Interview with the CEO

How would you sum up the 2021 performance of Sabancı Group in a headline?

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic, which affected the whole world in 2020, was partly brought under control through the accelerating global vaccination programs in 2021, the effects of the pandemic on economies and our lives were felt throughout the year.

The pandemic-related economic contraction gave way to recovery in 2021. On the other hand, the stimulative fiscal policies introduced by many governments during the pandemic in order to protect households and economic players precipitated a rapid rise in inflation. With the added effects of supply chain bottlenecks, increases in raw material prices and worsening impacts of climate emergency on a global scale, it is clear that the global outlook will be marked by volatility and fragilities.

In this environment of diminished predictability and increased uncertainty, we achieved strong results at Sabancı Group. In this period, we did not focus only on managing today. While we were able to operate our main businesses successfully thanks to the digital transformation investments we had implemented before the pandemic, we conveyed our short- and mid-term road map created with the contributions of Group employees, to all our stakeholders. We set out what we expect from our employees and managers. We guided them on how to adapt our companies to the realities of the new normal.

In 2021, under the guidance of our 5 priorities and strategic goals, which we defined in the 5-year strategic plan, we moved forward with strong and clear strides to realize our Group’s Purpose. We improved our position in our core businesses globally and locally and continued to implement our projects and investments in new growth platforms. While we undertook exciting initiatives in the field of digital transformation, we placed sustainability at the heart of all our Group activities.

Financial results for 2021, which is set out in detail in our report, clearly demonstrate the success of our Group. Accordingly, our combined revenue, combined EBITDA and consolidated net income growth accelerated in 2021. Our combined revenues reached TL 152 billion, while our combined EBITDA increased to TL 33 billion. Our consolidated net income more than doubled in 2021 compared to 2020, reaching TL 12 billion.

Evaluating results of the Group by strategic business units, what would you share?

As the late Sakıp Sabancı said, running without any limits is a very important part of Sabancı Group’s vision. Sabancı Group’s sphere of influence extends well beyond Turkey’s borders through its strong partnerships and pioneering initiatives abroad. We strive to strengthen our influence each passing day. In this context, 2021 was a year when the global footprint of Sabancı Group became more recognized, felt more deeply and was reinforced around the world.

Kordsa, Brisa and Çimsa demonstrated impressive export performances. Çimsa became a global leader in white cement sector with Buñol Plant in Spain, that we officially completed the acquisition process. The successful performance of our cement investment in the USA played a role in this leadership. The acquisition of Arvento shares, by Brisa marked an important step in transforming our tire manufacturing business into a mobility player. At the same time, this step served as an example for our other companies in terms of transforming one of our core businesses into a new generation business, as we outlined in our Strategy House.

We added new initiatives to our energy business, which has the highest share in our non-banking revenues. In line with our sustainability approach, renewable energy will continue to be our main growth driver in this business where we will reach our growth targets with ongoing investments in wind farms with a total capacity of 565 MW. We will reinforce Turkey’s largest renewable energy portfolio with further new capacity. On distribution, while pressing ahead with grid investments, we took pioneering steps in customer solutions, an area where we see great future. Galatasaray Stadium, which will be the world’s largest on-stadium solar panels, and the installation and applications of solar panels at the Brisa plant have attracted a great deal of interest. We have been delighted and encouraged by the intense demand in this area from domestic and international markets.

Another important area where we have obtained significant results has been the Eşarj - Charging Station. As the world rapidly transits into electric mobility, our Group has taken its place among the leaders in this field. The stake held by Enerjisa Müşteri Çözümleri (Enerjisa Customer Solutions), which was an affiliate of Enerjisa Enerji, in Eşarj rose to 94%. We provided our tangible contribution to the drafting of legislation in this field (electric mobility) as a stakeholder by working in close cooperation with public institutions and organizations.

In financial services, following the transfer of Aviva shares to our partner, Ageas, our operations are fully consolidated and run with stronger synergy.

One of Turkey’s leading private banks, Akbank continued to be a flag bearer of digitalization in its sector. Having invested in digital transformation for many years, Akbank expanded its ecosystem with the contribution of innovative projects in the same field with its affiliates, Akportföy and Akyatırım, in the recent period, thus successfully expanding its sphere of influence.

At the same time, we took several steps towards structuring our portfolio in 2021. Transfer of Sabancı Holding’s stake in Philsa and PMSA to Philip Morris International was completed on 5 January 2022, thereby ending our operations in tobacco business.

Sabancı Group attaches special importance to ‘Adaptation to the Future of Work’. What would you like to say about the most comprehensive work life transformation project conducted by private sector, and its current realizations?

‘Adapting to the Future of Work’ is one of the five priorities of our Group’s strategy. As one of the game makers of the new normal, we undertake this subject in a holistic manner. Our main goal here is to make sure our companies have the best and most comprehensive applications of FoW in the world, not only in their sectors.

