Eleni Zawde Gabre-Medhin

Duchess of ECX eases herself out
U.S. President Barack Obama, from left, Ghanaian President John Atta Mills, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Eleni Gabre Madhin, CEO of the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvede, participate in a luncheon on Food Security at the G-8 summit at Camp David, Md. , Saturday, May 19, 2012. AP Photo)
(By ZEKARIAS SINTAYEHU The Repoter) Eleni Zawde Gabre-Medhin (Ph.D.), founding CEO of the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX), a.k.a. the mother of ECX, has announced that she will hand over her responsibility on September 30. Anteneh Assefa, the current Vice President of Operations at Bank of Abyissinia, has been designated by the Board of Directors to be the next CEO of ECX starting from August 1. “Since the Exchange business was a new idea to Ethiopia, it was decided to be implemented by international professionals,” Eleni noted, referring to the establishment of both Ethiopian Airlines and the then Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation (ETC). “The first management of both Ethiopian and ETC were international professionals who led the institutions for 25 and 10 years respectively. But we don’t need either 25 years or 10 years for ECX leadership transition,” Eleni said.

After the establishment of the Exchange in 2008, ECX has been working on a detailed succession plan. It was estimated it would take three to five years to fully implement the succession.
ECX has slashed its international staffs from nine to five during the last two years. “We are going according to our plan. For the last six months we have deputized the international officers. And our deputy officers were not only involved in the day to day operations of the ECX but also participated in the election process of the new CEO,” Eleni said.

According to Eleni, she will mentor and coach the new CEO for two or three months and will continue as an advisor for an unspecified period of time.
“Why not now?” Eleni said in response to a “Why now?” inquiry from The Reporter.  “The leadership transition plan was on the table since its commencement. As I stated earlier, the international staffs have halted operating the day to day operation for the last six months. So the local staffs have the full potential to take ECX to the next level,” she explained.

ECX has lifted the lower limit on the price of coffee three months ago allowing the prices to adjust [decline] with current trend in the global market. The scheme, which was introduced by ECX some time ago, was subjected to criticism by various stakeholders. Some exporters argued in the past that the system in place is among the reasons that ECX prices hover above the international one as it lacks flexibility.

Eleni was asked if the reason for her leaving was the current coffee market crisis. She said is no her exit was not prompted by the market crisis. “Every commodity exchange will face crisis every time. Every year both the New York and London Commodity Exchanges might face such crisis. So if I wait for the perfect time to leave it might take me 50 years,” she added [sic].

Many African Commodity Exchanges have been soliciting assistance from ECX. There was a rumor that she might join Nigeria Commodity Exchange but she denied the claims. She stated that she has no specific plans about her future. “At the moment, it is too early to talk about my future plan. I just want to focus on the smooth transition of leadership,” she added.

The search for a replacement was led by a committee appointed from within the ECX Board of Directors and the current leadership team including Eleni. “The Board highly appreciated the process of identifying and recruiting the next ECX CEO, which was conducted in a model way, with the utmost professionalism and transparency. I am very confident that the search has resulted in the right choice of the next CEO,” stated Addisu Legesse, Board Chairman of ECX, in a press release sent to The Reporter.

Eleni expressed hope that the new CEO can carry on the Exchange citing his vast experience in the financial sector. Anteneh told The Reporter that he is ready to face the challenges in ECX. “Ever since it started operations ECX is a well established institution. It is going to be a big responsibility which has a serious challenge. But I am ready to change the challenge in to opportunities,” he said.

Six months ago, Anteneh was proposed by Zemen Bank’s Board of Directors to be the bank’s president. But the regulatory National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE) rejected the proposal claiming that he did not have adequate experience.
“I am not going to change the existing team, since the team can be a model for othe African countries. My first task in the new office will be to acquaint myself with the system and take lessons from the outgoing CEO,” Anteneh added.

Eleni and the outgoing team of international officers will remain in advisory roles to ensure a seamless transfer of duties and the successful completion of ongoing initiatives. “ECX will always be in my blood and I remain committed to seeing ECX achieve new heights as it grows and evolves in the years ahead,” Eleni concluded.

The outgoing CEO, Eleni, has a Ph.D. in Applied Economics from Stanford University, and Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Economics from Cornell University and Michigan State University respectively. She has had many years of experience working on agricultural markets – particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa – and has held senior positions in the World Bank, the International Food Policy Research Institute (Washington), and United Nations (Geneva). Eleni has participated in major international meetings and conferences including the recent G8 Summit at Camp David. She also received the African Banker Icon Award last month.

The incoming CEO has 11 years of experience in banking beginning from the position of graduate trainee at the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia. Anteneh has a Bachelors degree in Management from Addis Ababa University and a graduate degree from the University of Paris (Sorbonne) in Corporate Management & Finance.

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