In the business world besides companies which grow overnight, there are those which grow gradually but with sound steps. The light for those companies which grow very rapidly is likely to soon die away.


Date: 13.11.2005




MERVA ULUSOY: Greetings to everyone. This is Merva Ulusoy speaking. I am again with you in a new “Agenda On Business World”. Our guest today is Dr. Zeynel Abidin Erdem, the chairman of Board of Directors of Erdem Holding.

-Dr. Zeynel Abidin Erdem was born in Savur, Mardin on February 15, 1944.

Having started his career in 1965, Dr. Erdem graduated from the Faculty of Chemistry, Yıldız University in 1970. Currently acting as the Chairman of Board of Directors in Erdem Holding, Dr. Erdem served as the President of Istanbul Chamber of Chemical Engineers between 1972-1974. He also served as the Union Leader of Kimsan Labor Union in 1973, and the provincial head of the National Democracy Party labor organisation in 1983. Dr. Erdem was honored as a member to the Board of Trustees in George Washington University on 05 January 2002. Having married Ms. Emine in 1982, Dr. Zeynel Abidin is the father of two, namely, Mehmet and Zeynep. Dr. Zeynel is also the Honorary Chairman of Turkish-American Businessmen Association, Turkish-Spain Business Council Chairman of Turkish Chapter and Turkish-French Business Council Vice-chairman of Turkish Chapter

MERVA: Mr. Zeynel, now let’s go back to six hundred years ago: Your family migrates from Arabian land to Mardin, firmly settling there. When we look at your lineage, we see that you have descended from the line of Mohammed. Would you please tell us about your past briefly?

ZAE: Indeed my family was then scattered to numerous areas to spread the Islam; for instance, some members of our line were sent to Pakistan, some to Afghanistan, some to Azerbaijan and Crimea. One of my grand-grand-grandfathers was destined to Mardin. Mardin was called Savur then and the Maruni Region as well as other regions were all Christian. With the objective of spreading the Islam and improve the conditions and circumstances of the Moslem people living there, my family worked at the disposal of science, knowledge and the Islam to spread them further.

MERVA: In fact, when the Family Name law was enacted, you picked up Erdem (meaning Virtue) as you are really a family full of virtues.

ZAE:Yes, there is a hearsay about it.

MERVA: Later when you came to Istanbul to start up your career, the firm with which you work inadvertently left more than three hundred bales of a certain good, and you returned them to the firm, which marked your dignity and honesty. Thanks to this virtuous act, you won the trust of the person, your first-time business partner, and had the chance to distribute higher volumes of goods.

ZAE: Quite true. It was found out that 65-40 or 50 pieces were in excess among the goods which the company we are making business with distributes on a daily basis and which should be comprised of 100 pieces; workers told us that there was such and such. We followed up the things for almost one month and accumulated the excess goods. And one month later, we visited the other business, telling them that there were extra pieces in their bales, and returned the extra ones. They were astounded and hardly believed. They kept an eye on our working system for a while and subsequently contracted the entire sales and organization business to us. That was the award the honesty offers to humans.

MERVA: I reckon your late father’s advice to you , “never trick and deceive and spend interest income”, must be a guiding light for you.

ZAE: Ms. Merva, this is how it goes: My father was taking me from Mardin to Diyarbakır for an air flight. It was almost the end of 1964 or 1965. He had deposited sum money to my bank account; he gave the bank book. There was a money transfer to Ziraat Bank Sisli Branch. Alright, what was I supposed to do with that money? I did not even know it. Anyway, I asked my father: “What do you want me to do with the money so that I can be of avail?” His answer was something like that: “Go and make trading” “How will I make trading”? He told me: “You shall never break two rules: 1) You will be honest and 2) You won’t be involved in interest and other tricky business.”. It was 1965, 41 years ago and thank God, I fully fulfilled my honor and promise to my father, and here’s where we have come now.

MERVA: Though Erdem Holding is active in various industries such as construction, energy, insurance, tourism and informatics, I would rather ask you to talk about Genpa, your flagship. You united the words “Genel-general” and “Pazarlama-Marketing” into one pot in order to avoid any confusion in business world and you founded a company called Genpa. As far as I know, it serves as the agent of numerous foreign-based companies in Turkey

ZAE: Quite true. Actually the flagship is Genpa Telekomünikasyon; however, we now gathered all other companies under the roof of Erdem Holding. Genpa is undisputedly the strongest company in GSM industry known by every layman on the street in Turkey. Besides, we continue our marketing and trade operations in the Middle East through Genpa. Moreover, Genpa is the ultimate boss of principal investments covering a comprehensive range of sectors from oil to steel and iron works from energy to food.

MERVA: Mr. Zeynel, for a while, you actively joined the mazes of the political life in addition to your tag as a “businessman”. You first appeared in the Nationalist Democracy Party under the leadership of Turgut Sunalp. You served as Istanbul Provincial Head.

