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Ferit Sahenk: "Our Aim Is to Create Another Happy CEOs." PDF Print E-mail
2007-03-15 14:34:26
The Turkish-American Business Council came into being in 1985 with the aim of improving and strengthening trade and investment relations between Turkey and America. In the past, many notable names from the business world have headed up this organization. With 120 active members, TAIK hopes to help accelerate the development of relations between these two countries.

The current head of TAIK, Ferit Şahenk, is the owner of the Doğuş Group, which incorporates Garanti Bank, and whose business is a 25.5% partner in the world giant General Electric. With its 36 billion dollars in active business, Garanti Bank is Turkey's third largest bank.

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Ferit Sahenk. (By Ferit Sahenk)

Şahenk was educated in marketing and human resources at Boston College in Boston, MA, and when his father, Doğuş Holding's founder, Ayhan Şahenk died in 2001, Şahenk moved up to the helm of the company.
 
At the head of Şahenk's tasks, outside of what he does for Doğuş Holding, is following the subject of Turkish-American trade relations, which he feels have not yet reached their potential. According to Şahenk, one of the main reasons that trade relations between these two countries, which have had ties now for more than 200 years, have not reached the desired level yet is that Turkish companies, rather than taking the steps they need to globalize, are busy taking steps to try and overcome the daily problems they encounter domestically.
 
Of the enterprises undertaken by Turkish companies in recent years, Şahenk points to partnerships between Citigroup and the leading Turkish bank Akbank, as well as General Electric's partnership with Garanti Bank.  
 
He notes, "It used to be that if someone were to say to Citibank 'Go and purchase 50% of a bank in Turkey or make a 50 year partnership with  Doğuş Group' they would only smile. So these are not the successes of one group, or one family. These are the successes of a nation of people. What partnerships like these show is how quickly Turkish people have been able to adapt to global change, and what kind of quality, good work is being done here."

Doğuş Holding CEO and TAIK President Ferit Şahenk spoke with the General Manager of TurkofAmerica, Ömer Güneş, about Turkish-American relations.
 
The US-Ottoman relations go back to the 1800s, but despite the past 200 years, you really cannot say we have made great strides in trade relations. When you compare our relation to those with countries like Korea or Malaysia, what can you say are some of the reasons that Turkey has not been able to achieve more of the level it wanted in trade relations with the US? 

One of the most important reasons that cooperation and partnership were not developed in the trade arena between Turkey and America during the Cold War period was that both Turkey and Turkish companies did not take adequate steps in the past in order to lead the way to globalization. Turkey, between 1980 and 2000, became a country that had to work so hard to simply "save the day" that it had no time to even think about the future. At the same time, it was also unable during this period to really explain where it stood on matters. Nor did it allow time to gain the image of being a country where investors could be a part of global cooperation and a global economy. But with the IMF activities that began in 2001, and with the EU accession process, Turkey suddenly became a country that could show the countries of the world how much it had developed its infrastructures. In the end, Turkey is a strong state.  
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Ferit Sahenk with Omer Gunes. (By Necdet Kosedag)
 
We see that many international companies have entered into partnerships on the Turkish market. Are the economic developments that have taken place enough to close the gap?
   
The changes that Turkey went through following 2000, including the economic decisions that were made, are an important step. In the world right now, there is one reality, and this is globalization. The reforms made in 2000 allowed Turkey to make great strides, despite the fact that it came at the top of the list of countries with high inflation and high interest rates. Growth in Turkey turned into a healthier process. In trade and in investment between Turkey and the US, growth started up. Of course, we are seeing global investors from big countries come to Turkey in the first streams of investing. Turkey has a customer relation with America in the area of the defense industry. And now, General Electric, which has been a name for years and years in the defense industry, has entered Turkey's financial sector. And also, one of the world's largest financial institutes, Citigroup, has become a 20% partner with Akbank.
 
Do these partnerships result at all from the developments in terms of the understanding of competition and quality in Turkish companies? 
Generally, when world business giants enter a country, they purchase either a majority share or the entirety of a company. For Turkey, this is an interesting sign. The partnership between Garanti Bank and GE and between Akbank and Citigroup is a sign of the strides made in Turkey, showing that institutes in some sectors in Turkey are now on a global level in terms of quality and ability to compete, as well as size.

Another important sign of how things are changing is that our "know how" in certain sectors has become an extemely important factor. It used to be that if someone were to say to Citibank 'Go and purchase 50% of a bank in Turkey or make a 50 year partnership with Doğuş Group' they would only smile. So these are not the successes of one group, or one family. These are the successes of a nation of people. What partnerships like these show is how quickly Turkish people have been able to adapt to global change, and what kind of quality, good work is being done here. Of course, these are also the results of the decisions made over the past 5-6 years, as well as the global integration efforts made by our last two governments. Turkey is growing, and as it grows, it is attracting attention. And as it attracts attention, the world's large institutes start to flock here.
 
As the President of TAIK, what are your plans regarding your main duties in this position?  
I can sum up my goals, as both a Turkish citizen and the head of TAIK, under three main headings:
 
1- I want to increase the opportunities for reciprocal trade and customer relations between Turkish and American companies, by making each side easier to get to know for the other, and thus increasing more courageous business.
2. Outside of developing trade, there is still not enough investment capital in Turkey. In this sense, we want to attract institutions that will offer their know-how to the growing sectors in Turkey, and that will view Turkey as a center, using it as headquarters for regional production and marketing, to Turkey.
3-We need to create partnership opportunities for both Turkish and American companies in Eastern Europe, Russia, the Turkic republics, and the Middle East. There are currently important opportunities in the construction sector. So I mean, on these three legs, trade, direct investment, and regional partnerships, I want to concentrate my efforts over the next two years.
 
