An in-depth Interview with TUSKON President Meral

TUSKON President Rızanur Meral
TUSKON President Rızanur Meral


Date posted: February 23, 2013

Ünal Tanık

TUSKON is one of the most recognized business associations of the last decade. Its initiatives are believed to play a critical role in reducing the impacts of global economic crisis following 2008 that severely struck European Union and the US, and in Turkey’s expansion in Africa.

TUSKON President Rizanur Meral revealed that they are about to launch an initiative to boost women’s involvement in the business world. Meral has been holding TUSKON’s presidency for 7 years now prioritizing to be a business coach over his own successful career. Below is the interview with President Meral:

How could TUSKON form the existing infrastructure?

We are frequently asked question like “How did TUSKON grow? Is it Party X or Y behind? etc” TUSKON is the fruit of a civil society move of 20 years.

Anatolian businessmen, having recovered during Ozal’s presidency in the early 1990s, felt the need to get organized for a more effective representation. From 90s onwards, numerous business associations started to emerge. MUSIAD was founded in 1990; and so were today’s Tuskon member associations in 1992. A series of institutionalizations for a better representation sparked across the country. They continued this way till 2000 when they realized that they do not want to remain represented solely through associations. They established a confederation pioneering a steady flow of confederations established around the country. Starting from 2005, when the negotiations with European Union and Turkey’s overseas expansion accelerated, even the confederations were thought to be short of expectations. First, four federations integrated under TUSKON name, followed by three others. TUSKON is currently composed of seven different federations.

And this is how TUSKON first came into existence.

It’s the outcome of a 20-year-long groundwork. It encompasses companies of all size in the business field. That’s why we define TUSKON as “real representative of business world.” As is known, KOBIs (Small and medium sized enterprises) make up 99% of the companies active in Turkey market. They are abundant in TUSKON as well, along with giant companies. TUSKON is portrayed as including only big-sized ones though. We are proud of our small-sized members. Our aim is to contribute to their growth. We do have about 100 big sized members among Turkey’s Top 500.

As you just touched on that, who are those big companies?

For example, Boydak Group. They recently joined TUSIAD (Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen Association) Additionally, Fernas Group and an Izmir-based group.

Orkide Group?

Yes. Plus, Alfemo Group. It’s not so easy to name each. I’d rather not either. Number of them has increased over recent years.

Who are among those?

As I said, I don’t like to focus on the names. There are companies from mining industry or international trade companies. TUSKON is admitting companies intend to expand in external trade.

Then the intention is to expand in foreign markets?

Right. Among those are many companies that aim abroad, which are low-performing in their own fields. They seek to integrate in certain markets without difficulty. TUSKON’s member number was roughly 7,000 when it was established, which reached around 46 thousand last year. This is a notable number on both national and global scales. TUSKON is highly appreciated among NGOs. It is because that TUSKON’s activities are outcome-based and that it promotes a profitable growth of companies.

You said it’s been 7 years since TUSKON was founded and 20 years since it set off. 7 or 20 year-long history is not enough to find a place in today’s global trade. How could you achieve this efficiency?

In every country we are engaged with, we are using Turkey’s resources and values for the sake of business world. In other words, we are seeking to form a synergy and make a maximum use of them all. We are in a close dialogue with public institutions, the government and bureaucrats. We have very close relationships with the ministries of economy, industry, customs and trade. We try to benefit from their contacts as they have offices, embassies and trade attachés in numerous countries around the globe. They are, in this sense, certainly a convenience extending the initial bridges for us.

You seem to have a modest mention of the [Turkish] schools‘ role in laying the ground work. But I observed in my visits that you benefit considerably more from the schools networks. I witnessed many examples. So I believe their contributions are more important for you.

What we know for sure is that the founders of those schools didn’t do that for such a purpose. However, as a result of the position they reached today they naturally have adopt such a role too.

Can we suggest that Turkish schools are behind Turkey’s trade initiatives in Africa then?

Absolutely, without a doubt.

How did Africa expansion proceed?

We thought that we had to make a momentous jump when we first established TUSKON. An enterprise that would be beneficial and make a name for us in the field. It was supposed to be something that wasn’t done before, which has come to be our tradition to date. We decided to bring together foreign businesspeople from abroad with their Turkish counterparts. Turkey owns product but not the market. Turkic countries occurred to us first but they were familiar to the Turkish anyway. Besides, it wouldn’t attract the desired media coverage. Therefore we decided on Africa which would be a brand new endeavor for Turkish business world with diverse and new faces. Turkey-Africa Trade Bridge took place in 2006 with the participation of 500 businesspeople form 31 countries.

It was held at CNR. I covered that in my TV show “Yasayan Ekonomi” at the time.

It started with Africa and went beyond. Africa is still dear to us but TUSKON’s name shouldn’t be associated with solely Africa.

America, South America in particular, dimension has been added over recent years.

That’s right. Our export to South America grew by 20% and 29% to African countries. After a while, our businessmen became experienced in Africa and our activities there got into routine.

How come a nation’s president visits Turkey for TUSKON? Who is in question is not an ordinary president; I am talking about Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff who came all the way from her country to meet with TUSKON members.

