Future 50
A New Generation of Leaders Arrives

For building a digital infrastructure that accelerates growth

From the start of his career, Yoftahe Yohannes had a front-row seat to a hyperconnected transformation in one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. As an engineer and project manager for multiple telecom initiatives in Ethiopia, he helped build the nation’s IT infrastructure from the ground up. Now he’s looking to tap into that experience to expand Ericsson’s digital footprint across the Middle East and North Africa.

Projects in such a fast-paced industry require that Yohannes flex both rigor and creativity. Last year, Ericsson gave him an award for swooping in to minimize financial loss on a multimillion-U.S.-dollar project on the verge of failure. For instance, he cut cost centers that delivered no revenue for the project. 

“It’s not enough to be only a manager—planning, directing and controlling,” he says.
“We need to be leaders.”

Q&A: Yoftahe Yohannes on big data, the future of work and Haile Gebrselassie

What project in the world most influenced you personally?

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the biggest hydroelectric power plant in Africa. It was an exciting project that brought back the national pride my generation had been looking for. It taught me that when a leader has a vision, he or she can bring people to achieve what seems impossible.

What’s the most influential project you’ve worked on?

I led a campaign in 2012 to provide medical assistance to the underprivileged in one of the cities of eastern Ethiopia. We had done three months of preparation—engaging medical doctors, pharmacists, nurses and administrators. We also mobilized medical equipment and medicines from different places. In three days, we were able to help 1,100 people, and I saw many lives touched and healed. This showed me that when projects are executed properly, they bring value to people and communities.

What’s the one must-have skill to succeed in The Project Economy?

Leadership. The Project Economy has shown the potential of mission-oriented engagement rather than the traditional hierarchies that require people to engage for an undefined amount of time in organizations. In such a world, people who have the skill set of leadership will be able to perform and deliver value.

How are young people changing the world of projects now?

With the expansion of digital infrastructures and collaborating tools, young people will prefer to deliver pieces of work from anywhere at any time without the need to fit in the same old model of work. This is why future project managers should be proficient in leading people virtually as they will be expected to work more in a virtual environment.

What’s one way managing projects will have changed by 2030?

The future of work will be dependent on big-data analytics and the connected machines that provide the big data. This means the project manager will be dealing with humans as well as machines. Exciting and somehow scary: Imagine when you lead a workforce of intelligent machines to deliver projects.

The world of tomorrow will be more unpredictable than it is now. People who have an innovative mindset can tackle problems and issues with a different perspective and can bring out a better value.

What famous or historic person would you want on your project team?

Haile Gebrselassie, a retired Ethiopian long-distance track and road running athlete. He won Olympic gold medals and World Championship titles. As a professional athlete and then a business entrepreneur, he has demonstrated how to be resilient, committed and diligent toward achieving the goal when all the external factors are at odds.