How do you analyze the investments by GE and Citigroup in Turkey?
The CEOs who invest in Turkey showed us how they believe in and trust in Turkey. The CEOs of both GE and Citibank should be happy people. As Citigroup's partnership with Akbank continues in the Turkish market, their thoughts regarding Turkey will only become more and more positive. Our aim is to create another 7-8 CEOs.
 
Which factors, do you think, can be blamed for the fact that Turkish companies are not known brand names in America, or that they are not long lasting?
You have to look at Turkey's history. You have to look at inner balances and economic changes. The psychology of "needing to save the day" and thus not being able to look ahead is very important for a business person. Forget for a moment creating a brand name, Turkey has experienced such tough financial times that people have had to be put out of work, ads have had to be cancelled.

So, during such up and down times, it was difficult for this country to come up with 3-5 year strategy plans. There were those who did this, though, who invested in sector and human quality. Two sectors that saw this sort of investment were the automotive sector and the banking sector. And then there are the major, yet mid-sized, KOBI companies that we have seen recently in Anatolia. These have begun to make brand names known. You have to create platforms like this in your own market so that you can compete with courage against countries like America. There are huge differences between Turkey and America.
 
TAIK is the Turkish-American Business Council, but does it deal with all of America? Don't you need to have state-level enterprises?  
The efforts through our Foreign Trade Undersecretariat, which have been overseen for a few years by our Minister Kursad Tuzmen, are ones that should be congratulated. As TAIK, our marketing strategy must be to bring individual customers together, or bring those interested in trade together with various regions. We need to meet not only with trade chambers in America, but with individual customers. We need to visit state chambers of commerce, and find out which sectors have the potential for business with Turkey, and then carry out our marketing accordingly. We are going to start doing this in the upcoming period, and our collegues who continue after us will have to continue this.
 
What kind of an effect does the partnerships by both Garanti and Akbank have on the entrance of foreign capital into Turkey?
I am sure that GE played a big role in the fact that Citibank came here. Because that's how things work with us. When two or three more trucks start going through the gates of a factory in Anatolia, people look to see what's going on there, what that guy is doing over there. It's like getting on a train. In Turkey, the train is speeding up. And investors are starting to really flow in. And when investors come to certain sectors, they start to come to others, too. Which means that certain platforms need to be prepared for other sectors. In America, there are huge numbers of food and animal breeding companies. Why can't Turkey become a center for firms like these? We need to switch over to the industrialization of our land agriculture system, and to think big in this area. As it is, these things only work when you think big.
 
As someone who knows the US and is involved in business, why is it that the giant holdings from Turkey are not active in the US? In fact, Sakip Sabanci even used to say, "I wish we had discovered America in the 1980s." When you are strong in the US, you can be strong in the world.  
 
Turkish enterprisers have a lot of energy. Here, things are newly started. We should wait another 2-3 years, and if the figures are not developed some, we can ask it again. I think the momentum has begun, though. Things are on their way. There are giant companies in Turkey. But America is a giant market. Of course our companies have potential. If an Indian businessman today can go and buy a company in America, and if a Chinese business can do the same, we can too. There is no reason why not. Turkish companies can do it, but we need time.

And thus trade cooperation would increase. Today in Turkey, in Bulgaria, in Russia, there are many many institutes making investments in factories. Why couldn't this happen in America?  We have fantastic, great-working companies in Anatolia. We want Anatolia to make great strides down this road.  
 
Thank you very much, is there anything you would like to add?  
There is nothing that Turks cannot do if they work collectively. I want to stress this.
 
DOGUS GROUP
The Doğuş Group employs more than 18 thousand employees, and provides service to more than 6 million people. Its basis was formed in 1951 by Ayhan Şahenk, who made his first investments in the construction sector. The Doğuş Group now includes more than 50 companies in sectors as far-ranging as finance, automotive, construction, tourism, and media. It expresses its vision of the 21st century as one in which quality is always kept primary.

Şahenk notes that as the global economy turns into the only economy, quality becomes even more indespensible. He says "Our goal is to offer quality products, quality service, and to open up these services and products to the world by using the the quality human resources that we have invested in for years now."
Şahenk notes that he follows closely the projects of Doğuş Group's construction firms, noting that he wants to develop them. The Doğuş Group has built freeways in North Africa, Bulgaria, and Khazakistan, the two largest freeways in Morocco, and done bridge work in the Ukraine.
 
WHO IS FERIT SAHENK?
Şahenk is the Chairman of Doğuş Holding, the parent company of the Doğuş Group of Companies. Şahenk joined the Group operations in the Financial Sector in 1991 by founding Garanti Securities. In three years under his management, Garanti Securities became one of the largest in over 100 brokerage houses in Turkey. In 1994 Mr. Şahenk re-structured Garanti Securities into an Investment Bank of the Group where he acted as the Executive Vice-Chairman.

Şahenk, born in Ankara in 1964, received his Bachelors Degree in Marketing and Human Resources from Boston College in 1987.  He also participated in the Owner / President Management Program at the Harvard University in 1997.  He is also the Vice – President of the Turkish Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association (TUSİAD) and President of the Economic and Financial Affairs Commission under TUSIAD. Ferit Şahenk was named the 754th richest person in an annual ranking of the world's richest people by Forbes magazine in 2007.
(March 2007, 24th Issue) 

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