ZAE: And also I was a founder member.

MERVA: Later on, Mr. Turgut Ozal, thanks to your close relations, invited you to join the Motherland Party (Anavatan Partisi). And as far as I know, you already knew him that went back in time because Mr. Turgut’s father was a civil servant in Mardin.

ZAE: Correct.

MERVA: Mr. Turgut and Mr Korkut were friends of your aunt’s children; they were school friends; that is the reason why you knew them, isn’t it?

ZAE: Yes, that’s true.In fact, Mr Turgut had invited me and Mr. Husnu Cınar to Sadıklar Apartment when he first founded the party; however, we had promised Turgut Sunalp, the pasha, a few days ago that we would help him found the party and subsequently join it. Neither Mr. Husnu Cınar nor I broke our promise. We couldn’t for the sake of adhering to our principles of honesty; however, when the Nationalist Democracy Party dropped to 71 seats in the Parliament, we moved to Turgut Ozal’s side upon Mr. Sunalp’s advice, who told us that it would be better to support his party for the interest of the country.

Later on, the MDP (Nationalist Democratic Party) slowly dissolved. Some moved onto DYP (TPP- True Path Party) and some joined Anavatan Party (Motherland Party). During the time I was the Provincial Chairman of MDP, I joined ANAP (Motherland Party) upon Turgut Sunalp’s recommendation, also because I was close to Turgut Özal as a family friend. I worked very close with Mr. Turgut for eight years and I had a very advantageous period during which I’ve benefited from his ideas. It has been a lifetime experience for me to have been this close to Mr. Turgut in his works.

MERVA: I believe you are still the acting Chairman of Research Foundation and Association of Ideas of Turgut Ozal.

ZAE: Yes, yes.

MERVA: We have known Dr. Zeynel Abidin Erdem also as the Chairman of the Turkish American Businessmen Association, TABA. You have served as the President of TABA for two consecutive periods and now, you are continuing your duties as the Honorary President.

ZAE: Yes, that is right. During this period, we have performed extraordinary tasks for 4 years. I have been working with my friends under the umbrella of TABA for the past 24- 25 years However, we have come a long way and we accomplished what no one had so far.

MERVA: Yes, for the first time an American President visited Turkey and this happened upon the invitation of TABA during the time you were the President. The 42nd President of the USA, Mr. Bill Clinton came to Istanbul in 2002 and delivered a speech.

ZAE: That is right. For the first time in Turkey, an American President visited Turkey upon the invitation of a non-governmental organization. This organization helped TABA’s voice to be heard. President Clinton, at that time, has defended Turkey to the maximum extent regarding both the Armenian Matter and the Cyprus Problem. He has told us what we needed to do as a country in a very clear message during his speech at the Ciragan Palace. Prime Minister Mr. Ecevit, other members of the coalition of the time and the members of the Cabinet have also listened to this message. At the dinner that night our Foreign Affairs Minister and Deputy Prime Minister were also present. Later that evening, they had a short meeting with President Clinton. Those meetings included much more serious messages.

MERVA: I had the opportunity to listen to President Clinton’s one and a half hour long speech at the time, too. Immediately after this conference, the world media had published incredibly positive views on Turkey.

ZAE: Yes, you are right.

MERVA: Thanks to you, we have had a great opportunity for publicity.

ZAE: Yes, the publicity was great. The complete speech of the US President was broadcast on 21 foreign television channels. It was broadcast live on very important channels such as BBC, CNN and EURONEWS and afterwards it was run numerous times during news programs. As the President was delivering his speech, you could see “Istanbul” and “Turkey” written behind him in huge fonts and President Clinton was discussing Turkey. This was probably why he had to face big protests in Italy and Athens where he stopped on his way back to the States.

MERVA: Mr. Zeynel, you have worked for years to stop the Bill on Armenian Genocide from being voted on in the American Senate. Moreover, you did this together with Patriarch Mutafyan of the Turkish Armenians. In the recent past, together with the Minister of Justice you protested against a conference which was supposed to be held at a university to which you reacted very seriously.

ZAE: Yes, we were right; because it was a one-sided conference. People who wish to prove the existence of the imaginary Armenian genocide, wanted to use as a reference that such a conference was held at a university in Turkey. Ones who side with this idea came up with a plan. I repeat, they have organized this meeting to express the justification of the Armenians and they have not invited anyone as a speaker who would speak our opinions. However, Turkey has not committed such an act of genocide and such genocide has not happened. As someone from the Southeast, I have explained on many television programs that this so-called genocide did not happen by illustrating the population with figures. They never had a population of 1.5 millions in the area to begin with. The figure could have reached 1.5 millions only if the Muslims were included. If a population, 10% of which constituted of Armenians, have lost 1.5 million of its people, then the number of Armenian people only, should have been 1.5 millions. Most people respond to such fallacy with laughter. Ones who claim the existence of an Armenian genocide are ones who already are of that opinion and who have connived amongst themselves. They are trying to create such views against Turkey. Whereas my recommendation was: “invite speakers who would be able to respond to you regarding the opinions in the same manner. But, no! They were a group playing a one-sided, single- field one-goal game. That is why they were protested by all segments of the community. The reaction and critics of our Justice Minister were also in the same direction.

