50 years of partnership and friendship… Togetherness that continued through good days and bad days. We are talking about two people who together witnessed the development of Turkey. İzzet Özlihan and Kamil Yazıcı, the founders of the Anadolu Group… They don’t like the limelight or having their photographs taken… But they did not disappoint Capital and both posed for the camera and explained their experiences and their half a century of partnership. They explained their formula for success. It is a success story which starts when they formed their partnership and bought just about everything from the Egyptian Bazaar, from needles to thread, and sold them from a small shop to Anatolia and extends from there to the Anadolu Group which has expanded all over the world.
A HALF-CENTURY STORY FROM TWO LEGENDARY PARTNERS
İzzet Özlihan and Kamil Yazıcı are the founders of the Anadolu Group… Their partnership which started 50 years ago has continued down to the present day. This process includes many events including economic crises and upsets. Despite the tens of difficulties the two partners faced they never ceased to go forward.
As the two doyens expanded their company, they attribute the secret of being able to sustain the partnership to reaching decisions together, saying that: “On subjects on which we did not agree we applied the principle of ‘persuade or be persuaded’ and solved them together. Perhaps this is the most important secret in making a successful partnership last for more than 50 years.”
At the moment the field to which they give the greatest importance is the Anadolu Foundation which they founded in the 1970s and which will soon complete its investments in healthcare. They are very happy that these facilities will become operational as the foundation celebrates its 25th anniversary. Here are the answers that the legendary partners İzzet Özlihan and Kamil Yazıcı gave to our questions.
How did you meet and how did you begin to work together?
İzzet Özlihan: I began my business career by helping my father while I was still in the first years of middle school. I learned about business together with my father in the east in the shops that we set up and operated together alongside the railroad construction. When I finished my military service in Thrace I stayed in Istanbul and began work by opening a shop in Tepebaşı.
Kamil Yazıcı: I also began working alongside my father wholesale outlet together with my two older brothers in Niğde, Aksaray, after I had completed primary and middle school. I worked alongside my father until I went to do my military service. I learned about trade. Later I came to Istanbul for my military service.
İ. Ö. The commander of the headquarters at the time was from the same region as me and we used to meet frequently. I was at a meeting with some very close friends who were also in business and they mentioned Kamil Bey who was at the time doing his military service in Istanbul and wanted my help in order to get him transferred to the headquarters. I spoke with the commander and helped get Kamil Bey transferred to the headquarters. This is how we got to know each other.
K. Y. The order to do my military service at the headquarters was very important for me. This is how I came to stay in Istanbul and I found a way to send to Aksaray goods which could be sold in my father’s shop.
İ. Ö. Kamil said that he wanted to go into partnership with me when he finished his military service. I agreed and this was the beginning of our partnership, acquaintance and friendship which lasted for so many years.
K. Y. After I had finished my military service I returned to Aksaray. Six months later I came to Istanbul and İzzet Bey and I began to work together. About two years later my older brother Nuri Yazıcı came to Istanbul and began to work with us.. My other older brother Mustafa Yazıcı stayed in Aksaray and continued to work alongside my father.
What was your first business, did you have any difficulties?
İ. Ö. After we became partners we opened a shop in the Egyptian Bazaar which had a toy shop on the lower floor and on the upper floor a stationers and ironmongers and we bought everything from needles to thread from the manufacturers and sold them to Anatolia.
A little later we began imports from the Iron Curtain countries. We imported and sold bicycles and Jawa motorbikes and Skoda pickups.
At that time the Iron Curtain countries used to sell to us in exchange for other goods. For this we used to apply and receive an ‘allocation from the Central Bank. We could import according to the share that we were allocated. It was quite a difficult way to do business. Later import bans started. We decided that the way forward was to assemble industrial products. We founded Çelik Montaj and began producing and selling Jawa motorbikes and Skoda pickups.
During all of these developments of course we experienced some difficulties. There are difficulties in every kind of business. What matters is to be able to overcome the difficulties and be successful.
For example, there were four partners in our first business. But the other two partners could not keep up with our pace of work, our tempo and our ability to take risks and they left.
We also suffered a devaluation. The US dollar was 2.8 lira and suddenly rose to 9 lira. We had some problems but we managed to overcome them without any serious damage.
What was the turning point, the moment of decision in all these successes of yours?
