An interview with Guler Sabancı, Chairperson of Sabancı Holding, appeared on, the online broadcast of "Financial Times", one of the world’s most influential business newspapers. At the interview broadcast at "View From The Top" and announced on the homepage, Sabancı responded to a series of questions addressed by the experienced journalist Peter Marsh and ranging from world and Turkish economy to relations with EC as well as from the targets of the Sabancı Group to the topics discussed by the business world in Turkey.
At the interview started with the announcement that the Sabancı Group was one of the largest conglomerates in Turkey, and Guler Sabancı was beyond dispute the most powerful businesswoman in Turkey, the first question was: “You are operating in many fields from cement to retail.  Is it too complicated to manage such a huge conglomerate?”  Sabancı said, “I call us a multi-business company.  One is the financial services, which underneath we have the bank and the insurance.  One is cement, the other one is retail, the fourth one is energy, and the fifth one is tyre and tyre-reinforcing manufacturing, automotive manufacturing group.”
As to the comment “there are some useful ties between these different basics of business,” Sabancı said: “Exactly, there are areas that we create synergies together.  That is why it is under the holding company.”
- World economy...
Sabancı answered the question “The financial services line is a big business.  Half of your sales come from this field.  Lots of other banks and financial institutions around the world are suffering problems at the moment. What is it like for your business?” as follows: “First of all, Turkey does not have a developed mortgages sector, so we do not see these problems in our country.  Second, I must say, not only for our bank but for the total financial market in Turkey, is that it is very well regulated.  As you may remember, we went through a big crisis in 2001.  One of the positive outcomes of that huge crisis was having a well-regulated financial market.”
Sabancı’s answer to the question “What about the other sectors of your company such as cement, automotive, etc.?” was:  “The Turkish economy is highly integrated to the world economy, and we do see the effects of the global slowdown because we are exporters.  And also we are affected by our imports.  High energy costs, and high oil prices, high commodity prices bring inflation into my country also.”
Upon the question, “Some people call this a crisis.  How would you describe it?” Sabancı responded: “I will not call it a crisis, but it is definitely a serious difficulty.  But the most important part is, I think, not the loss of values, instruments that are very risky, but it is also the confidence loss, which I think will take time in the financial system to recover.”
Sabancı’s answer to the question about the difficulties of being a female manager in the world of business was:  “When I was young it was an odd thing, but now I think I am 30 years in the business, so it has been some years that I have not been really thinking about this.  That what I am feeling, so I hope that everybody is feeling the same way.”
- Current situation in Turkey...
In the second part of the interview Guler Sabancı answered the questions asked about Turkey.  The question “Turkish economy had a few good years recently after the crisis by the beginning of the 2000’s.  However, this year unfortunately there are some uncertainties in the world, and in addition to that, inflation is creeping up.  Inflation will be around ten percent.  Current deficit looks like being 40 billion dollars this year, growth maybe slowing.  What do you think, what is going on in Turkey right now?” was responded by Sabancı as follows: “We had very good 3-4 years. Last year was an election year in Turkey.  And this year unfortunately, with the uncertainties in the world, and in addition to that in Turkey we have now a political uncertainty, because there is case against the governing party.  Adding all these things, and rightly you have said inflation is creeping up, but not only due to our local conditions, but due to the world conditions.  Inflation will be around 10%, that is what our expectation is, and the growth will be less than 4%.  But still things are not out of control, the things are in control.  But the numbers are showing we are going in the wrong direction.”
Upon the question about how affected is Turkey by the constitutional case brought against AKP, and about its influences on the foreign investors, Sabancı said “It is an unfortunate thing that Turkey is in this position now, but right now I think we should focus on the future, and, you are right, it does bring certain doubt in the FDI.  But still, within the difficult conditions of the world, within this condition of Turkey, we are still expecting this year around 11 and 12 billion dollars of FDI, versus the 19 of last year.  On the other hand, of course, I am a believer of democracy, and we have a nice saying in Turkish:  There are endless solutions in democracy.  And I am sure Turkey will find one of these solutions by the end of this year.”
- Relations with the European Union...
Sabancı said in relation to the accession process of Turkey into EU:  “Accession process is very important for Turkey’s democracy and stability.  It is also good for Europe.  Since, during this accession process Turkey’s democracy and human rights develop, and the standard of living improves in Turkey.  So, in the future, once we become a member, I think we will bring less issue to Europe.  But, as I always say, this road is more important, this journey itself is more important than the destination.”
- Sabancı: “We have been waiting for the new Commercial Code”
The question “What do you think needs to be done in terms of the Turkish business environment, what does the government need to tackle?” was answered by Sabancı as follows:  “What the government needs to tackle is, what we are expecting from them in the near future is to have this new Turkish Commercial Code, that needs to be out, which we have been, the business community has been waiting so long.  Of course, we need to have more improvements in our legislative system.  And the issue of intellectual properties has to be solved.”
- Turkish-Iraqi relations...
Sabancı’s answer to the question “Turkey has various neighbours such as Russia, Eastern Europe, and Iraq.  Does it make the life a bit tense for the business community in Turkey to have Iraq so close by?” was:  “Of course we have challenging neighbours.  And the Iraqi issue is an important concern for my country.  This uncertainty and what occurred in Iraq have brought the terrorism, a problem that we had solved for some time, again to the agenda of Turkey.  I hope that there is a peaceful solution for the whole Middle East.  The way it has done is not working, so the world has to get together to find a new way.”
- Global targets of the Sabancı Group...
Sabancı said upon the question “You said that at the moment only about 10% of the total sales of Sabancı Group derived from outside Turkey, and you had a goal of increasing that to about 15 or 20% within a couple of years.  How do you aim to achieve this?”,  “First of all, of course when you look at the total sales, half of it as we say is our financial services, which is a local business.  So that 10% becomes 20% if you look at the non-financial part, but, yes, I have given this target to my team, we would like to increase, and we have potential.  We have global business like the cord fabric business.  We can make our bus business a global one.  We can make our cement business a regional one at least, if not global.  So there is potential, and we will keep on working on it.”
The question “You have bus factories in Egypt and Turkey.  And you are exporting quite a lot to Europe.  How about setting up bus factories somewhere else, what about setting one in China?” was answered by Sabancı as follows: “Our teams are seriously working on China and on India; those are the focus markets that we are studying.  But our operation in Egypt has just opened up, and it is encouraging to see that we were able to transfer our know-how, our engineering ability, and operational excellence to an outside country, in a manufacturing field.  So this encourages us to do more.”
Having answered finally the questions about the wine business, Sabancı said: “Wine business is not run by me, but my uncle.  If I can do any help to him is just visiting on some weekends, and that is all I can do.  But it was my idea, and it is my investment.  But I am grateful that my uncle runs it.  It is a “fun” business.  It is very enjoyable.”
Sabancı made the following comments at the closing “up&down” section of the interview: US Economy: down; Turkish economy: up; the Turkish Lira versus the dollar: up; Settlement in Iraq: down; EU accession eventually: up; Turkish football teams: up; and the Turkish wine: up of course.