MERVA: You also continue to hold the office of Sudan Consulate General of Istanbul. Isn’t that right?

ZAE: Yes. Sudan has always been important for us. A lot of people ask me about Sudan. Sudan is the central point of Africa. The city of Khartoum was very important for Turkey. But, nobody noticed its importance. When the Americans were bombing the place, I went to Sudan although I was the President of the Turkish- American Businessmen Association. I supported the Sudanese in Khartoum. Why? Because the attack was wrong. Later, the Americans also realized it and they ceased fire. Therefore Turkey needs to be actually present in Khartoum and in Sudan with its firms, bureaucrats and chambers of commerce. On the condition that Turkey emphasizes its existence in Sudan, then it will have direct communication with 9 regional countries. Since Sudan is the intersection point of access roads, it is naturally the center point. As a matter of fact, since I took office, more than 2000 of our businessmen have made great investments in Sudan after the bilateral negotiations were initiated. My positive approach and Sudan’s Head of State, El- Beşir's point of view regarding Turkey have established a synergy. Our Turkish businessmen have settled there more easily. A brave man had to take up the office of the Honorary General Consulate of Sudan, in other words somebody had to show heroism. Indeed, Sudan was on the black list on the international platform due to the ongoing terrorism activities. In other words, Sudan was unfavorable and deemed as a country in a state of anarchy. However, it was discovered that such were not true. All of these provocative activities were the result of the efforts of the Egyptians and other Arab countries, trying to drive away the individuals who would improve and support Sudan. However, the Turkish currently dominate the Sudan trade. 30- 35% of the turnover of the economy is manipulated by the Turkish. Our efforts, which we have carried out with great sacrifices all these years, have yielded their results. Thank God. Our Muslim brothers are no longer oppressed.

MERVA: I have been following you closely. Sudan seems to be a starting point; however I believe that there are services expected from you by other countries.

ZAE: Yes. There is a European country from which I received an invitation to become their Consul General. I have started to work towards that. We are trying to come up with an arrangement as to how I would coordinate my duties. Hopefully, we will perform efficient activities in this arena, too.

MERVA: Zeynel Bey, you were awarded the medal of honor of the Sudan state. Moreover, you have been awarded the state medal of honor of Spain by the Spanish King, Juan Carlos. You are a Turkish businessman carrying such high level medals from two separate countries. How do you feel?

ZAE: Yes, I feel proud as a Turkish national. I am very happy to see that my services are being recognized. We are thankful to the government of the Republic of Turkey for providing us businessmen such opportunities. Turkey has become a respected country welcomed with tolerance on all continents.

MERVA: In 1998, when the budget allocated by the Ministry of Culture was short in a public auction in Paris, you stepped in and bought the great seals used by Sultan Abdülhamit, II; brought them back to Turkey and donated them to Topkapı Palace. Although this was a very pleasant gesture, didn’t you have any obstacles at the time?

ZAE: You have asked a very sensitive question, thank you. Until that time, no businessman could show the courage to get the Ottoman and the Republic together or to speak about such a matter. As a matter of fact when you look back, you can see that the Ottomans have been ignored, neglected, erased, and covered up until then. However, the courage given to us by President Mr. Süleyman Demirel and the Minister of Culture, Mr. İstemihan Talay and the way they support us were very important. This incident has brought the Ottomans back into the conversations. Mr. Demirel sent a telegram to us at that instant and told us, `I congratulate you on this brave move`. The Minister of Culture İstemihan Talay said, ‘our budget was not sufficient, however we will support you until the end because you bought this legacy back'. We donated the two unscratched great seals we bought, to Topkapı Palace, since it was deemed to be the center at the time of Ottoman ruling. Therefore this gesture served our duty to our people and it was indeed a very brave move.

MERVA: In 2002, you also bought Ebristanbul works, which were exhibited in Washington for sale, and brought them back to Turkey. Can we say that Istanbul works of art have returned home, in a way?

