TBY talks to Toker Özcan, CEO of SaSa, on the company's growth, changing trends over the last decade, and uncertainty in the eurozone.

Toker Özcan
Toker Özcan was born in 1969 and graduated from the Middle East Technical University in 1992. Previous positions include Corp. Technical Manager at DuPont, as well as various positions at SaSa. He is currently the CEO of SaSa.

What was unique about SaSa's founding, and how has the company grown to become Europe's leading producer of polyester and polymers?

SaSa was formed back in 1966 by a visionary Turkish gentleman in Adana, a region famous for cotton growing. He challenged the situation and decided he would produce synthetic fiber instead of natural fiber in the heart of a cotton-growing area. At that time, the region had no more than five or six tractors, and he decided to enter the petrochemicals industry and produce synthetic fiber. This was also a challenge in that the technology was so new that it was not available. There were only two companies, DuPont and ICI, and he was only 25. He also challenged his family since they produced cotton, which is not a high-tech industry; but he decided to enter the petrochemicals industry. He promised his family that it would work; he went to the UK and started negotiations with ICI. SaSa was the first licensee of ICI for production in Turkey. After that, SaSa grew rapidly until his death in 1996. He grew the company by 72 times in 30 years. We always focus on our strengths in Turkey, but we never define our business domain as Turkey—our vision was to be number one in Europe and be at least within the top five in the world.

How have changing market trends over the past decade driven SaSa's strategy?

Up until 2006, we operated with two product platforms: synthetic fibers and PET plastic for packaging. In 2006, due to increasing pressure and the rapid commoditization of packaging materials by Asian countries, we decided to spin off our packaging business. The intention was to step out of the commodity business and focus more on growing strategic business areas. That is what we did and along with that change we came up with a new business unit called special polymers and chemicals (SPC). Again, the intention was to diversify our business portfolio in a way that we could focus all of our resources on the growth platforms. We looked at the business domain where we operated, and examined the mega trends that were affecting the demand of our customers and clients. That is how we positioned all of our efforts.

What is your approach to R&D and innovation?

My approach is to focus on useful innovation rather than R&D. I don't want scientists using my laboratory to try and develop new molecules. I want proper technology, and that is what we will continue searching for. Our work is always based on the market and the people's needs. We start with that need and then begin brainstorming product ideas. We are looking for appropriate technology, not high technology. With where we are today, the best way to come up with the appropriate technology is through technology transfer—we have to be prepared to produce second-generation technology from the first wave. I don't have time to develop technology for the next five years, and I will never know if it will be the best in class—instead, I transfer the first-generation technology, spend another two years on it, and then develop the next generation. This is the route I follow, and I believe it should be our method until at least 2023.

How has the uncertainty in the eurozone affected SaSa?

Technology migrates according to the GDP of a country. If the GDP per capita is $3,000-$4,000, then the textile industry is perfect, but if it is $5,000-$10,000, the industry starts struggling and it could migrate to a different country. Our market share is not being lost; our clients are simply moving their production to different countries. In 2012, our exports to Europe came to $10 million less than the previous year, but those customers' products moved to Turkey. We did not lose our market share if we consider Turkey and Europe as part of the same market. This is what is happening in our industry, and I am not overly concerned about it.