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Sustaining a Legacy of Giving in Turkey


BRIAN KENNY: On February 6, 2023 a 7.8 Magnitude earthquake shattered the pre-dawn calm in southeastern Turkey and northwestern Syria. Tremors could be felt as far away as Israel and Cyprus. A few hours later as the sun appeared on the horizon, another powerful quake struck 60 miles to the north. In the days that followed the death toll would exceed 45,000 making these the deadliest earthquakes in 1500 years. But after the tremors stopped and the dust settled, the battle for survival had only just begun for the 14 million people directly affected. It is in moments like these that leadership and values are put to the test, and it’s also in moments like these that legacies are cemented. Today on Cold Call, we welcome senior lecturer Christina Wing and protagonist Murat Özyeğin to discuss the case, “Özyeğin Social Investments: A Legacy of Giving.” I’m your host Brian Kenny and you’re listening to Cold Call on the HBR podcast network. Christina Wing’s research focuses primarily on topics surrounding families and business, including family dynamics, operating companies, family offices, and legacy opportunities. Christina, welcome back to Cold Call.

CHRISTINA WING: Thank you for having me. It’s great to be here.

BRIAN KENNY: Really great to have you back and it’s going to be great talking about this case. We’re really happy to have our protagonist with us. Murat Özyeğin is chairman of the board at Fiba Group and he is one of the protagonists in the case today. We’re going to discuss his whole family, but I should also mention that you are a Harvard MBA, is that correct?

MURAT ÖZYEĞIN: I am indeed. I’m a 2003 graduate of Harvard Business School.

BRIAN KENNY: Great. Great to have you with us.

MURAT ÖZYEĞIN: I’m so happy to be joining you today. Thank you so much for the invitation.

BRIAN KENNY: Wonderful. And we’re bringing you in from Turkey, so it’s great for you to be available to do this with us. We really appreciate it.

MURAT ÖZYEĞIN: Yes, I’m here. I’m here in a late winter day from Istanbul.

BRIAN KENNY: I think many people will probably remember the terrible earthquake that happened in Turkey just last year. I thought it was longer ago until I read the case and it jogged my memory. So many people might remember just how devastating this was. But I think what we’re going to talk about today is just one of the many things that give people hope, that we have the capacity as people to be able to respond to these kinds of things. So, Christina, I’m going to ask you to start for us by telling us what the central issue is in the case, and what your cold call is when you start the discussion in the classroom.

CHRISTINA WING: So, my cold call is: what does the word “legacy” mean to you? And I wrote this case because this family has love of family, love of business, but especially love of country. And after the earthquake and speaking with Murat and his family, the way they mobilized so quickly to provide help, instant help, in addition to all the long planning help that they do for their country, was just amazing to me.

BRIAN KENNY: Yeah, we’ve had the pleasure, I’ve had the pleasure of having you on the show before and we’ve had other protagonists, family members from families that you’ve worked with. I’m wondering why you decided to write this case. Why was it important to you as a way to showcase the ideas and the things that you research?

CHRISTINA WING: I think we typically think of people giving once they become very wealthy and this family has been giving before they had any wealth. And I think that spirit of giving all along the way is something we can all learn from.

BRIAN KENNY: So, Murat, let me turn to you. That’s a great segue to turn to you. I’d love for you to just tell us about your family and I’d love to hear about what it was like growing up with your mom and dad, and really in the context of the values that the family has to give back.