She came for an official visit in fact. Here is how it happens: A two-part itinerary is designed for statesmen’s official visits. First, official meetings are held in Ankara, next comes Istanbul part which features economic and cultural contacts. The state assigns us to host some certain guests in Istanbul part. Through these contacts we were able to change a considerable number of statesmen’s views of Turkey. We hosted prime ministers of Ecuador, Colombia, Chile and the President of Brazil. We did send delegations to South America and exchanged visits with even more. Due to these contacts, our trade volume rapidly accelerated.

Moreover, we have Southeast Asia initiatives, where TUSKON was the first to start Turkish network. Delegations from various countries including Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were both hosted here and introduced Turkey back in their institutions. For example, yesterday, we hosted Panama Ambassador who is eager to strengthen their relations with Turkey.

Multi-dimensional activities are underway. About over 800 delegation visits are organized to over 100 countries every year. I just heard a group of our members are intending to visit Republic of Dominic another one recently returned from the Philippines. Similarly, many are in touch with their American counterparts from 23 states.

Texas’s economy alone is bigger than Turkey’s.

Houston alone with its 400-billion dollar economy equals to half of Turkey’s economy. So, with series of activities to such a wide range of countries we pave the way for business prospects.

You are, in a way, coaching business world like a team.

If that is how you define it.

You mentioned the number 46 thousand for TUSKON members. What proportion of the economy do these members hold?

Unfortunately, we do not have such a data but these 46 thousand members are said to own about 120 thousands companies. We couldn’t reach a sound estimate yet.

What does TUSKON have in its agenda?

Currently, we are focused on an initiative concerning women. As we got to know the world, we realized that our women involvement is noticeably lower than the world average. Women are quite active in Russia, Africa and Vietnam from where we hosted a delegation made up of 38 women out of 41. I thought they were accompanying their husbands when I first saw them. There were construction company or group owners among them. Same goes for African businesswomen too. For example, we referred a female constructor from Zimbabwe, who wanted to meet with our female members, to a couple of businesswomen. But our member reported that she was not pleased with the contact and didn’t even take it seriously.

These businesswomen inspired us to take an action and we said: Why shouldn’t we have the same? Wives, daughters, sisters or nieces of our existing members are well-educated and knowledgeable in the field already. We thought they must be involved in civil society activities. They have every right to do business, to advance and meet the world. The world needs them too. So we held Turkey’s first big women’s business forum in 2012 with the participation of 50 Russian businesswomen. The hall was so lively.

It sounds the hall got rid of black and dark blue suits for once.

Yes, it was definitely colorful. Both parties were greatly pleased and kept in touch through other occasions. We have a tradition of binding people together so that they can observe Turkish society closely and learn about Turkish social and family structure. We therefore invite our guest to homes for dinner. When the Russian were told that they were invited to the Turkish businesswomen’s houses for a dinner they were surprised asking why. It was hard to convince them. When they were on the way back to their hotel, a friend of us asked about their impressions. They seemed to be very grateful saying “It couldn’t have been a better host family.”

What impressed them most?

The warm and friendly family atmosphere and that the Turkish businesswomen cooked and served the food themselves and many more. To feel welcome in those houses alone meant a lot for them. During the following day’s meeting, still under the influence, the chairwoman of the confederation said: ‘Nowhere we visited around the world have we seen such hospitality. We are so impressed.” Similarly, our every guest coming for business interactions is hosted by Turkish families with the same hospitality. They have breakfast, “cig kofte” together and enjoy Turkish folk dances.

Initiatives to promote women’s involvement in business world are underway. What exactly are those?

We try to get them follow the same route as we do.

Meaning?

They should be encouraged to globalize, thus gain confidence in the field. They need to be assured that international trade is not as challenging as it seems. New businesspeople are born every day around the world. Our fellow businesspeople should interact with them and initiate business.

The toughest part seems to be to convince males. How will you achieve that?

It doesn’t seem to be a matter for them. They have female colleagues in the field anyway.

But to partner with must be different than to simply share the field?

It will go smoothly up to a certain level. Only when the women start to surpass their male colleagues, some problems might occur. Turkish businessmen are not against women endeavors; on the contrary, they are generally pleased with that.

What are done concerning family businesses?

TUSKON contributes not only to business’s globalization but their domestic growth as well. TUSKON diagnoses the needs in the business world and take action to meet them by organizing workshops and relevant meetings. Turkey’s biggest challenge is that Anatolian business world, which was pioneered humbly by elders and handed down to their well-suited sons who institutionalized and eventually globalized it, needs contribution and encouragement. It is like a metamorphosis of a butterfly. We offer two kinds of trainings as theoretical and practical. Theoretical trainings are given by academics which certainly benefits the attendees. What is even more beneficial for them is to listen to highly accomplished business names such as Abdulkadir Konukoglu and Haci Boydak. It is a unique experience for them.

It must feel the same for the guests to share their experiences?

Definitely. They, in a way, give zakat (almsgiving in Islam) of their experiences. And that initiates the transformation of a family business as your business depends on your capital. We portray successful business partnerships along with the secrets to maintain them and offer international partnerships to the capable.

Source: Excerpted from the interview published in Turkish on Rotahaber, 20 February 2013. English translation is retrieved from Hizmetmovement.COM.


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