To this end, we have set out a 3-year road map. We have already completed important milestones of this road map in the past year. We unwaveringly press ahead in this area.

Here, the most important subject for companies is to be able to create value for people, to use technology to generate this value preparing our employees for the world of the future.

The activities under the ‘Adaptation to the Future of Work’, which are successfully coordinated by the Human Capital and Sustainability Group Presidency, are of course very important. I think the biggest success that Sabancı Group demonstrated in this field has been the sincerity it showed to its employees time and time again. The fact that this subject was often complimented on in feedback interviews conducted with employees is a great source of pride for me. Regardless of how much the world changes and technology advances, what does not change for us are the values of Sabancı Group; and sincerity is at the foundation of these values.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we declared that “we would not leave any of our employees behind,” and we kept our promise until the end. We took all kinds of measures to protect the health of our employees and their families, and we still do. Today, Sabancı Group is one of the best examples in the world in terms of employee health with a vaccination ratio of 99%. This is especially a source of pride and pleasure for me.

Sustainability is one of your main strategies, and your Group has set very clear goals regarding climate emergency. What would you like to say about this subject?

Above all, sustainability is much more than a target, a word for us. Sustainability is the foundation of our Group’s Purpose. This means that it is not a tool for us, but a goal. We implemented a number of important projects in this context in 2021. In line with our aim, we are delighted to lead this field in Turkey and in the world.

The goal of Sabancı Group is to reach Net Zero Emissions and Zero Waste in all of our operations by 2050 at the latest. We are the first group in Turkey to have announced this goal.

We are also delighted to note that we raised our ranking in the MSCI ESG and the CDP Carbon Disclosure ratings by two notches during the year with the Group also being included in the Bloomberg Gender Equality Index. We view all of these developments as valuable achievements for our Group in the field of sustainability and they are a source of pride for us.

Sustainability is also at the top of the agenda for our business lines and affiliates. For example, our renewable energy investments in the energy business and our advantageous geographic position in this business, along with our work on innovative material technologies in industrials, our environmentally friendly product development activities in the field of building materials, our work in developing sustainable chemicals and the digital transformation, which is the backbone of each of our activities, are the tangible results of our focus on sustainability.

In addition to the above activities, our energy and industrial companies not only use technologies that serve sustainability, but they also produce these technologies. We see this as a particularly valuable advantage in terms of creating added value for the Group, and we are determined to maximize this potential.

One of the most important headings of the future vision is digitalization. What is your approach to this subject? What awaits Sabancı Group in terms of digitalization in the coming years?

One of the main factors behind Sabancı Group’s ability to achieve continuous development to create sustainable value for all its stakeholders is that the Group has placed digitalization at the heart of the company’s culture from the beginning.

We have seen the importance of this approach more clearly during the pandemic, which has been a part of our lives for nearly two years. We achieved significant success in two areas thanks to the investments which we have undertaken in this field to date. Firstly, while ensuring the continuity of our existing businesses, we did not halt activities with the exception of short-term adjustments. Secondly, we continued to maintain our strong balance sheet structure and even continued to strengthen this structure further in the face of such a challenging operational environment, a time when many companies faltered.

In the coming period, digitalization will be our most important driving force, which will strengthen our position as a game maker in the new normal, and which feeds Sabancı Group’s entire growth strategy. We aim to step up our investments in this field rapidly and resolutely.

Leadership in digital and material technologies is one of the five main priorities of Sabancı Group’s future strategy. The strongest tool which we will use to achieve leadership in this field is our extensive know-how and experience, which we have built up over the years with our vision regarding technology and innovation.

SabancıDx has undertaken key tasks mainly in the solution of Group’s digitalization needs to date. We transformed SabancıDx into the focus of our new growth area. On the one hand, SabancıDx accelerates the digital and analytical transformation within the Group; on the other, it leads the creation of ‘Sabancı Big Data Lake’ and creates value with the Sabancı ecosystem. This field, where we plan to expand abroad with creative products, will develop as the fourth pillar of our Group, with advanced data analytics and cyber security to be its main focal area.

On the other hand, we view digital transformation, which is taking place in light of new generation technologies, as an important part of our companies’ strategies, and we support work in this area. Significant efficiency gains achieved in Kordsa’s quality improvement program, Brisa’s Industry 4.0 journey and the Arvento investment, and the transformation of Teknosa into an online marketplace are some of the processes which spring to mind in this area. Moreover, we created the new generation insurance platform with the AksigortaNext app, which adds value to the insurance sector.


Sabancı Group set digitalization at the heart of its culture, which is one of the main factors behind Group’s ability to achieve continuous development to create sustainable value for all its stakeholders.

