Apr. 21, 2020

Serif Kaynar


Serif Kaynar

Chairman, Korn Ferry Turkey

“Our biggest strengths in Turkey have been in manufacturing and finance.”


Serif Kaynar has been working with Korn Ferry since 1996. Prior to joining Korn Ferry, he was the Country Manager for Asea Brown Boveri's operations in the Ukraine. Earlier, Kaynar worked for Westinghouse Electric Corporation in a variety of managerial positions covering Africa, Europe, the Middle East and the Commonwealth of Independent States. He is active member of more than a dozen NGOs; and was formerly president of the Young Turkish Businessmen Association (GYIAD), the Istanbul Propeller Club and the Istanbul Rotary Club. Kaynar holds an MBA from the City University, London and a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from Bradford University in the United Kingdom. He speaks Turkish, English, French and Russian.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Korn Ferry's day-to-day operations and short-term strategy?

This is an unprecedented event that we have not faced before. I am in daily contact with Korn Ferry offices around the world, and we are all in the same boat. The main emphasis has been on three main things. Chiefly, we care about the health of our employees—that is the number-one priority, and the company is doing as much as possible to move to a home office environment. The second is business continuity, or in other words, limiting the impact on our business. The third is the business of our clients and suppliers. The business continuity of Korn Ferry alone is not enough; we need our customers and suppliers to survive as well. Overall, we foresee a 25% decrease in our revenue in every office, but that could go up to 50% if this the pandemic has prolonged effects. I am an optimistic person, and I know this will end eventually. However, we do not know how long it will take nor the damage it will do to our clients and us. Since we are in human resources, we can play a major role in boosting morale and in reconstruction after a crisis. Our business is humans. The key question isn't when this will end and when we will return to normal life, but when we will have a glimmer of hope. Once we see the glimmer of hope again, everything will change. This seems to have happened in Asia, where life is slowly getting back on track.

How are companies in Turkey changing their workforce strategy to mitigate risks posed by the pandemic?

We did a survey in early April 2020 of all of the companies we work with in Turkey, and we found that resilience was a common theme. Some companies had to adjust organizationally, and we expect some of these adjustments to become permanent. For example, working from home may become permanent for some staff. Most clients are not canceling their business with us, but just postponing it. We are doing a major project for a large transportation company and another for the organizational aspect of a telecoms company. They suggested we put things on hold for April and discuss the project again in the middle of May. It gives me hope that people are not cancelling, but postponing projects. There are specific industries such as telecoms and healthcare that are asking for organizational changes now. For example, we've been asked to find a new CFO for a medical supplies packaging company. However, the long-term impact is completely different; the COVID-19 pandemic will teach us a lesson how to lead our lives in a different way. Things will not be the same as they were before. Even if the pandemic disappears tomorrow, we will have a different attitude on business life.

What specific short-term workforce needs are your clients having in Turkey?

For the short term, crisis management, better leadership, and excellent finance operations are the three areas we're seeing demand for. The private sector in Turkey was under huge financial strain before the COVID-19 crisis, and now it is even worse. Engaging innovative finance people to make the turnaround is key. Companies will be more careful with cash management. Most of the problems over the next eight months will not come from a lack of clients, but a lack of cash management. Healthy companies and countries that have enough cash to manage until the crisis period is over will survive. Chief risk officers will be an important element for new companies and new organizational structures. As far as organization is concerned, the key will be sharing information. Companies that share information will go further, and those who employ the best people will achieve more. In a crisis mode, medium results will not be enough to help you survive.

Looking over the long-term, what emerging trends will impact the way companies manage their operations?

In the post-pandemic environment, the world supply chain and idea of manufacturing may change significantly. I expect to see more focus on manufacturing units being self-sufficient. As an example, we can look at the automotive sector. In the past and still often now, many factories around the world manufacture parts, and the final assembly is completed in another country. This has created a massive global supply chain, which has many advantages but has shown weaknesses during this crisis. In the future, rather than having 20 factories feeding a single assembly facility, I expect more self-sufficiency. That will be an advantage for Turkey, which has a healthy spare parts manufacturing ecosystem. Broadly, people are going to rethink supply chains.

From a sectoral standpoint, where are you most involved now and where do you expect to see the most growth?

Our biggest strengths in Turkey have been in manufacturing and finance. Technology and healthcare, as well as services, are our second tier. In the future, I still see industry in the lead, since it will be the main engine of Turkey for the coming decade. The second area where I see a rising star is in services, such as in petroleum distribution, transportation, supply chain, and logistics. Large holding companies in Turkey are transforming themselves. In the old days, they would do 20 businesses, and today they are thinning out and focusing on fewer sectors. Changing their management in a healthy way is a key assignment for us. What we can do is emphasize leadership, board effectiveness, learning agility, and making sure management is ready for the objectives the company has in three years' time. Considering COVID-19 is triggering a great deal of M&A and reconstruction activity, our services will be in high demand.