Western business people find Turkey a highly relational and emotional society. Rules are elastic and shift frequently. Working here can be very rewarding but without some guidance it can be confusing, frustrating and very expensive!
I am an American businessman who has lived and worked in Ankara, Turkey since 1990. My professional background is in manufacturing management, but I have worked in a variety of ways in the last 15 years, mostly helping smaller foreign companies and individuals understand Turkey as a possible investment.
I received a BA from Northwestern University in Illinois with a double major in Mathematics and Social Psychology and an MBA from Santa Clara University in California.
But my real education has come from my work in various cultures and settings. I began work in a large defense operation in California and had my first major culture shock moving to South Carolina in 1982 where I helped start a new factory for the company. Our shop in South Carolina was machining and welding with about 400 employees. The factory was well known for its team based management style and for achieving the best safety record in the state in its sector. I learned a great deal about managing people, working with teams and moving culture in that context.
In 1989 the company asked me to move to Turkey to help start another new factory, about the same size, but this time a joint venture manufacturing tracked aluminum vehicles. Joint ventures are always complicated and working in Turkey is never straight forward for foreigners. But despite the many challenges the company was successful and is still doing well 25 years on. One US Ambassador told us we were the most successful US-Turkish joint venture in history. Our quality was (and still is) excellent and I take some personal pride in the strong focus on fair treatment of employees and the continuing remarkable safety record. I started at the joint venture as the Materials Manger but from 1994 on worked as the Assistant General Manager over operations, responsible for manufacturing, quality, purchasing, planning, computer systems and logistics, participating in company board meetings and actively involved in marketing and corporate strategy.
I left the joint venture under friendly terms in 2001 and started my own business. This led eventually to me running a workshop in the Ostim area of Ankara to manufacture naval air conditioning systems for Turkish mine hunting vessels under a contract with a German company. For any who know Ankara, the difference between working in a high end joint venture and running a workshop in Ostim is night and day – I think in many ways that’s when I first really moved into Turkey proper. Working daily supervising Turkish welders and machinists, negotiating with suppliers and dealing with bankers, accountants and regulators challenge, but we succeeded in making all the deliveries and in winning a follow-on order with no warranty claims.
In 2005 I shut down the workshop and started focusing on consulting. By this time I was properly fluent in Turkish and had experience running a large, globally focused joint venture as well as a small workshop with a lot of war stories to share with new comers to Turkey.
I strongly believe business should make a positive difference in a country and that the key issue in every business is working well with the people. My years here have taught me a lot about culture and the challenges involved in working with people from other places. Too often I see people focusing on measurable outcomes (which is good) without reflecting on the root causes of their problems, which so often are different perceptions on what is important and how work and relationships impact each other.
Consulting is a broad word that can cover just about any sort of professional advice or assistance. As a consultant I make myself and my experience available to those who need help. I can work in English or Turkish and while not myself an expert in law or finance, I have a network of associates who can provide those services as well.
For those working in Turkey there will undoubtedly be issues that are hard for a westerner to grasp fully. I can help explain what’s going on, provide professional contacts who can asset and often explain why your staff are behaving in ways that makes no sense from your experience in your home country. A basic cultural truth to remember is that no people is really irrational. If you consistently see behavior you think is irrational it means that you don’t understand the local worldview. Let me help you.
Without sales your business is nothing. Without a good understanding of your market, your strengths and weaknesses your sales are not likely to be what you expect. And without looking strategically at your context, your capabilities, your own strengths and weaknesses your success will be only a matter of luck.
A proper strategy requires hard data on the context of the business, the core purpose of the company, the market the business chooses to serve and the company’s collective strengths and weaknesses. It also requires some creative thinking to take all of that and sort out a specific plan of action to move from the current to the proposed future. I help small companies do this – bringing some of the knowledge needed, but also bringing a fairly creative perspective. Sometimes it takes an outsider to help you see where you need to go!
This can be done in a formal class session with discussion and examples or in a mentoring type relationship that lasts during your project. I’ve spent much of my 25+ years here reflecting on the differences that drive us. This is not a simple east-west dichotomy. I work with Turks, Koreans, Germans, Chinese, Australians, South Africans, Germans, Danes, Brits, Brazilians, American and Canadians (to name a few) and the variations are enormous.
Some basıc concepts ın cross-cultural analysis can help, but primarily one needs to develop an awareness of one’s own limited worldview and perspective. As painful as it sometimes is, working cross-culturally is extremely rewarding and often provides much stronger answers to the complex questions of business and markets. Let me give you some of the tools you’ll need to make working cross-culturally an exciting adventure rather than a trip through purgatory!
I can help evaluate a potential investment, looking at the political and economic risks, the process (and challenges) of hiring foreign employees and the availability and cost of local qualified staff. Much of this is basic business planning, but for foreigners looking to work in Turkey there are many twists and traps. It’s better to learn from others’ experience than to repeat the mistakes of previous generations.
In 2011 I was approached by a German businessman who owned a successful business in Germany that was expanding rapidly around the globe. He was considering starting an operation in China but had been advised by a friend to consider Turkey instead. Turkey is closer to Germany and so easier to oversee and visit. And while Turkey is generally more expensive the China, the quality can be superior and the customs union with Europe is a significant advantage.
We spent time together visiting companies and talking to potential customers and suppliers. As a means of reducing their startup risks we began operations through Aslan. This meant they did not need to start their own business in Turkey but could work through our company. We hired sales people and others, found dealers and started developing the market.
At the end of 2012 we agreed it was time to start a new Turkish limited company in Ankara. We transferred the employees inventory and other assets to the new company. I continue to work as a consultant to the firm, managing much of the operation while developing local staff. We now produce product for sale in country and also manufacturing some components for export back to our German parent company.
A Danish representative of Runi approached me in 2014 asking for help to start their operations in Turkey. Runi manufactures compressors for the recycling industry and saw a good market in Turkey, where recycling is still a new industry. They also hope eventually to move some production to Turkey as a cost savings.
We have provided training to their representative and strategic review and advice on their business plans. We have also helped in recruiting local people to work for them as they continue their startup evaluation. Recent economic challenges in Turkey have slowed their progress, but we continue to advise as needed.
American entrepreneurs evaluating an opportunity in Turkey
I was first approached by a couple of younger American entrepreneurs in 2014 who were looking to sell their expertise in sport in Turkey. We have since had a series of discussions about their plans and expectations and in those discussions I have helped them understand the various legal structures available in Turkey and provide insights into the risks they face in getting into a highly competitive sector in this market.
They have wisely chosen to move slowly. They are both currently employed in Turkey, developing their own understanding of the language and culture and learning more about their specialized sector. They are evaluating prospective partnerships with Turkish business people and I continue to advise them periodically as decisions arise. This works to their advantage as they gain from my experiences but their costs are limited to occasional small consulting fees and travel to Ankara.
A training company with a license from a global firm started operation in Turkey about 15 years ago owned by three foreigners from different countries. They asked me to help them starting in 2005. The company at that time had several major strategic challenges.
We helped in setting up an advisory board that included people with skills they badly needed – local expertise and broader business knowledge. When one of the three founders needed to exit the firm we helped them work through the recruitment of a replacement but, more significantly, the equitable compensation of the departing owner and the terms for the new partner. Too often in partnerships these issues are not clarified at the beginning and can be the basis for relational breaks and law suits.
Through quarterly advisory board meetings we helped chart a clearer direction that resulted in a change in the general manager and relocation of the business. Ultimately the company was sold to single foreign owner and under his leadership the firm has done quite well.