THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH

Turkey 2011 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW: THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH

TBY talks to Pınar Eczacıbaşı, President and Chairperson of the Young Entrepreneurs Business Association (GYİAD), on the history of GYİAD, the challenges facing young Turkish entrepreneurs, and the association's initiatives to help promote business growth.

Pınar Eczacıbaşı
BIOGRAPHY
Since 1998 Pınar Eczacıbaşı has been working as an independent financial consultant advising individuals and corporations on wealth and asset management issues. She has been the representative of Schroders Group in Turkey since 2004. She previously worked for her family-owned business, the Eczacıbaşı Group of Companies, Tekstil Bank, and ING Bank, as Assistant General Manager.

What is the background of GYİAD?

Our organization was founded back in 1986, and we are celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2011. We have somewhere between 450 and 500 members. The importance of the members is very high because they represent $45 billion in terms of the revenue of the companies that they represent. They employ somewhere between 10,000 and 12,000 people in the companies that they own or represent as executives. The interesting side of GYİAD is that our members include shareholders as well as managers. We have bankers representing some of the major banks, including Finans Bank, Akbank, and Garanti Bank. We also have representatives of major holding companies like Borusan Holding and Güral Holding. I can name a lot of others. It's an interesting platform for business managers to get together and discuss the important issues of the country in terms of society, economics, and politics—basically everything that touches the lives of business managers.

What issues are of greatest concern?

We want stability to continue in terms of politics and economics. Of course, there are some issues that need a lot of government attention. The unemployment rate is still extremely high. A lot of educated people are unemployed. Many people with certificates in hand cannot find good jobs. The country has a high current account deficit, and there is an imbalance between imports and exports. A lot of imports are piling up, and these are assembled in the country and sold externally. A lot of production is based on imported materials. The young population also has issues at hand that we need to solve. Turkey has been successful in fighting inflation. Our leaders are in good health, and the country is still growing fast. There is a lot of attention from foreigners, but we want this to remain stable. We don't like “in and out" investments. Politically the country has been quite stable in recent years since the AK Party came to power in 2002. However, there are economic issues it needs to focus on. Of course, Anatolia is huge and Istanbul is separate. Business people from Istanbul need to focus on the economic issues in Anatolia and this will help with social issues.

Can you tell me about some of your initiatives?

One of the things that we really want to establish as a culture in Turkey is entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is in its infant stages of growth. Neither the education system nor the business world motivate young people enough to set up their own businesses. The financial system doesn't support this either. The venture capital system is very limited. Young people with good ideas need help from the financial world, from NGOs like us, and from the system in terms of taxation. When you set up your own business in this country you're taxed from the first year, and the taxes are very high. The whole climate doesn't help entrepreneurs. We're trying to tackle this problem. In that regard, we started a project called “Golden Bracelets" to help people become entrepreneurs. In this country, vocational training is not up to standard. A lot of people have stressed that Germany's economic success is due to its vocational school system. We started this project to focus not only on the university school system, but also the vocational school system to help people with job skills become entrepreneurs. Turkish Economy Bank (TEB) and its microcredit arrangements have helped with this project to aid young people who would like to set up their own businesses. In addition, when you become an engineer or economist you need to find a job in an established firm. In this country we need investment. The textiles sector has been the main employer for many years. The real value, however, is added when a brand is created. There are very few Turkish brands: Koton and Mavi are good examples, but we need more. We are working to encourage such development.

In addition to your role at GYİAD, you are also the founder of GP Trust Financial Management and Services Company, which represents foreigners who are looking to find markets in Turkey. What sectors do your members primarily come from?

I mainly work with companies that are in the major retail sectors, such as leather and leather goods, and textile garments. These include some of the major groups out of Europe. On a different note, I work with an environmental group that would like to work in Turkey. There are many environmental issues that are now becoming important in Turkey like carbon emissions, and there is a lot of expertise that is needed.

How attractive is Turkey at the moment to investors?

Turkey is attractive in the eyes of foreigners because it is a growing country with a young population. It has a lot of needs and consumer demand is high. Everybody wants to be in a growing market. I understand why Europeans want to be a part of the Turkish story, because their economies are at a standstill, if not declining. I'm not so sure how interesting Turkey is in the eyes of its people. However, foreigners are very interested in this dynamic country.