Feyyaz Berker, Necati Akçağlılar and Nihat Gökyiğit... They started out in the world of business approximately 50 years ago. They created giant groups with harmonious partnerships, which complemented one another. They are active in many areas from finance to construction, agri-industry and real estate. These three partners, who recently retired from active business life, are now following business from a distance and providing advice to young people and professional executives.
Their partnership is so harmonious as to surprise Vehbi Koc, the doyen of the Turkish business community. Moreover they are three, not two, partners. We are talking about the founders of Tekfen: Feyyaz Berker, Necati Akçağlılar and Nihat Gökyiğit.
These three partners’ harmonious relationship has meant that Tekfen -- which takes its name from the combination of the words for technology, teknoloji, and science, fen -- has had a long life and undergone a stable development. The foundations of the Holding were laid fully 49 years ago in 1956 by these three respected names. Today it has been transformed into a major holding of companies active in fields ranging from finance to real estate, textiles and foreign trade.
The three partners share a lot of common characteristics. All three trained as construction engineers in the US, are fathers of two daughters and are the same age. One could go on.
Today, even though they are each 80 years old, they are active in a number of NGOs. Although they ‘retired’ from active involvement in management five years ago, they come to the holding’s headquarters in Ulus every day.
We conducted an extensive interview with these three men who are models for the Turkish business community. They told Capital about their views regarding the development of Turkey over the last 50 years and changes in the values of the business world. The result was a highly enjoyable interview sprinkled with their experiences.
First of all I would like to learn what lies at the heart of this harmonious partnership which will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year. What is your secret?
F. B. Our philosophy is to be open right from the start. For that reason, we did not talk beforehand between ourselves about how we would answer your questions.
N.G. At the opening of Tekfen Towers, we also got up and made speeches without talking with each other first. Rahmi Koc came over and asked: “Did you rehearse beforehand?” This means that the way that we spoke made it look as if we had rehearsed.
F.B. First of all, it would be useful to run through what we have in common. All three of us are construction engineers. All three of us received postgraduate training as construction engineers in the US. We come from a shared culture. We look at things in the same way. We all married in approximately the same years. We all have two daughters. All three of us worked in the Ministry of Public Housing. Later we established an engineering firm called FNN (Feyyaz, Necati, Nihat). That was also very important. Because it was based on engineering, project management, laboratories and quality control.. At a time when these issues were not on Turkey’s agenda, we had laboratories which were determining concrete quality and soil compression. There was not even a proper laboratory in the Highways department. We – particularly Nihat – were the pioneers in this.
I would imagine that as partners the three of you know each other very well. Who is strongest in which area? Who comes to the fore in which area?
F. B. Necati is very modest. Necati has many good relationships in foreign countries such as France and Saudi Arabia. He is close to bosses in foreign business circles. Because he travels a lot. He follows these projects. Hariri came to Necati’s daughter’s wedding. At the time he was still not prime minister of Lebanon. Those friendships are very important because they create trust. When these people get to know us, when they hear the name Tekfen they can make a decision without thinking.
N. G. Necati also maintains very good relations with friends and acquaintances. He congratulates them on their birthdays and, when they occur, shares their sorrows. He is very sensitive on these subjects. He keeps in close contact with friends. Necati is very modest but when it comes to entrepreneurship he is a step ahead of Feyyaz and myself. He is bolder. He is a step ahead of us when it comes to starting new business.
F. B. Nihat and I are a little impatient. We make a decision and then we take it to Necati. He says: “Leave it on my desk for 24 hours and I’ll think about it.” He thinks about it longer and analyses it in greater detail.
Next year we shall celebrate the 50th anniversary of Tekfen’s foundation. During this 50 years there has never been a decision taken by one of us which has been rejected. In any case, we take all the major decisions together. But we never questioned or complained about a decision taken about some daily business. Maybe it was because of our shared culture that we anyway always took decisions that would be approved by the others.
When you look at Turkey over the last 50 years, in which areas do you see progress? What are your projections for the next ten years?
F. B. All three of us are optimists. We always look towards the future with hope. We are not used to thinking pessimistically. We have a culture which always looks for what is good and tries to do things better. Despite everything, I am hopeful.
Becoming a member of the EU is something for which we have striven for years. There are a number of obstacles in our path. Some people say: “They will never take you. They are just doing this to play with you.” Yesterday was the first anniversary of the death of Mr. Sakıp Sabancı. Mr. Sabancı made a television programme with Mehmet Ali Birand. We watched it. Mr. Sabancı was talking as if he knew he was going to die. He spoke about the EU and explained his expectations. His family was greatly saddened that he passed away before he was able to see the decision taken by the EU on 17 December.
I know just about all of the members of TÜSİAD. TÜSİAD has spent 35 years trying to instill in Turkey the target of EU membership and the values we share such as ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’. For this reason, despite everything, such as what happened in Trabzon and other provocations, Turkey is going in the right direction. We are exaggerating events. When Turkey has social peace, there is nothing that it cannot do. There is a need for leaders and systems which will ensure this.
“DURING THE EU ACCESSION PROCESS IT IS THE PROBLEM OF QUALITY IN EDUCATION WITH WHICH WE SHALL BE MOST ENGAGED”
The standard of education in Turkey needs to be raised. We should work to give our children a better education. As we move closer to membership of the EU this issue will engage u sweat a lot. We should take the necessary measures urgently.
Today in Turkey there is an unbelievably large sector which sends our young people to Anatolian high schools, science high schools, and special courses which prepare students for university. In order to raise the quality of education first of all everyone who can should assist. It is to realize this goal I am working in NGOs. NGOs such as the Hisar Educational Foundation and Turkish Educational Volunteers’ Association have important responsibilities in this regard.
What has enabled the three of us to be successful in business is that fact that we received a good education and speak a foreign language. In Turkey we must give our children an education which in the future will raise them to the level of their peers in developed countries and enable them to compete.
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