TBY talks to Tamer Ünlü, President & CEO of Temsa Global, on the company's global brand, its competitive advantages, and the strength of the economy.

Tamer Ünlü
Tamer Ünlü was educated in England before returning to Turkey in 1974, where he began his professional career. He worked as a mechanical engineer and specialized in manufacturing. He then worked at Temsa for 16 years, working to launch the Mitsubishi brand in Turkey and establish the Temsa bus factory. He later worked to establish the Toyota factory in Adapazarı, Turkey, in 1990, and subsequently worked as General Manager responsible for production. On October 25, 2010, he was appointed Temsa Global CEO.

Temsa is aggressively developing its position as a global brand. Which markets are proving to be the most interesting?

The most interesting markets are those in which the customer appreciates our product. When I came to this company, which was fairly recently, my judgment was that the priority should be Turkey. There must be a strong foothold here. This was already the case, but we must make this even more so. This will be followed by our European business. We exist in Europe, but we have neglected some regions. Our strongest presence is in France. As far as I remember, we have 3,500 Temsa-branded vehicles running there, and we work with a very active distributor who frequently visits our Adana plant. France is followed by Italy, then Germany, the UK, and Belgium. Those are the important ones, but we have shipments to a total of 46 countries. I had hesitations about the US when I came into the company. It is a huge country with a huge market and can be extremely dangerous. But then I listened to our directors and general managers and thought, there's something to this, I have to go and see. After I came back I realized that we must go strong into the US.

The US has a totally different design process. For example, in Europe or Turkey, it's always a one-piece windscreen. In the US, it's always split, and the wipers are vertical. There are regulatory reasons for that. They also want one single door just to the right of the driver, so that the driver knows exactly who's getting on the bus and who's getting off. In other markets it's at least two, sometimes three doors. It's a unique design.

As you enter new markets and fleet owners consider your brand compared to their existing fleets, what are Temsa's competitive advantages?

We have a very powerful R&D department. Our Adana plant has a 6,000-square-meter R&D building. We have 135 people employed in that department. A total of 65 of them are qualified design engineers making bus designs from scratch with 3D computer designs to the customers' exact specifications. Our buses are handmade. Nothing is mass produced. Every single lot of orders is different from the others, be it three units, 10 units, or 20. Every customer will have different demands, like where they want the toilet placed, the number of doors, and the height arrangements. Then the engineers start working, and that's our strength. We can meet every customer request.

For Temsa, 2008 and 2009 were about restructuring, while 2010 was about careful management. What will 2011 be like?

Nothing will change in 2011. There will be no new investments, licensing, or ventures. The reason for this is that I want to see Temsa on a more sustainable growth path. The goals are to improve quality, reduce costs, raise motivation, as well as facilitate some minor restructuring and organization, and all of these things should happen in 2011. In my opinion, 2011 will be the year we finally see the back of the lingering effects of the crisis. In that respect, I think 2012 will be a huge growth year, like we had in 2002 and 2003. I have many ideas in mind about how to develop the company, but all that has to wait until the base is solid and reliable.

What are the strengths and challenges of the Turkish economy, and what does that mean for the company?

I've been asked that question at least 250 times worldwide. Everyone wants to know. We are a new nation and an old nation, in terms of the Republic of Turkey and the Ottoman Empire that preceded it. When the Republic was established in 1923 nothing was being produced on these lands, and there was no tradition of marketing. Everything changed in the early years of the Republic, and I believe the first plant was established to serve the cotton industry. As a result of staying out of World War II, we maintained a steady development path and managed to foster such genius entrepreneurs as Sabancı and Koç, whose families still run the largest holding companies in the country. Government support has also been crucial in this development. When I graduated from university in 1974, only Renault and Fiat were producing cars in Turkey, and only 5,000 units were rolling off the production lines each year. It is therefore mind-blowing how quickly Turkey has developed in the automotive sector. Today, Turkey produces over 1 million units per year.

Do you think Turkey's global reputation will catch up with its record of quality?

For Toyota it already has. In Europe, distributors prefer cars produced in Turkey over other units from other production facilities. The same applies to buses. Motor vehicles involve a huge level of technological production. Around 12,000 engineers work in R&D for Toyota, day and night, to simulate pressures and work on customer preferences. It's a very high-tech product, and if you can make a motor vehicle, then you can make almost anything. Turkey has very high potential in every field. This country is increasingly building unique products, and products designed exactly to the customers needs are what sets the country apart. Turkey's strength lies in its young population, with their courage and energy. There is an entrepreneurial mindset here. I often meet American, German, and Japanese businessmen, and it is obvious that they thoroughly enjoy doing business with us.