MURAT ÖZYEĞIN: We usually never really chose to speak about our social investments in the past. And when Christina approached us and said, “You have a very interesting story of giving and social investments in your family, in your legacy, in your group, let’s write about this.” It really was a thinking process for us too.  Therefore, that’s how we actually decided to move ahead with the case as well. And turned it out to be a great proud for us to be a part of this case. And we feel so fortunate that Christina actually has decided to write it. And the case turned out very, very good reflection of who we are. My dad and my mom, they’re a great couple. They love each other very much. First of all, I must say that we grew up in a house of love. That was the main theme in our house, and respect. My dad and my mom have incredible respect for each other. They have an incredible love for each other. My dad works a lot. He actually grew up in a family of love himself. Same for my mom. They both were in very humble families. Both of their fathers are doctors. Going back to my dad’s story, maybe even before they met, he actually came to Istanbul to Robert College when he was 10 years old for secondary school. And he stayed there until 18, alone, because his mom and his dad are from Izmir, another city in Istanbul. He would only see them once a month.

And he then went to Oregon State University for undergrad. And in that school that he went to, which by the way I think had a population of some 90,000 students there, as a Turk, he became the student body president of that university. And at Oregon he hosted Bobby Kennedy. He was the student body president and was very active. Even he handled his food as follows. He joined the food tasting club. So, he would go and taste food and give candid feedback on whether the food was good or bad, if this must be once a week, twice a week. And then this is how he fed himself. He literally went to the US with $210 from his family as a Turkish person. He ended up graduating from Oregon State, and he immediately applied to HBS, came to HBS. He’s also a graduate of 1969. When he came, he immediately bid for the Gallows Grill on campus at HBS. It was run by seven people. He fired six people and he ended up running it alone. He not only washed the dishes, he made the eggs and changed the whole system, He ended up not only paying back his entire Harvard loans, business school loans, but also ending up with $110,000 worth of GE and Pan Am stocks. Then he came back to Turkey. He was a professional for some 13 years running two large banks in Turkey. And with his success there, with the recognition, with his success, and with selling his two homes that he had accumulated until then, he founded his own bank. And that is the bank that he founded with $2 million of his own capital and raised money from other business people in Turkey as well. He sold that bank for five and a half billion dollars in 2006.

BRIAN KENNY: Okay.

MURAT ÖZYEĞIN: So, coming back to family, we grew up in this house where mom is giving Mom is very delicate. Never ever makes any kind of negative comments, always positive, helps everyone. And dad is always at work. I used to make my homeworks in his bank on Saturdays because he works on Saturdays. He never came home before 9 P.M. We usually ate very late. But it was always a home of giving. It was always a home of love. My dad always took us to vacation. He never fell short of thinking about our education, what we should do next. He has been always a leader of our house, but my mom was turning around the entire system. My mom started this foundation while he was a general manager. He was in salary. When Christina says they always gave, even if they didn’t have money, it was correct.

BRIAN KENNY: Well, let me pause you there for a minute because I want to go back to Christina. Actually, Murat has brought up something that I think listeners need to know about, which is the family business. Can you describe the business for us?

CHRISTINA WING: Well, I mean the business has evolved. So, the business started with the bank and now the business is a hold co that owns many different types of businesses. And Murat is the chairman above these different entities that have different CEOs. But let’s be clear, all of these businesses are owned by this family. However, they are so conscientious about the way that they give to charity that they don’t give in a way that takes money out of the pockets of the employees. And what I mean by that is that they normalize the EBITDA so that the recognition for how well the employees get paid doesn’t take into account the massive giving that they also do with some of the cash from the businesses. So, it’s not only are they generous, they’re also very generous and rigid in how they evaluate their business for their employees. Because in many family businesses, people, because they’re a hundred percent owned, can do a lot of things with it. Very rarely do families realize that the employees, although they might be proud that the family gives money away, they still, they’re working at a for-profit and they want their kind of evaluation and their bonuses to be on the real return on the business, not only the social return that the family gets. So, it’s another amazing story from that perspective.

BRIAN KENNY: In your opinion or in your observation, is the business set up to support the foundation? I mean, do they go hand-in-hand?

CHRISTINA WING: So, the businesses are set up to be businesses. The family uses the bulk of the family’s proceeds for philanthropic giving.

BRIAN KENNY: Got it.

