The Africa CEO Forum awards leaders: Ethiopian clinches top prize

The list of nominees for the inaugural Africa CEO awards was quite long and impressive too, 37 in all, vying for four awards: Private Equity Investor of the Year, International Corporation of the year, African Company of the year and CEO of the year.

Organised under the auspices of the African Development BankandGroupe Jeune Afrique, The Africa CEO Awards are a thumbs up for companies and investors who have demonstrated a continued determination to advance the continent’s development by virtue of their promotion and development of the African private sector, intra-African trade, regional integration as well as Social and Environmental responsibility.

There was little surprise when Tewolde Gabremariam of Ethiopian Airlines clinched the most coveted CEO of the year award. Explaining that the success of the company comes from the “total independence” of its corporate governance, the public owned Ethiopian airlines is one of the most dynamic and profitable airlines in Africa, with 80 destinations. It joined the global Star Alliance at the end of 2011 and was the first African company to start flying the Boeing 787 Dreamliner last September. Tewolde Gabremariam who became CEO of the company in 2010, is the quintessential image of the CEO who has climbed through the ranks since joining the Airlines in 1985 as an agent at Addis Ababa Airport.

The African Company of the year award went to ECOBANK Group and was accepted Thierry Tanoh, who was appointed as the group’s Chief Executive Officer at the end of 2011. ECOBANK beat nine other nominees to clinch the award. Headquartered in Togo, ECOBANK pioneered the idea of a pan-African banking strategy and is now present in 32 countries, including nearly all of ‘Middle Africa’, the zone between South Africa and the Sahara. It currently has over 11,000 employees after buying Oceanic Bank, one of Nigeria’s biggest banks, at the end of last year.

There were nine nominees for the Private Equity Investor Award of the year. Battling with the likes of African Capital Alliance, Helios, Tunivest/Africinvest, among others, Abraaj Capital’s win brings the company’s achievements to the fore. The most important private equity fund in the world and a specialist in emerging countries has 6 billion euros under management with 36 offices around the world. It has focused on Africa in 2012 by buying one the most important investors on the continent, Aureos Capital, and making a $125 million investment in the pan-African insurance group Saham.

Olam, a Singapore based agricultural commodity trading company, won the International Corporation of the year award. Its 11 billion euros of revenue in 2001-2012 and 17,000 employees make it one of the biggest companies in agribusiness, a few years after it decided to move into the production of agricultural products. Its close ties in Africa, especially with its roots in Nigeria, earned it close to 1.3 billion euros in revenue (per year) on the continent between 2001 and 2012. Among its large investments across the continent include a giant oil palm and fertiliser project in Gabon.

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