K. Y. After our other two partners left we established Çelik Motor and entered the automotive sector. Later we founded Çelik Montaj to assemble Jawa motorbikes and Skoda pickups. After that we began to produce and sell the Italian Lombardini brand industrial motors. After that Adel, the best known name in the pen and stationery sector, began operations. At the same time we entered the low alcohol drinks sector. The foundations of Efes Pilsen were laid with factories in Istanbul and Izmir, followed by a brewery in Adana. Around this time we established malt factories in Afyon and Konya.
We began producing and marketing Isuzu pickups. We imported and sold Laza automobiles.
İ. Ö. More recently we formed a strategic plan in which we decided to develop partnerships with international companies. Together with The Coca Cola Company we established bottling plants in the Turkic Republics.
The factories that we have established in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan are continuing their successful production and marketing activities.
As a result of the cooperation in other countries with Coca Cola we took a 40 percent shareholding in Coca Cola İçeçek in Turkey. We are continuing our preparations for this company to go public.
During this period we have taken the experience we have gained in the low alcohol drinks sector in Turkey and applied it in Russia and the Turkic republics. In 35 years we have made Efes Pilsen into a global brand.
To summarize, it was the decision first to enter the automotive sector and then the low alcohol and soft drinks sector and international integration which resulted in the success of the Anadolu group today.
How do you see the future of the Anadolu group? Did you ever think that it would grow this big?
K. Y. We always thought about growth and progress. We made efforts to realize new investments and create employment. We always believed in development and change. We have applied these principles since the first days of our partnership and we have realized 90 percent of it. And we have been successful despite crises. Today the Anadolu Group has a specific design that we have developed over 54 years and, most important of all, it has its own constitution. It is still managed by the first and second generation.
İ. Ö. Within the framework of its vision of being ‘the star that links Anatolia to the world and the world to Anatolia’, our group is developing its partnerships with foreign firms, we are opening our companies to the public, and we are using expert consultants, successful board members and an effective professional management.
We have faith that the third generation whom we believe that we have raised very well will expand our expectations and our group still further. In this regard, first of all we want them to remain faithful to the group’s constitution and use as a guide the know how that we have acquired in the past.
THE MODERN BUSINESS WORLD IS EASIER
What kind of differences do you see when you compare the modern business world with that of the past?
İ. Ö. In the years when we first started out in business the communication channels were not as varied as they are today and it was not as easy as it is now to access information. We used to communicate by telephone or letter. There were problems in traveling to foreign countries and we used to lose a lot of time. It was extremely difficult to find foreign exchange and conduct trade in accordance with the state’s import procedures.
Today in the business world you utilize several different channels to integrate with the whole world. It is much easier to establish and manage communications on every platform. Transportation is the same. You can travel to whichever country you want very quickly.
K. Y. In addition to all these positive developments you are in a working environment which is open to development. You can follow and apply the new trends and techniques that have been developed in management, production, sales and marketing. You can work with consultants and board members who have an academic career.
We believe that it is possible to work under much more productive conditions in the modern business world. Who would not want to work in an environment in which communications and transportation have been made easier, when access to information and the sharing of information have been made easier and quicker? But it is important to remember that together with these developments has come an intensely competitive environment. An excellent example of this is the problem we are currently facing with Chinese products.
“WE SHALL CELEBRATE THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY OF OUR FOUNDATION WITH OUR HEALTH FACILITIES”
When and how did your dreams of a foundation and a hospital begin?
K. Y. We established the Anadolu Foundation in 1979. We wanted to share with the wonderful people of Anatolia the success and profits that we have acquired through working unselfishly for so many years and which we believe have brought us to our current position. We have allocated on a regular basis a proportion of the profits of our group every year to the Foundation. We are trying to provide services in areas in education and social aid where the state has been unable to find an opportunity to do so.
The Anadolu Foundation is in its 25th year. To date we have created 42 different establishments, including hospitals, health centers, rest homes, nurseries, schools and dormitories, in different places in Anatolia and handed them over to the state. We provide assistance to those who are sick, crippled or disabled since birth.
We provide completely free scholarships to 500 young people who want to study but face financial difficulties. Today many of those who have received scholarships from us have completed their education, have an academic career or are working at the highest levels of the bureaucracy. We shall soon increase the number of young people to whom we provide scholarships to 1,000.
As Anadolu Foundation celebrates its 25th anniversary we are realizing a project that we have dreamed of ever since its foundation, namely the Anatolian Health Center. And this is in cooperation with John Hopkins, which has been voted the best hospital in America for the last 13 years.