CHRISTINA WING: But these are for-profit entities completely. And I always say that families and business have a disproportionate ability to give to society. You can give to society through jobs that are wonderful. You can give to society through the products that you make that might be really good. And you can also give-give, which is dollars and time. And this family does all of them with a extreme pride for Turkey. I mean, when you meet this family, they are Turkey. They might as well be wearing the flag. They love their country.

BRIAN KENNY: Murat, let me come back to you for a second. Can you tell us about the foundation? What does it sort of focus on and what is the family hoping to achieve through the foundation?

MURAT ÖZYEĞIN: Well, the foundation is actually mainly focused on education. So, one part of the foundation is AÇEV, which is in English, “mother and child educational foundation.” That’s the one my mother founded in 1994, exactly seven years after my dad found all the business himself. And that’s on preschool education for children. So, unfortunately in Turkey preschool education is a luxury. So, people start school at six or seven in Turkey. However, as we all know, child’s brain development starts way before that and it’s able to receive so much more information before seven. Therefore, the motto of my mother’s foundation is, seven is too late. And therefore, she has a program that is conducted across Turkey in all the underprivileged areas because the luxury areas of Istanbul, Ankara, big cities, they all have kindergartens, and you pay and you go. But preschool education in Turkey is not provided by government. Therefore, through AÇEV, hundreds of thousands of children start education at the age of four rather than seven and gets ready for primary school. Also, the mother part comes from raising children. And the second part of our foundation is the Özyeğin Foundation, Hüsnü Özyeğin Foundation, after my dad. 35 primary, secondary and high schools, and 60 girls’ dormitories. The high schools, they’re all in underprivileged parts of Turkey. We don’t run them. We do them and give it to the government, but we take care of them. We make sure its library is filled with books. We make sure their students gets coaching to go to college and so forth. Then there’s 60 girls’ dormitories whereby the girls’ dormitories, if you don’t build dormitories next to schools in the Anatolia part of Turkey in Southern and Eastern Turkey, people don’t send their schools walking on foot five kilometers a day. They get scared. So, we put the girls dormitories next to schools.

CHRISTINA WING: I have to interrupt you for one second here, Murat, because that is such a phenomenal thing to do. I think typically when we say people work, that they care about education, we think of giving scholarships or one part of it. But I think the amazing thing about Murat’s parents is, they were really, really focused on what are the other bottlenecks that are preventing women from moving forward in this country? And we have to realize, because our listeners don’t realize how rural the areas outside of Istanbul can really be. And if you want to create a middle class in a country, you have to have upward mobility. And these dorms are a safe place for women to learn. Learning without safety and food, you don’t really learn. It’s just like an exercise of sitting somewhere. But when you’re safe and you have good food, you do. So, building these dorms is something I hope other families around the world, where there’s not transportation for the children, that people start to do that in addition to the things that we always think of doing.

BRIAN KENNY: Right. And what I’m also hearing is that this educational focus starts in preschool and extends to secondary school. And we’re going to talk about the university because you’ve covered the full spectrum of the educational journey all the way up to university.

MURAT ÖZYEĞIN: Absolutely. And one thing about what Christina said is so important, I have to let you know about the statistics there. The school, the secondary and the high schools next to which we built those girls dormitories, the percentage of girls who end up in college after we built the dormitories went up from 30% to 60%.

BRIAN KENNY: Amazing.

MURAT ÖZYEĞIN: So, 60% of those students staying in our dorms in that high school, because of the dormitories, it doubled the amount of students that end up in college. Then of course there’s Özyeğin University. My father’s dream, his dream even before he sold our shares in the bank, our main business. This was something he started dreaming of early 2000, while our group was way smaller than today. And he served at one of the best foundational university’s board for 24 years. Bilkent University in Ankara. He respected its founder so much, he enjoyed being on the board so much. He got inspired, and he ended up founding our own university. The only institution in our entire ecosystem where we gave our last name: Özyeğin University.

