One of the biggest moments of Tamerate Tadesse’s life came in a cab.
A ride from Lambert-St. Louis International Airport to Wildwood, Missouri. An inquisitive passenger. An even more inquisitive driver.
Tadesse, a native of Ethiopia, took a job as an airport taxi cab driver after settling in the St. Louis area. His English was not very good, so he practiced by talking to his passengers.
“I like to talk to people, I like to ask questions,” he says. “I’d ask them, ‘How was your flight?’”
So began Tadesse’s conversation with Peter Desloge, chairman and CEO of Watlow Electric Manufacturing Co., whom Tadesse was driving to his Wildwood, Missouri, home.
A short while into their conversation, Desloge noticed Tadesse had rigged up his personal laptop to an old adapter to charge it while he was driving.
“It was kind of noisy,” Tadesse laughs.
Desloge was intrigued by the contraption and asked about Tadesse’s hobbies and his plans for the future. Tadesse, who was taking classes to learn English, shared that even as a child, he had always enjoyed fixing things, especially electronics.
Desloge remembers the conversation well.
“I asked what his plans in life were and he clearly wanted more, yet was not sure what to do or how he could pay for school,” he says. “I encouraged him to think about engineering. I shared with him my experience as an engineer. I told him it is a great field because you will always be challenged and there will always be a demand for engineers.”
By this time, the cab ride was nearing its end. But before he got out of the car, Desloge handed Tadesse his business card and said, “Just give me a call whenever you can.”
“He didn’t say anything about who he was,” Tadesse says. “He just gave me the card. I looked at it and saw he was the chairman and CEO of Watlow.”
Watlow Electric Manufacturing Co. is a family-owned company that designs and manufactures industrial electric heaters, sensors, and controllers. Founded in 1922, it is headquartered in St. Louis.
Tadesse decided right then and there that he was going to finish his English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, as well as some prerequisite math classes, at St. Louis Community College, and apply to Missouri S&T.
“Something clicked in my mind,” he says. “It was kind of a miracle for me.”
Now, some five years later, Tadesse is ready to graduate from S&T with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. He still keeps Desloge’s business card in his wallet for good luck.
“I was pleased to find out that he took my advice,” Desloge says. “It reminds me that we all have a chance to have a positive impact on others every day of our lives – even in a brief encounter in a taxi.”
It was luck that got Tadesse to the United States in the first place.
Tadesse, who grew up and went to school in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia, entered and won the Diversity Visa lottery when he was 20 years old.
The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, or DV lottery administered by the U.S. Department of State, makes up to 50,000 immigrant visas available annually. Winners are drawn at random among all entries from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S.
“I was pretty lucky,” he says. And thankful for the chance encounter that would come during that cab ride that eventually led him to S&T.
A ride from Lambert-St. Louis International Airport to Wildwood, Missouri. An inquisitive passenger. An even more inquisitive driver. And a very bright future.
By Greg Katski