Emigrant Created Indirect Path to CEO

Andebrhan Honored for Defying the Odds
Hagos Andebrhan

The UMKC Alumni Association is honoring Hagos Andebrhan (B.S.C.E. ’78) with the Class of 2020 Defying the Odds Award. Determined to create a better life for himself and his family, Andebrhan emigrated from Eritrea in 1970.

From a one-room household in Eritrea, a country in eastern Africa, to CEO of Taliaferro & Browne, a lead civil engineering firm in Kansas City, Hagos Andebrhan’s hard work and dedication have earned him success in the United States. The youngest of five children, Andebrhan came to the U.S. in 1970 to join an advanced airline pilot training program in Kansas City but ended up meeting his mentor and the founder of Taliaferro & Browne, Will Taliaferro, and changing careers.

Hagos Andebrhan
Hagos Andebrhan
(B.S.C.E. ’78)

“After high school, I took an exam and was one of thirty students in the entire nation of Ethiopia to be accepted into the Ethiopian Airline Pilot Training Program,” Andebrhan says. “A career in the airlines was not my dream, but it offered the best opportunity to earn a good salary. My desire to help my family financially was paramount.”

Andebrhan was focused on his education when the forced unification of Eritria with Ethiopia began in 1962.

“I supported the struggle for independence and engaged in student protests,” Andebrhan says. “But I was more focused on my education and was determined to emigrate to the United States to create a better life for me and my family.”

But once Andebrhan moved to the United States in 1970 he could not find work as a pilot because of the number of United States pilots who had returned from the Vietnam War. Andebrhan was undeterred in his commitment to building a life in his new homeland.

“Being a pilot was a means to an end, not a lifelong ambition,” he says. “Also, my wife was not thrilled with the idea.”

Fortunately, Will Taliaferro, who was a partner in Taliaferro & Browne, offered him a job at his engineering firm. Taliaferro became Andebrhan’s mentor.

“Mr. Taliaferro introduced me to the engineering profession and encouraged me to pursue engineering as a career. UMKC had an excellent engineering program and I was able to attend while holding a full-time job.”

While Andebrhan pursued his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, he worked full-time as a draftsman at Taliaferro & Browne, supporting his wife, children and his family in Eritrea. He does not remember this remarkable juggling act as being a burden.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” he says. “Most importantly, I had the support of a wonderful wife.”

He says UMKC had everything he was looking for in a university.

“UMKC offered a quality education in an urban setting,” he says. “I had inspiring and encouraging professors and friendly and supportive classmates.”

After Will Taliaferro died in 1990, Andebrhan and Leonard Graham, (B.A. ‘74) purchased the company; Andebrhan became CEO in 1992. Under their tenure, the company has been a part of some of Kansas City’s most significant developments including Science City in Union Station, the Kansas City Power and Light District and the new Kansas City Airport terminal.

Despite his remarkable accomplishments, Taliaferro’s advice for a successful life is simple.

“Life is short. Live it a day at a time.”

Join us in honoring Hagos Andebrhan and the other Class of 2020 Awardees in our first-ever virtual celebration at 5 p.m. April 16. Go to umkcalumni.com/alumniawards to register for this free event. If you are unable to attend the event but would like to donate to student scholarships, contributions can be made online.

Published: Apr 6, 2021

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