her greatest accomplishments. For such success and her strength of character, Zelealem naturally looks to her parents, the original role models. She gained mentorship from her father earlier on, and after her university days more guidance came from her mother. They exemplified characteristics of and taught her about strength and kindness. She understood success is not always about education. Another role model who stands out is her life partner. From her husband she learned more about kindness and persistence; being thoughtful is kindness (it is not always about money). Other role models include those from her Leather Corporation days, the leaders who took her under their wings.
“I do not give wedding gifts,” Zelealem said. Those Zelealem takes under her wings include young couples she gives marriage advice to by sharing her experiences. Some return several years later to reflect on how helpful the gift was. At speaking engagements, she does not talk about success; she speaks of failure. Success comes after failure, and the reality of life–the need to be persistent to reach our goals—is what she shares.
Zelealem started engaging deeply with her community when she got married and had children. The area they lived in a low income neighborhood, she started with those she saw daily right outside of home. She supported about 10 children with school supplies and clothes, prepping them for the year—for years. Giving back doesn’t take much, and even a little help may make a difference. She connects with many organizations including Mary Joy Ethiopia (17 years relationship), Mekedonia Homes, Gojo Shelter by seeing what contribution can be made after payroll is taken care of.Those doing cleaning in the neighborhood, she is linked with in small ways of support, and she keeps touch with some retired workers to see how she can be of help. Zelealem mentors women and men especially when opening up a business or have questions about their new careers. She has helped others open health care facilities and sees strength in collaborating with what some might see as competition. There is plenty for all.
While she has a very busy work schedule, Zelealem loves reading and finds peace in going around the church environment. She walks 10,000 steps a day, and frequented the gym before Covid. She is thinking about returning and possibly even taking up kickboxing, her daughter’s invitation. Work takes Zelealem traveling to international health trade fairs mostly around Africa and sometimes Europe, but when possible she enjoys traveling for leisure. She is eyeing Arba Minch locally and Turkey and Southeast Asia internationally. She loves sports of all types, and the family has been into table tennis since Covid made the globe pause.
Generally a grateful person for everything, Zelealem sees getting the opportunity to serve others—daily—as what she gives gratitude for most. To be careful, precise, ethical…the opportunity and the ability to carry out her work is how she perceives God understands the value she has in serving the community.
To this leader, organization, facilitation, and coordination are leadership. Zelealem said everyone has their own capacity and one must be able to guide individuals where they fit best, creating a sound team. Leadership is responsibility, and there are different levels of leadership. Still, she pauses and says “sometimes” to the question of her being a leader because with constant self-reflection, she continuously identifies how tasks could have been carried out better or a challenge resolved well. She always strives for improvement.
To the younger generation, Zelealem asserts: Learn continuously. Education is vital to life. Also remember education is not only about school. Return to yourself. Bring the focus back to working on yourselves–be the best in what you do. We must all be leaders. If you lead yourself, you are ready to lead. This is the best harmony.
Especially to young women: Working on oneself is necessary. Work on emotional intelligence. Women are better leaders; at work or otherwise, women are ready to lead. If you manage…if you change yourself, you can change the community.
It is well past time to stop talking about women not “performing well” in the professional environment while tending to motherhood. Great leaders welcoming the next generation must be encouraged to take care of self and given time and space to return to the job.
Having known AWiB about five years, Zelealem sees the organization highlighting women’s successes, showing the younger generation achievements of the older as an essential undertaking. The unique “trainings” and experience-sharing are unparalleled, and the movement can do so much in future. Having a space for women to connect is necessary; we need this platform, she said. “What other opportunities do we have?” If we use it, the positive outcomes are endless. She is part of AWiB’s Female CEO Breakfast Club (FCBC).
Zelealem does not take “NO” for an answer. That has brought her to where she is, she said. When others say it can’t be done, she starts. She advises all not to be upset with all the small and big things life throws at you. When something does not agree with you, it does not mean it is not right. Things may not seem doable, but they will be.
AWiB appreciates Zelealem for making time in her busy schedule and applauds her courage of sharing her story.
The AWiB Team
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