A bank looking to the future while commemorating the past


The 13th of February, 2022, was a historic day for the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia. It was the bank’s 80th anniversary, as well as the inauguration of the bank’s magnificent skyscraper headquarters, a 209.15-meter-tall landmark building in the heart of Addis Ababa.

The structure is a very modern and sophisticated skyscraper that will serve this generation and beyond, addressing emerging banking advancements as well as future expectations.

The bank is proud to have served as the nation’s engine of economic development for the past 80 years. It has made a significant national impact by providing financial support to various large-scale projects which are crucial to the nation’s prosperity. Among others, the bank has discharged its responsibility by financing the nation’s economy and helps expand trade and investment, as well as support the agriculture sector.

CBE has also played an important role in the growth of Ethiopia’s banking industry by providing an all-out support including loans for the establishment of a number of private banks.

What is more, the bank having a wealth of financial expertise and experience in Ethiopian banking history, it has always been exemplary in knowledge transformation and provision of highly qualified and experienced human resources for private banks.

Behind the success of large organizations like CBE, there are always exceptional people worth remembering in a time like this who managed to overcome various challenges and enabled the bank to thrive and excel.

When CBE commemorates its 80th anniversary, it is impossible not to be humbled and impressed by the people who have led the bank over the past 80 years. Thus, along with other things, the celebration is a time to remember their passion and commitment while also looking forward to the future so that the bank can carry on their legacy.

CBE has had ten presidents since 1964, when Tefera Degife, a prominent figure in the Ethiopian banking history, took over the presidency of the bank from foreigners and became the first Ethiopian bank president. Unquestionably, each president has dedicatedly served the bank, making their mark and leaving their legacy on the bank’s 80-year history.

With the exception of the current president, who is serving the bank for the second time at this historical moment, each previous president had only one opportunity to lead the bank as president.

This president has a long and illustrious history with CBE. When he returned to the CBE after 11 years to serve the bank once more as a president, he forwarded an inspiring and motivating message to the bank’s employees via intranet, from which the following excerpt is taken.

In the 1990s or so, companies such as the CBE had to go to Addis Ababa University and other higher institutions to recruit competent candidates since there were so few graduates at the time. On one of those days, the CBE Human Resource (HR) executives were at the AAU compound for the same reason.

The then CBE HR manager expressively briefed the young would-be graduates emphasizing the fact that CBE was the largest institution in the country, with a very tall growth ladder that they would not be able to complete before getting older. The HR manager’s explanation was so eloquent and persuasive that each prospective graduate was impressed, but none more so than one of the graduates who was uniquely inspired by his briefing on the bank.

The seemingly impossible dream of becoming president of the largest bank in the nation was conceived in the mind of this young prospective graduate right there at AAU compound. Ambitious as he was, he boldly and passionately declared his dream of becoming president of the bank during the interview session to the then-CBE HR executive committee.

“What is your ambition in the bank?” the then CBE HR manager inquired, “My ambition is to climb up the long ladder of the Bank very fast!” the young prospective graduate replied. “How far?” With charm, the manager inquired again. “All the way to the top supreme president” the young graduate answered determinedly. Does it sound like a young man’s exaggeratedly ambitious dream? However, this aspirant young prospective graduate’s dream was more than a pipe dream. He must have been aware that there is a huge difference between just dreaming and making one’s dream come true: the fact that just wishing for one’s dream to come true on its own would never happen.

The person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be, so they say. It follows that the then CBE HR executives had no alternative but to hire him. As was the case by then, the bank still needs such ambitious young graduates with a big dream who are determined to make a difference rather than simply being a mere employee.

Despite rather impressive offers from other institutions, the young graduate, ambitious as he was, made his long-term career decision to join the bank right away. The young prospective graduate received an employment letter from the bank on June 25, 1998, with an effective date of July 1, 1998, all before graduating.

As he began working as a junior bank employee in one of the bank’s branches, he no longer fantasized about climbing the corporate ladder; instead, he remained focused on his responsibilities, worked hard, and was deeply committed to excellence. It was no surprise that he quickly drew the attention of his superiors, who rewarded him with additional special assignments as well as well-deserved promotions.

Dream big, stay focused, and make it happen! To cut a long story short, despite all odds, the young employee became the youngest President of the nation’s largest bank at the age of 30 after working in various capacities for only 7 years and 7 months of his employment.

There is a saying that goes, “Everyone has big dreams they would want to see come alive, but not everyone has the strength to awaken dreams to true life.” That is, only those who have the courage to pursue their dreams will be able to make them a reality.

To everyone’s surprise, the young president left for yet another bank to serve as president after serving CBE only for three years as president. Nonetheless, after 11 years in the same position within the same industry, he came back to his dream bank, where he began as a junior banker and rose to the top of the banking hierarchy, eventually becoming president of the bank at a young age. Whatever the case may be, life takes its own route.

So much so that, in the bank’s 80-year history, this president has been acknowledged for the role he played in the bank’s past history, appreciated for being president of the bank at this historical moment, and trusted to lead the bank in the future and move it forward toward realizing the bank’s vision.

It should be noted that this piece is not just about one person who made his dream a reality. It all ultimately boils down to role modeling for CBE employees.

With such an exemplary leader at the helm, CBE employees have no excuse not to make new history as long as they follow the lead of their model dream maker president and carry on the legacy of all the bank’s so great previous presidents. It is worth noting that beyond commemorating the bank’s 80th anniversary now is the time for CBE to look to the future.

Needless to say, everything about the financial services experience is expected to change in the near future.

In five to ten years, the industry will most likely look very different. Digital banking will take over and dominate the sector. Given that the number of branches may no longer be a competitive factor as banking is unmistakably transitioning from physical branches to digital banking, which would need highly specialized human capital.

CBE’s 80 years of experience is undeniably an asset that the bank is proud of, but there is no room for complacency in yesterday’s success. To be the bank of the future and achieve its vision of becoming a worldclass bank, CBE must embrace emerging technology; remain adaptable to evolving business models, and place customers at the center of all strategies.

That being the case, now more than ever, CBE requires employees who are determined to make a difference and propel the bank forward. The CBE’s future is determined by its employees’ unwavering commitment to the bank’s inevitable success.

In line with that, the bank would remain committed to its mission, determined to continue to grow, change, and innovate, capitalizing on what has been positive and strong about its past history, while rapidly adapting to a world where change is accelerating around it. The future is now! The Author is a Senior Communication Officer at the CBE.


The Ethiopian   26 February  2022

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