There was no way young Henok could have foretold what greatness awaited him when he left the place of his birth; Ethiopia, as a helpless 16 year old many years ago, in pursuit of his destiny. He did not know what the future held for him, his circumstance didn’t promise much either; but something nudged him forward; hope.
As a young emigrant in the United States of America, Henok had nothing but his dreams to hold on to. And surely, he guarded it with everything he had.
While in college, he took a job at a downtown Washington parking lot in other to support his education. Even then, he pictured his dreams come true; and hungered for the day of his manifestation.
“While I was working, my mind always wanted to open my own business,” he says.
At 24, Henok had saved enough to rent a parking lot near 12th and U streets NW for $800 a month. But at the time, the area was known to be a very rough block and so it wasn’t appealing, only a few people wanted to park there.
Henok’s spirit, like the typical African spirit fought on, ever creative and deliberate. He turned half the space into a used-car lot, buying vehicles from nearby auto auctions and putting up for sale three or four at time. That way, he made just enough money to pay his bills.
Although that appeared to be a great leap for the young entrepreneur, yet he knew that was not enough to birth his huge dream; he needed more funds. In hope, he began applying for loans in several banks. But each time, he got the same feedback.
“I tried maybe a couple of banks. They said, ‘No, you don’t have good business history.’ I was not in business for enough years,” he said.
In the face of so much challenge, Henok persevered, he wasn’t ready to loose his grip on the one thing that meant the whole world to him; his dream!
Now, this is the part I love to call “the turning point”. A few years later, a potential buyer — a fellow Ethiopian, visited the car-lot and like most of Henok’s customers, asked to finance his purchase with a loan from the Ethiopian Community Development Council’s Enterprise Development Group.
A possibility Henok never knew existed. In hope, he called the group to inquire; and was told about the group’s microfinance program. He told them that he wanted to expand and needed financing to enable him to bid on contracts to operate parking garages and open a second used-car lot.
Few months later, he applied. And after reviewing his business plan( the same business plan that was rejected by several banks), EDG willingly granted him a loan. He put up a used Toyota Land Cruiser, Nissan Maxima and a Jeep for collateral; he was given $35,000 loan at an interest rate of about 11 percent in 2003.
With that, he was able to buy more used cars, Hondas, Toyotas and Fords, which were priced between $3,000 and $4,000. He also opened a second small dealership in Bladensburg.
As imagined, the car business boomed unrestrainedly, soon the once poor emigrant became the light of hope for his people. Relatives who immigrated to Washington were quickly given jobs in the company.
Henok Tesfaye is currently the president & CEO of U Street Parking Inc. A company he founded with his brother as a family operation in 1998.
Under his leadership USP has become a premier parking company in the highly competitive parking market in the Washington DC area. From only four employees to more than 600 employees!
Today, Henok has become a central household name among Ethiopians in the Washington DC Metropolitan area and Africans generally. He has been featured in the Washington Post, CNN, VOA & numerous publications.
The Washington Post article describes him as “a District of Columbia entrepreneurial success story, a savvy and focused businessman in a good standing with the community.” In addition to his parking business, Mr. Henok’s family owns & operates Etete restaurant, a super Ethiopian establishment in NW DC.
Henok is also a Board Member of Shaw Main Streets and Capital bank, as well as being a member of numerous civic & professional associations including the DC Chamber of Commerce 9th Street Business Association, The Enterprise Development group & The national parking Association.
He is the chairman of the Board of Mary Joy Foundation; a nonprofit organization that seeks to help children & seniors in Ethiopia.
The entrepreneur manages some of the largest car parks in the Washington DC area, including the city’s convention centre, baseball stadium and Reagan National Airport.
Henok Tesfaye continues to make Africa proud. He had a dream; he nurtured it and watched it come to fulfillment. Do you have a dream? I do.