TBY talks to Tayfun Öktem, CEO of Ekol Logistics, on the history and vision of the company, R&D, and trends in the logistics sector.

Tayfun Öktem
Tayfun Öktem was born in 1964. After graduating from Boğaziçi University in Business Administration in 1986, he later earned his Master’s degree from the University of Minnesota. Upon his return to Turkey, he held senior positions at Unilever in Istanbul and Prague for eight years, and spent another eight years at Reckitt Benckiser in Istanbul, London, and Copenhagen. In 2004, while he was the General Regional Manager in charge of Scandinavia at Reckitt Benckiser, he joined the Ülker Group and became the General Manager and Foreign Investments Vice-President at Istanbul Gıda, which is the exporting arm of the Ülker Group. Over 2010-2012, he was also the CEO of the well-respected Saudi food company Almunajem C.S. Co.

What is the history and background of Ekol Logistics?

Ekol is a traditional family company that goes back 22 years. Ekol is built on “heart and technology." It started as a services company with its main goal being to focus on our customers' needs. The ultimate objective was to serve the customer at all costs, literally. Ekol is a brand name that can and will prevail as a leader across the region and Europe. Ekol employs more than 5,400 people and has annual revenues of €300 million. We have 1,200 people working internationally and more than 4,200 in Turkey. Ekol is not just a logistics company or a warehouse provider. Ekol is a multicultural, international, Turkish-based, integrated, logistics-solution provider. Those we serve can continue with their business while we provide what I call the “neurological background." Our clients do what they do best, and Ekol will add value to that by ensuring their product is handled, managed, and delivered wherever and whenever. As a company, we have certain strategic advantages.

How important is technology and R&D?

Ekol is the only company in the sector that develops and produces its own software. We have more than 60 experts whose job is to translate our know-how into software so we can best serve the needs of the customer, often creating tailor-made solutions. The importance we give to technology has helped us to win an award from the Ministry of Science and Technology as the first—and only—R&D company in the logistics sector. Today, we have PhD students and engineers working with us, creating new programs and systems to serve our company and the sector. To receive such an award means we have become the older brother in the industry; the one responsible for generating new technologies. Another advantage is that we receive certain tax breaks and incentives due to our R&D efforts and investments. The sectors we are most active include textiles, automotive, pharmaceuticals, and the rapidly growing e-commerce sector. These are all very sensitive industries, and require serious care and handling. Ekol's team of experts is working on a number of projects, including software and systems development. We are trying to eliminate as many non-value-adding elements as possible. We want to develop an efficient and sustainable service. The combination of youth, energy, and innovation is our strength.

How would you characterize Ekol's expansion strategy in Europe?

Our vision from day one was to be a top brand, not only at home but in the EU as well. In 1996, we opened our first consolidation center in Germany. We have been a dominant force in Central Europe ever since. Now, with the addition of our centers in Romania, Ukraine, Bosnia, France, Italy, and Scandinavia, the company has truly become European. In Romania, we have local drivers and number plates, in Greece we have two headquarters with Greek employees, and in Italy and Bosnia the same too. They are small teams, but up and coming. Today, we are the fastest growing company in our region, and a fast-growing company in Europe too. We recently joined the CargoLine Logistics Network, and we are the only Turkish company to do so. We believe in building strategic alliances. We have always been keen on associating with international organizations and networks. CargoLine will give Ekol several inroads into new business opportunities. I believe it will be a real success.

How does Ekol work to integrate environmentally friendly practices into its business?

When we were building our headquarters, there was a tree that needed cutting down; however, we decided to keep it and build around it. Today, the tree remains in the middle of our building. At Ekol, we have always placed great importance on the environment since day one. We try to save as many kilometers on each logistical route as possible. We have saved the equivalent of 750 football fields worth of forests, and more than 3 million liters of carbon dioxide emissions. That is green.