“I WANT MY EMPLOYEES SAY 'NO' TO ME”

Murat Ülker, the Chairman of Yıldız Holding, whose company has just upgraded to the global giants' league after acqusition of Godiva and United Biscuits brands, shared his leadership and management vision and his passion for art with Skylife readers.

You’ve been through a process of buying world brands that started with Godiva. You’re the 3rd in the world after DeMets and United Biscuits in this field. This affects Turkey’s brand perception as well. Can you tell us what you think about this?
I believe that travel and tourism are the most important activities that bring people together in the world. This way people can exchange their knowledge about food, traditions, and songs, in short, their own culture. As they learn about these the prejudice against another culture diminishes. I think that “doing business” opens a just as significant road as tourism does in terms of cultures getting familiar with one another. It was the same for us as well. We made friends in each country we did business, and likewise, our foreign partners who came to do business with us loved our country just as we did. They kept on doing business.

While doing these with Yıldız Holding which is a global company, we also carry our 70 years of experience in Turkey and express this experience in a “global business language”. I’m of the opinion that our adaptation as a Turkey-based company into the global belonging is the most significant representation of our country. 

You started an important process by donating in Harvard University Public Health Department which put its signature on many discoveries from the cure for polio to HIV-2 virus. Do you think this step forward was acknowledged enough?
As we pursue our business in a global platform, we also care about social and scientific investments that will benefit our country and the world we live in. Supporting Harvard University Public Health Department and Laboratory for Complex Diseases was carried out in line with this philosophy. This support is not only that the faculty will be memorialized as Sabri Ülker Center for 10 years; it also includes improving the analysis capacity of the laboratory and benefitting the public health by the new technologies that will be developed here. With this investment, we carried our contributions in the health and nourishment fields in our country to the global scale. If we want to have a place in the world, we can’t limit this with only one field; we should create a synergy by having a presence in fields such as economy, art, science and culture. We’ll do our share regarding issue as Yıldız Holding. This center will work for the projects of the future that will contribute to public health. We’ll have an experience and knowledge that we can import into our country. Both we and Sabri Ülker Center aim to pull our weight even a little in order to create a national and international awareness. 

You’re not only the manager of one of the most important company’s in Turkey, but also a significant role model. What kind of leader are you? How do you define you understanding of management?
Actually, it’ll be better if my colleagues made this evaluation. Instead of managing the system sitting in front of a desk, I’m a leader who enjoys being in the field because our business requires being with people. We produce food and beverage that will make people from all ages happy. You can’t manage this business behind a desk. You should see, feel and know each phase from manufacturing to market and even to consuming. We even have a name for “being outside”. We call this GOYA (which is an acronym for “Walk Around, Don’t Sit” in Turkish). We encourage all our colleagues for GOYA. I’m a manager who asks his directors and employees to say “no” to him and to question him. Questioning is not in our local culture but it’s one of the most important qualities in our company. Being a company that has a habit of giving feedbacks makes our job easier. Of course I get periodical reports and statistics. In general, year-to-year periodical data is given to managers and CEOs. Instead of these reports, I get year-to-go data which means I look at what’s going to happen, ask about it and get the answer. This is the biggest issue.  I like managing things by always look forward as to where we’re going.

You’re known to have an interest in art. When choosing an artpiece which important criteria have an active role in your decision-making?
We see artpieces by Turkish artists in the important modern art museums in the world. But first, the artist has to be valued in his own land whether it’s modern or classic art. The global voice of art already breaks the boundaries; it’s heard everywhere in the world. Turkey also has important names it raised in the contemporary art world. For instance, Burhan Doğançay, who means a lot to us and whom we always remember with longing and grace, was a master possessing all the global qualities of modern world. The support of modern art museums in a country is always important regarding the development of modern art and encouraging young artists because these museums are like bridges that carry the taste for art to the people. Istanbul Modern is making really important contributions in this regard. Through biennials and other activities, we meet the beautiful works by our young artists. My criterion for choosing artpieces is really simple: I need to love the work. If I like it, I buy it. I like the fact that modern art reflects different perspective just as in our global business world.

As a person who spends most of his time travelling, what are your travelling habits? Is there anything you always take with you?
In order to use my time efficiently during the trip, I always have documents related to business. I read and review them. I never forget my dietary snacks. And also the roasted chickpeas. I never travel without my roasted chickpeas.

What’s your favorite city besides Istanbul? And why?
I can’t leave Istanbul out. It really is my favourite city. I know this city where I was born and raised like the palm of my hand. Besides Istanbul, I also like other beautiful cities in the world but I can’t name a specific one. Actually, I travelled the whole world when I was young; I wanted to move someplace else. Even my father gave me the okay. But still I couldn’t give up Istanbul.

Most of your trips are probably for business. When you go to a city for the first time, do you spare any time outside the meetings for walking around and getting to know the city?
People closer to me know this: My life is not just about my work. In one day, I can work hard, spend time with my family and spare some time for my hobbies. Along with business trips, we organize trips during which I can spend time with my family as well. Whatever the purpose of the trip is, I enjoy watching the shopping life of that city and GOYA around its markets. I also visit museums and art galleries.

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