Celal Sönmez is chairman of Sönmez Holding, one of the leading groups in Bursa… He has been in the public eye in recent months as the result of his statement that “we shall withdraw from textiles.” Now he speaks a little more cautiously and says: “Despite everything it is not possible for us completely to cut connections with this sector.” But he says that they shall continue to grow by concentrating on the energy and tourism sectors. He notes that in tourism Bodrum will be followed by Antalya and Istanbul. He says that in energy they will make an investment in Usak. He hints that they will move outside Bursa.
Some businessmen in Turkey are synonymous with certain provinces. One of the most obvious of these is the Sönmez group. The group has made many investments in Bursa, particularly in textiles, and it is currently headed by Celal Sönmez, who is a member of the second generation of the family. Celal Sönmez also serves as the head of the Bursa Chamber of Trade and Industry. In recent months, a statement he made caught people’s attention. Sönmez’s surprise statement can be summarized as follows: “The textile sector is no longer profitable, as a group we may withdraw from the sector.” Sönmez continued by saying: “The state is not making any contribution to solving the problems in the textile sector. In the future the group is planning to focus on the energy and tourism sectors.”
The interview he gave to Capital was the first time Sönmez had spoken publicly since he made this statement. As the holding has two publicly-owned companies and has received a warning from the Capital Markets Board, he avoided making a precise statement on this subject. Sönmez confined himself to saying: “The profit margins in textiles are falling. It is now becoming more difficult to survive under these conditions.” Then, although he did not state it explicitly, he indicated that it was impossible for the group completely to cut its ties with the textile sector.
Why did you decide to withdraw from the textile sector?
In fact, what I said was more to define a vision. I was trying to draw attention to the problems in the textile sector in Turkey. Others are always making similar statements. But unfortunately, not much progress is being made in the sector. This does not mean a complete withdrawal from the sector, it would be more accurate to see it as meaning focusing on other areas.
Textiles are your core business. What proportion of the group’s turnover do textiles account for?
Last year we had a turnover of $300 million, of which textiles accounted for 70 percent. We have three main companies in this sector: Sönmez Pamuklu which produces cotton yarn; Sönmez Filament which produces polyester yarn; and Sönmez ASF which produces fabric.
You said that you would concentrate on energy and tourism. What are you currently doing in these sectors?
We have been active in the tourism and energy sectors for the last two years. In the holding we have interests in construction, retailing, cold storage facilities, logistics and the media and distributors, including foodstuffs. I am particularly interested in construction. For years we have built our own factories, shopping centres and hotels using our own personnel. We withdrew from telecommunications and the licence we had acquired for long distance communications. We established a company called Biltek. But we once again understood how difficult it is to work with the state. Several companies which were preparing to enter this sector also pulled out. Of course, we should not put all the blame on other factors. It is also true that our structure was not suitable for this business.
But tourism is something which we started two years ago. We opened out first hotel, which is called Baia, in Bodrum. We built it and run it. Our second hotel is currently being built in Uludağ and it will be opened after it has been turned over. The building will be completed this year and it will be opened for the winter season. We are thinking of a third hotel in Antalya. We shall open two more hotels in Bursa and Istanbul. So we shall have a chain called Baia. We are thinking of Bodrum for summer tourism, Uludağ for winter tourism and Bursa for spa tourism. We have a plot of land ready in Bursa. We shall lay the foundations in 2006. After Bursa we are thinking of Istanbul in 2007-2008. At the moment we still thinking about Antalya. If we don’t build one from scratch then we might buy one. Over the next 6-7 years tourism will account for 20 percent of our business.