CHRISTINA WING: And that’s a funny story because the father said, “Businesses can be bought and sold, but the university is going to bear our name. And in doing that, I know that my future generations will always take care of it.” And it’s kind of humorous, but it’s really true.

BRIAN KENNY: Well, if you’re going to put your name on it, you need to live up to a certain standard as well.

CHRISTINA WING: Exactly.

MURAT ÖZYEĞIN: Exactly, exactly. So, this is what we try to instill to our children every day. It’s exactly correct. Since it holds our family’s name, our university is at the center of our entire giving activity. Now it’s in the case that it’s predominantly our main giving center, as we speak. Because AÇEV now has programs that are funded internationally as well. We give constantly every year to AÇEV as well. We build new schools as well. I just, literally today authorized building an arts school in the earthquake region, a new one. This is in our 2024 program. But Özyeğin University is endless opportunity for us. It has school of law, it has school of architecture, it has school of entire engineering programs. It has school of business administration, liberal arts.

BRIAN KENNY: Amazing.

MURAT ÖZYEĞIN: It’s now 7500 undergrads and another 2500 grad students. 10,000 students total.

BRIAN KENNY: I think there should be a whole separate case written about how you start a university from scratch. Can’t get into it here, but…

CHRISTINA WING: I think that would be a book, not a case.

BRIAN KENNY: I think that would be a book.

CHRISTINA WING: One thing that Murat mentioned, that might not have come out completely to the audience is, his father borrowed money against his stock before he had the cash to start the university. This is a unbelievable thing to do. It is, this is my vision, I’m moving forward. Yes, the bank is going to sell, but can I borrow against the shares now to get started?

BRIAN KENNY: Huge risk.

CHRISTINA WING: And that’s giving to the core.

BRIAN KENNY: Can we turn our attention to the earthquake now, because that was sort of the central starting point of the case, and I bring it up in the context of, it’s pretty clear to me that this foundation is focused on the same values that you had, that you witnessed as a child, a loving family, the nurturing that goes in, the importance of education. And that seems to have carried through everything that you’ve described that the foundation is doing. And then this devastating earthquake hits, and I’m wondering, how do you even know where to begin to step in and help in a situation like that where you’re just surrounded by pain and suffering and devastation? Where do you choose to focus?

MURAT ÖZYEĞIN: Well, we woke up that morning. The first thing we did was send 283 people from our mine, who are experts on rescue. 280 people in four buses went from Soma to the region and on the way they saw things indescribable, but more importantly because of them, those roads also opened up. Because there were places where it was impossible to move forward. It was horrible. So, this was the first thing we did. The second thing we did was contact everyone we know in Turkey and outside of Turkey looking for containers, we knew that containers would be the most important thing for shelter because it was the middle of winter. Don’t forget, this happened in February. It was negative 10 when it happened, 10 Celsius negative. And it was horribly, horribly cold. And we started contacting people for heating appliances, people for dishwashers, toilets, WCs, showers. Then our hotel immediately contacted the restaurants around Istanbul. We put five TIRs, big trucks, of kitchens in them with supplies, with everything you can imagine. They went to the region, they opened up mobile kitchens across cities, towns. It was millions of people outside. It was millions of people that needed this. Of course, employees’ security. We have a wind farm in the region. We made sure we sent containers there so that they’re safe and sound. Of course, I’m not even telling, of course, first we accounted for everyone we have in the region. We stopped all the payments from the region to our bank’s credit cards, consumer loans. We said, “Don’t pay us anything you don’t need to.” We canceled everybody’s loans in the region. We said, “You have to pay back anything.” Same goes for the industrial region. We stopped doing that. Yeah, I mean, we got mobilized. We got mobilized.

BRIAN KENNY: So, what I’m hearing here, and this is one of the questions I had for you, Christina, is the alignment between the business and the foundation. I realize that this is a for-profit business that they’re running and that supports the work of the foundation. But here you start to see the lines blur in a good way, where they have access to resources because of relationships that they’ve built in the businesses and knowledge that they’ve gained through those businesses to be able to respond in this kind of a crisis situation in a way that’s probably a lot more effective than most other organizations could.