ZAE: Yes, you are very right. Traditional Turkish marbling art (Ebru), descending from the Hun Dynasty, which is accepted as the Turkish art of painting, has taken the name of Istanbul and by use thereof in different applications, it has reached to a certain point. Our teacher Prof. Hikmet Barutçugil was in Washington to exhibit and sell his 129-piece collection which he has exhibited in Tokyo and in London. We went to visit this exhibit with the sponsorship of the Mayor of Istanbul at the time, Mr. Ali Müfit Gürtuna and we attended the ceremony. I realized that these beautiful works of art were the pieces of arts and culture descendent from the Hun Dynasty, almost forgotten. If they were sold individually in America they would be separated and gone. What was the right thing to do? It was to bring all of them together back and offer them to the university and to entrust them to future generations of Turkey. Or, as Hikmet Barutcugil advised, to donate them to Topkapı Palace or an important museum. It made the Ebru artist, Hikmet Barutçugil very happy to see that his works were not disintegrated. We bought them, picked them up and brought then back home. From time to time we exhibit them, take them to universities. We exhibited them at the Museum of the Turkish and Islamic Art Works for 1 month with the help of Mr. Barutçugil’s initiatives. They have been displayed at 22,000 exhibits. And now, we would like to leave them designated by the State where they will stay forever as reminiscence.

Merva: Erdem Holding also has a Foundation under the name Erdem Education, Culture and Art Support Foundation Under the umbrella of this Foundation you undertake many projects of social work.

ZAE:Yes. We do not view these services as a means of advertisement. We make it possible for students in Southeast Anatolia, to where no one else can reach out, to get education. We establish dormitories and turn them over to the state authorities or institutions that can provide their maintenance. We continuously provide scholarship to the students there. This is an example of one of our social activities. Although we provide a lot of services, I will not talk about any of them so that it doesn’t get perceived as advertisement. However, we do and will continue to have services within the context of educational and social work projects.

Merva: Mr. Zeynel, you represent Turkey very successfully on all continents. How do you view our entrance process to the European Union?

ZAE:The entrance has been a very appropriate, dynamic, rational and fast one. However we do have certain concerns. These concerns are about Cyprus. They are about continental shelves in the Aegean Sea and about handing our rivers in the Southeast Anatolia Region which continue to run beyond our borders, over to other authorities. One of the concerns is the attempt of the European Union to weaken Turkey by dividing the people under the context of Minority by discrimination of the Alevi, the Kurdish and then further dividing and segmenting of Turkey to shape such sections the way it desires and to yield the remaining to a point of weakness easy to be taken over. I believe an approach should be taken to prevent them from achieving their clearly demonstrated aims. Apart from such concerns, it is ideal for Turkey to enter the European Union. We have left behind a 40-year-long process on the path leading to the European Union. Our Government has achieved a serious milestone in the past 2 years. However I repeat that we should not disregard the statements of the opposition. Matters offending our National feelings, which is the fear of Turkey, should not be insisted on. European Union is ideal. It is not ideal if our sensitivities are disregarded. If the latter is the issue, then the aim is not the membership. The only aim is to tear into pieces, to divide and to swallow Turkey.

Merva: You have shared a lifetime with your identical twin, your brother Mr. Mehmet Nezih. I can very well identify both of you, but…

ZAE:But, you do not mix us up. Merva: I do not… I should say it. But, I believe you have had pleasant incidents and memories.

ZAE:Of course, we are identical twins, we feel the same. Our illnesses are the same. We get cavities on the same tooth. We get headaches on the same day. However, at our sixties, because we live separately on many aspects of life, one of us is at the construction sites and one of us spends time at the office and therefore we can only see each other two times a week, naturally we experience some gaps in the connection. We share life and our corporations, just like we shared my mother’s womb. We share our business, too. So, it is a beautiful thing to be twins Ms Merva.

Single power doubles in an instant and at the same time you share the same thought and you express two persons opinion. Of course, this is very advantageous. In the past, even our Mother and Father used to mix us up. We were that much alike. But now, our close friends, such as yourself, do not mix us.

Merva: Mr. Zeynel, you lead a life woven with a very successful business life, activities in the political and social arenas, very close relations with the state officials, the responsibility of a large holding and at the same time, you spare time for sports activities. As far as I know, you have writing experience as the author of the “The Drama of Marx and Lenin” and as a newspaper columnist.

What is the secret of your success? What would you advise for our young ones?

ZAE:There should never be idleness. The youngsters should believe in the righteousness of the path shown to them, embrace its principles and they should follow the footsteps of their elders. The bad habits are easy and simple. Cheating and lying form a very thin line. These should never be pursued. The real lasting values include standing up for works which are difficult, hard to achieve, time taking and which require a lot of effort and are full of hardships. They should be Nationalists. When you look at the characteristics of a nationalist, you will see these: He loves his company, his spouse, brothers & sisters, loves his job, and success. Therefore, nationalism is a very important value for the young ones which prepares them for life.

Merva: Mr. Zeynel, I thank you so much for this delightful conversation.

ZAE:I thank you, too.




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