Chief executive officer, philanthropist, Oromo refugee and 2018-2019 Outstanding Refugee Award recipient
“I was born and raised in Ethiopia. I came to Minneapolis in 1992. I was a teacher back home for about two years after finishing college in Zimbabwe. The political climate in Ethiopia wasn't very positive at all. The communist government was overthrown, and they were forming a new government. It was a very difficult time.
“The biggest I obstacle I faced coming here was starting over. I could not go to school. I could not get professional development. I had to restart everything from the very beginning. I started as a dishwasher for $5.65 an hour at the Minneapolis Hilton, and then after that I pursued my graduate education.
“It wasn't easy getting into graduate school. What made getting accepted difficult, I think, was probably my accent. I was told to take graduate-level courses in order for them to be able to see how good I would be in my classes. I think I took three or four courses prior to being admitted. I studied international relations and politics and government. After I graduated, I worked for the Minneapolis Housing Authority as a civil servant. I was at the Minneapolis Public School District for several years prior to starting my transportation business.
“In the summer of 2003, I had a very aggressive marketing campaign to start my business. I went to school districts and transportation companies to seek services to start this transportation business, and many of them actually were making fun of me. In September 2003, the Osseo School District had a job opportunity, and they gave me a chance. I was responsible for providing three children transportation to school and bring them back. We grew from there, and that's how we got where we are today. The tough experiences I went through were teaching moments for me.
“I think my biggest accomplishment was to find opportunities to provide the services necessary for customers. The challenges that I faced in the past made me stronger. My family comes from a farming background, and we lived in a challenging environment, working eight-plus hours a day.
“I don’t complain, and I take advantage of opportunities. Look at your environment as a positive thing. Look at the people who empower you. Surround yourself with people who are better than you.”