CHRISTINA WING: No, and some of that is just the heart of the family, but some of that’s the size of the family. They make decisions very quickly. And when I spoke with Murat after the earthquake, I think the next day, and they were talking about what they were going to do and what was recommended to them, and he said, “Well, we’ll do double that.” And that is just the way the family is. They don’t feel comfortable sitting in their house having a meal and being warm and knowing that their country people are out there starving and in complete shock. This was, I mean, a horrible thing to witness.

MURAT ÖZYEĞIN: 11 cities. Each, 1 million and more. 11 cities.

CHRISTINA WING: And so, it was both the devastation of what people saw and lost, and then how do we kind of start the recovery as soon as possible? And the creativity-

MURAT ÖZYEĞIN: And Christina, I was there on Thursday morning. This happened Monday morning at 3 A.M. I flew to the region Thursday morning, 6 A.M. I saw five cities. I observed everything. I mean, the mobile toilets, the showers. I mean, even soldiers were freezing. So, all these heating appliances we found, if I didn’t see these things with my eyes, we couldn’t have sent thousands of these things to the region in five days.

CHRISTINA WING: Part of this case is the multi-generational spirit of giving. And will Murat and his sister’s kids feel the same way? Well, the oldest, the next generation of G3 is a junior at Harvard College right now. And the minute this all started happening, she mobilized the college to get clothes, warm things to be sent over. I mean, everybody did their part from where they are. And what I think is interesting is, this family has planned giving that happens every year but they also have spontaneous giving. Which, the spontaneous giving comes from the spirit of giving all along the way. It is, “We need this right now. We are going to cut back in other areas. We’re going to find the money and we’re going to get it done.” And that isn’t something that very many people do, nor do they know how to do it. And so those delays of even a day or two are more people living or dying. And so, just start moving, is what they do.

BRIAN KENNY: In your experience, working with other families that have foundations, how difficult is it to get that next generation to adopt the same spirit and the same values?

CHRISTINA WING: I think that when it works, it works because the next generation has been close to the source from the beginning. And that the middle generation also embodies it. And so, in this family, the grandparents have spent an enormous amount of time with their grandchildren. It is instilled in them. And let’s be clear, Murat’s mother would give you the shirt off her back. I think she gives, when they don’t know that she’s giving. To answer your question, it does not always transfer in generations, especially when people are geographically diverse and where they live in other generations, and when they don’t have an ability to have a voice in the giving. This group, everyone has a voice in giving. If any of the grandchildren wanted to do something, I think the family would be amenable to it. But most importantly, they’ve worked in the charities as they’ve been young people. So, they’ve seen some of the philanthropic needs, and I have no doubt that they will continue the giving.

BRIAN KENNY: Murat, let me ask you, does your family ever talk about legacy as an explicit thing? Do you think about it? And if you do, how does that guide your actions?

MURAT ÖZYEĞIN: My dad pulled us into our university project, for example, from the very beginning. So, when you do that, when you engage people at younger ages, you end up having them motivated and feel part of the process. They feel part of the success story, part of the whole story itself, and it’s also a success for themselves. So, they feel the belonging, they feel the excitement. So, this is how we try to keep the legacy and build the legacy. We pull our family members into projects as well, as Christina mentioned, Ege, Lal, all those members of the seven children in 3G. They have worked tremendously in all of these projects, including the earthquake region for my son…But we don’t talk about legacy per se. We don’t say-

BRIAN KENNY: That’s what I’m wondering.

MURAT ÖZYEĞIN: …we want to be that family, that we end up there.

BRIAN KENNY: It’s happening, whether you talk about it or not. I guess that’s the point.

