“Enka’s Secret Is Adapting To Change”

Şarık Tara is one of the leading businessmen in Turkey… He is known as the doyen of the construction sector. In 51 years, Enka, which he founded with his brother-in-law, has grown to turnover of ov...

1.02.2008 02:00:000
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Şarık Tara is one of the leading businessmen in Turkey… He is known as the doyen of the construction sector. In 51 years, Enka, which he founded with his brother-in-law, has grown to turnover of over US$4 billion and profits of US$450 million. When he was 56, he turned over the business to his son Sinan Tara. “I don’t believe in experience,” he says. “After adapting to innovations, experience has absolutely no importance.

Şarık Tara is 77 years old, a doyen of the Turkish business community and the founder of Enka, the largest construction company in Turkey. When you are talking to him and listening to his calcualtions and analyses, you forget his age. He is so full of life, so young…

Enka is 51 years old. At the end of 2006, the company’s turnover exceeded US$4 billion and it had net profits of over US$445,000. Şarık Tara has not given an exclusive interview to the media for some time, but he made an exception for Capital. He spoke about his personal history and Enka’s journey of over half a century.

Enka is celebrating its 51st anniversary. What are the important milestones in the growth of the company?
I was 27-28 when I founded Enka. I left the company where I was working because they didn’t give any bonuses and, together with the late Sadi Gülçelik, I established Enka. When I was 56, I handed over the running of the company to my 28 year-old son. In fact, these were years when I was still full of energy. He, of course, established his own team. And Enka has always been run by young people. When we say: ‘Come on, get up, you will go to Oman” or “Would you run a project in Siberia?” everybody gets up and goes. Nobody protests. In fact they are delighted to go. This shows the energy of the company.

Your son Sinan Tara worked with you at Enka until he was 28 years old. How did you prepare him to run the company?
Sinan was involved in construction from when he was born. He was trained as a construction engineer at Zurich Technical University, which is one of the best schools in Europe. He finished first in his class. Then he took his six week old baby and went to work in Saudi Arabia for two years. Sinan is now 48 years old. Relations in his management team are like those between elder and younger brothers.

What is the secret of the rapid growth of Enka as a construction company?
I don’t believe in experience. Once you have adapted to innovations, experience has absolutely no importance. This is the reason the German construction companies disappeared. They were continuing to use old methods. We immediately adopted innovations. The changes in technology over the last 10 years have been greater than those in the previous two thousand.

Which projects and decisions have served as touchstones for your company?
When we established the company, we always took on difficult projects. We did things which nobody else did, which nobody else could do. For example, when a factory collapsed, we would go and raise it up again. Slipways to launch ships were needed and nobody knew how to build them, but we cleaned up on this business. We did difficult things. As a result of these projects, the company’s areas of specialization increased and expert companies were born.

When did you first work abroad?
We first worked abroad in 1971. Our first job was in Libya. We used to work as subcontractors there. We would put in iron, pour concrete, make moulds, but we were making money. After that we went to Saudi Arabia. We did some joint projects with Germans there. We did a lot of joint projects with foreign companies.

So how did you begin to work in Russia?
Turkey had a gas agreement with Russia. 30 percent of the payment for this was to be in cash, the remaining 70 percent in goods and services. It was 1988. We completed a thousand-bed hospital in 23 months instead of the scheduled 36 months and we really make a lot of money. Today, we are a highly respected company in Russia. We don’t get jobs by bidding for contracts. We are always invited and get the job by bargaining.

Which decisions contributed to your growth?
Over the last 20 years, we have been active not just in Russia but in Europe. We have built power plants there. We have a partnership called Enka-Bechtel, which has also contributed to our growth… The business has been progressing on completely equal terms for 20 years without any problems. We knew Riley Bechtel’s father Stephen Bechtel and this became a business partnership. Both of us have strong points. Our partnership brings them together.

Your investments in real estate on your balance sheet look high… Will you develop these?
Yes, we want to increase our real estate business in Russia. Why? I shall tell you a story. Some teachers in America asked some elementary school students: “Who is the most famous person in the world?” They made a competition. Some said Julius Caesar, some Kennedy, others Napoleon. One child said, “Jesus.” Of course, the child won the one dollar prize and took it home. The child came from a Jewish family. His father asked: “Why didn’t you say Moses? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” The child replied as follows: “Father, Moses is Moses. Business is business.” I mean, in Russia, Enka makes a lot of money from the real estate business. We want to do more profitable business there and continue to grow.

Why haven’t you invested in real estate in Turkey so far?
I told you. “Moses is Moses. Business is business… What difficulties do we have? In Russia the office rentals are four times what they are here.

 “There Are At Least 50 Construction Companies Established By People Who Have Left Enka”

What kind of principles does one need in order to be successful in projects abroad?
For example, we don’t employ anybody in the company who does not speak English. Your company needs to be very well integrated with information technology in order to be successful. To date, Enka has sent 204,574 people abroad. Most of the people who work with us and go abroad set up their own businesses when they return to Turkey. 80 percent set up their own businesses.

So in one sense Enka could be regarded as an factor for entrepreneurs…
Yes, of course. Moreover, the same thing is valid for our employees at every level. There are probably more than 50 construction companies which have been established by people who used to work at Enka.

Sedef Seçkin Büyük
sseckin@capital.com.tr


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