Digitalization will be our most important driving force that will strengthen our position in the new normal and will feed Sabancı Group’s entire growth strategy. We aim to step up our investments in this field rapidly and decisively.

Sabancı Republic Day Campaign was at the forefront of the social responsibility projects, which attracted the most attention in our country in 2021. In this context, could you talk about Sabancı Group’s perspective on corporate social responsibility, and what you are doing in this respect?

“Sharing what we have obtained from this land with its people” has been the main principle of Sabancı Group for nearly 100 years. This is the biggest legacy that was passed on to us by Hacı Ömer Sabancı. Contributing positively to society and humanity is our greatest priority.

This is the approach that has conceived Sabancı Republic Day Campaign…

Our country has experienced numerous natural disasters in 2021, starting with floods and continuing with devastating forest fires which ravaged for days. These disasters saddened us all and left us feeling desolate. Right from day one, Sabancı Group stood by the crews tackling these disasters in the field and helping our citizens who suffered damage. Our Group companies mobilized all their means and provided vehicle and equipment support. We transferred these means immediately to the Muğla, Antalya, Denizli and Isparta regions. We provided both material and moral support to our citizens in the disaster areas. We placed great priority on extinguishing the fires as soon as possible, and did not stop there; we pledged to plant 1 million saplings over the next 5 years.

In the light of these developments, we initiated a historic campaign on the 98th anniversary of the foundation of the Turkish Republic. Sabancı Group launched Sabancı Republic Day Campaign to ensure a better future for the new generation as well as the environment and for all living things, and of course, to defend the legacy of Atatürk.

For 13 days between 29 October and 10 November, all participating Sabancı Volunteers not only celebrated the proclamation of the Republic, but they also kept the spirit of the Republic alive with their own significant volunteering efforts. On 10 November, we presented all our volunteer work to Great Leader Atatürk and commemorated him by working.

With this massive campaign involving more than 60,000 employees and stakeholders, which started in Adana and subsequently traveled to 11 other Turkish cities including Aydın, Aksaray, Ankara, Antalya, Balıkesir, Bursa, Çanakkale, İstanbul, Kocaeli and Mersin, Sabancı Group was able to truly embody the great spirit of the Republic.

This campaign, which involved extensive soil revitalization, large scale tree-planting schemes, the renovation of schools and a wide array of environmental activities from cleaning to supporting biodiversity, was carried out on an entirely voluntary basis. 

Finally, would you be able to share some information on the share buyback program which you initiated in November? Where do you see short- and mid-term gains in this program?

Maximizing stakeholders’ return is our priority in every aspect of our businesses. We deem the relative total shareholder return (rTSR) performance and the net asset value (NAV) growth among our most important criteria while taking investment decisions on a Group scale as well as allocating our capital among our business units.

Our board of directors decided to launch a share buyback program of up to 102 million shares, representing up to 5% of our paid-in capital, on 9 November 2021. Within the scope of this program, which was well received by our investors, we had re-purchased a total of 8 million shares as of the end of 2021.

With share buyback program, our purpose is supporting price performance of Sabancı Holding shares trading on the Borsa Istanbul and hence reducing the NAV discount by bringing the shares closer to its fair value and providing shareholders with a more attractive long-term investment opportunity. I believe this program will enhance the positive impact of our determined execution in dynamic portfolio management and our business performance on value of our shares.  

Before we round off our conversation, could you summarize your opinion and expectations regarding 2022?

As I emphasized at the beginning of our conversation, we are passing through a conjuncture characterized by very low predictability. We can be sure that the world economy will experience some volatility in terms of adapting to the new normal and a rebalancing in the next few years.

As a Group, we view our portfolio diversity, carefully designed strategy, management competencies and our big, united family as the most valuable guarantee and instrument in overcoming these challenges. On the other hand, our competencies and assets, which we have built up throughout our history that go back nearly a whole century will allow us to navigate choppy waters, resolutely make headway against harsh headwinds and successfully climb to every greater height with tenacity.

This is because we know that our presence in Turkey will strengthen and improve as long as our country’s economic and social conditions improve. Our goal is to be a successful, competitive game maker globally, as well as being successful in Turkey.

2022 will be a period when Sabancı Group will raise the bar to higher levels and continue to produce and grow. While progressing to a future which is being shaped around the concepts of austerity, efficiency and agility, we are on the verge of entering a period in which we will continue to develop projects that will provide more benefit to society.

Our investors will see a Sabancı Group that takes faster strategic steps with its solid balance sheet and coherent strategic roadmap. We are progressing with our management teams and employees, especially our Board of Directors, in unity around the same goal.

Those who set the goal beforehand win in a foggy and misty global environment. Our goal is clear and simple: “to create the Sabancı of the World”.

Cenk Alper

Member of the Board of Directors and CEO