MURAT ÖZYEĞIN: Yes. Brian, same goes to our woman leadership. We have 55% of our CEOs as women in the group, but we never have calculated it before.

BRIAN KENNY: Yeah. So, let me go back to you Christina. I’m wondering how does the case, in your opinion, illustrate the impact of cultural and family values on both the business and the philanthropy?

CHRISTINA WING: Well, I think it’s important to remember, we tend to, when we sit here in Boston, think about things from a western point of view. And giving, America’s always touted as being one of the countries that gives the most. But we also have incentives to give. We have death tax, we have other write-offs that come. Many of these countries do not have any of that. And so, when they’re giving, they’re just giving. They’re not giving to offset income or other things.

And so, the way that it comes across from the business and from the philanthropic is that everything this family does is done with intentionality. They hire good people, they take care of their people. I’ve heard numerous stories of people that need medical care that are part of their business. They send them to the best doctors wherever they are, and the same goes on the philanthropic side.

So, it weaves together. This act of kindness goes across all of these. That does not mean they’re not tough, strong. That doesn’t mean any of that. But when I think of the family, they’re living their legacy instead of, there’s a legacy that will be described when they pass on. And that’s a big difference. I think living your legacy is a gift because it does feel good to do these good things, and we tend to talk about somebody’s legacy after they’re gone. And my view is, you’re creating your legacy every day. Live it, celebrate it, share it, and hopefully it’s contagious.

BRIAN KENNY: Yeah, I love that. This has been a fabulous conversation as I knew it would be. I’ve got one question left for each of you. I’m going to give you the final word, Christina.

CHRISTINA WING: Oh, I want the final word. So, that’s good.

BRIAN KENNY: Murat, let me begin with you and just ask you, if you had to look down the road, five, 10, whatever number of years, what’s your vision for where the foundation will be and what will its impact be in Turkey?

MURAT ÖZYEĞIN: I hope that five to 10 years down the road, my four children and my sister’s three children are all aware of what we’re doing, of the family philosophy of giving. I hope that I see the signs and the vision in their eyes, in their minds, of where our family took us, so I will get them as much as possible engaged. I will also make sure that our family legacy and our foundations are well funded. I want Özyeğin University to be top 300 universities in the world. I want AÇEV to be one of the number one preschool education partner around the globe. There’s no reason for them not to be there, and we’re going to make sure they get there and hopefully they sustain where they go.

BRIAN KENNY: We all hope that you succeed in all of those things. That’s a great vision to have. Christina, let me just turn to you for one last answer here. Which is, I’m wondering if we take this out of even the family business lens, we’ve got a lot of business leaders who listen to the program, what would you say to them by way of advice if they’re looking to better integrate philanthropy into their business model?

CHRISTINA WING: I would say, “Just start,” and I think you never regret starting. And I think what many people do is say, “Well, when I become successful, I’ll do more of this.” If you just start from the beginning, then it just becomes something that you do automatically. I also think that social giving can be in all ways of your life. You can have social giving, even through how you invest. You can invest in things that your family cares about. So, if you just start, you never regret it. If you sit around and you wait for something to be perfect, you’ll never do anything, and so, just begin.

BRIAN KENNY: Great advice. Christina Wing, Murat Özyeğin, thank you for joining me on Cold Call.

CHRISTINA WING: Thank you for having us.

MURAT ÖZYEĞIN: Thank you so much for having me as well. Thank you.

BRIAN KENNY: If you enjoy Cold Call, you might like our other podcasts, After Hours, Climate Rising, Deep Purpose, Idea Cast, Managing the Future of Work, Skydeck, and Women at Work. Find them on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you listen, and if you could take a minute to rate and review us, we’d be grateful. If you have any suggestions or just want to say hello, we want to hear from you. Email us at coldcall@hbs.edu. Thanks again for joining us. I’m your host, Brian Kenny, and you’ve been listening to Cold Call, an official podcast of Harvard Business School and part of the HBR Podcast Network.



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