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We began our last day in Istanbul with a visit to 3M. Honestly, there wasn’t a lot to take away from this rather redundant 3M presentation.  Yes, we know already. . . 3M  =  innovation. They revisited the macro-economic variables that make Turkey unique and described in detail the 3M product mix. We also got to see more org charts – bonus.  In terms of how 3M is organized, it’s not dissimilar to the US. They use both a direct sales force and distributors.  So, 3 hours later . . .

The 3M Visit sort of re-addresses the fact that Carlson might need to re-visit how they approach the companies involved in next year’s Global Discovery program.  For example, one of our lecturers was a marketing rock star, and she talked a lot about various marketing channels 3M used – but not once did she touch on how these channels might be used differently in Turkey vs. the U.S., what aspects of the population and culture of Turkey drove the use of different marketing channels and communications, how they marketed differently in big chains vs. local stores etc.  Even the one thing that was mildly new information – that the production of one of their products designed specifically for the Turkish market was outsourced to a local partner and not manufactured by 3M – was not that surprising to most of us.

We had some free time today before we embark on a cruise on the Bosphorus followed by dinner in the flower market.   We’ve heard a lot of classmates mention that they are getting to know people better than they have in the year and a half before the trip. Mostly, it’s for the better.

So, this is the end of our blog. We hope you’ve enjoyed. Here’s my big take away – – the fact that Turkey is secular, democratic, Muslim, capitalist and part of N.A.T.O. wed with a growing economy and young population makes it one of the most attractive markets for not only driving growth, but for ensuring a more peaceful existence. I hope to see Turkey again soon in the near future.

Today we took a day trip to Bosporus University, one of the most prestigious universities in Istanbul.  We had two lectures – the first was from Professor Soli Özel, a national newspaper columnist and professor of International Relations and Political Science at Istanbul Bilgi University.  Professor Vaaler referred to him as “Istanbul’s Paul Krugman.”

Professor Özel’s lecture was fascinating and gave us a very different perspective on Turkey’s current political and economic situation than the one we had been given by the companies we spoke to. It is easy to forget, walking around a city that seems like it could be anywhere in Western Europe and touring companies that seem no different, on the surface, from most U.S. firms, that Turkey’s history of bloody military coups and extreme political instability is relatively recent.  At the EU delegation, we got the impression that the 2009 amendments to the constitution, which blocked some of the military’s power, were a threat to secularity.  However, today we realized how dangerous the military coups had actually been, how reluctant they were to hand power back to the government, and that the military itself while in power had tried to move towards a more conservative, Islamic state. 

One key takeaway from Professor Özel’s lecture was that the key driver of Turkish foreign policy is not ideology, but economics.  Turkey has a history of a sort of cooperative rivalry with Iran – and while it is easy for Western countries to judge Turkey for not dealing harshly with Iran, we must remember that Turkey wants cooperation in the Middle East as much as – if not more than – everyone else.  Secondly, the emerging small and medium-sized companies in Turkey need markets.  Europe is saturated and America is too far away, so the options for growth are in the Middle East and North Africa.  Turkey also believes that political stability is a necessary condition for economic prosperity, and that economic prosperity gives rise to peace.  In addition, Turkey does not want a nuclear Iran – but they also feel that a western-initiated war with Iran that would put too much of the burden on them.

Ellie’s Thoughts – Professor Özel commented that the military used religion as opium to control the people. I like the analogy; I like it a lot. I also think that U.S. political ideologies isn’t unlike Turkey’s in that, they are just masking and justifying self interest. If the party can deliver in measurable and practical ways, they can use the ideology to help people feel justified in their passionate support of an ideology. So spare me right and left rhetoric when we return.

Looking out over the Bosphorus from Bosphorus University

Ben and Ishu take some free time to talk with a student at Bosporus University

Today was by far the most beautiful day we’ve seen since arriving in Turkey. It was warm, the sun was shining, and as an added bonus, we had a free morning! It was great just to wander around Istanbul – the city takes on an entirely different feel in the sunshine.

As part of our free morning, pretty much the whole class met up at Hagia Sophia. Rebuilt by the orders of Emperor Justinian in 537, Hagia Sophia stood as the center of Orthodox Christianity until 1453 when the city was concurred by Ottomans. Five hundred years after the Muslim conquest, it became a jewel for the Muslim world and the grand mosque of the sultans. In 1935, under the orders of Ataturk, Hagia Sophia was converted into a museum of the Turkish Republic and became one of the most significant monuments not only in Turkey but in the world as well, because of its architecture and its historical richness. Hagia Sophia was also chosen a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1985.

We agree – Hagia Sophia definitely lived up to its reputation. The beauty and scale of the building, as well as the level of artistic detail, are overwhelmingly beautiful, and it’s hard to believe it only took five years to build. The domed ceilings are covered in fresco paintings and sparkling mosaics, and the marble is carved in many places with intricate floral designs. We were also able to walk right in, one of the benefits of avoiding the tourist season when lines stretch out into the nearby square.

Kristina’s Thoughts – I’m really intrigued by the bargaining system here. I know it can be irritating that there isn’t a standard price for everything, and even if a price is quoted it’s expected that customers will try to bargain lower, but I think it’s fascinating. Business owners are basically creating their own demand curve – setting the bar high, and letting the customer’s willingness to pay dictate what the price is for that individual. The guy I bought my rug from yesterday started at 1200 USD – I negotiated down to 550 by insisting it was the highest I could go (which was true – ability to pay is definitely an issue in my life right now  ), but there are probably people that would have dropped 1200, as well as even tougher negotiators who could have gotten a lower price. It’s kind of fun, and I’m a little sad I won’t be able to walk into a grocery store, tell them that $2.00 for a bottle of water is ridiculous, and have them listen to me.

Ellie’s Thoughts – Oh, we should also mention the academic portion of our day, which was at Türk Telekom’s Investor Relations facility. It seems to me that the industry faces much of the same challenges here as in the U.S., despite the fact that they are partially state owned. They don’t seem to be getting any favors from regulators, who are mostly former Türk Telekom execs (but maybe bitter because they aren’t making as much money??). That’s what I thought the presenter was trying to imply, anyway. I also asked Saba about how much Turks work. It’s 40 hours a week. I know many of my friends have signed their lives away and will soon disappear into a corporate abyss where Kool-Aid flows into the veins and that makes me sad. Mostly, because I need people to goof off with.

In contrast to the hot mess that was yesterday’s visit to TOFAŞ, today’s trip to the Istanbul stock exchange was pleasant and informative. I think we learned as much if not more in less than half the time. There are several significant ways in which the Turkish stock market differs from what we are familiar with in the U.S. First of all, there are only 350 companies listed on the ISE, as opposed to the thousands listed on NASDAQ or NYSE. In 2010, there were twenty-two IPOs on ISE, up from only one in 2009. Our speaker mentioned that 2009 was a result of the global financial crisis, but we were still curious as to how they managed to get such a large increase over the next year. We were told that ISE held an “IPO Summit” as part of a campaign to encourage more small and medium size firms about capital markets and encourage them to list on ISE.

This example calls out some major differences in business practices between the U.S. and Turkey. In the U.S., entrepreneurs often start a business with the goal of eventually selling it or having an IPO. In Turkey, small business owners are somewhat afraid of transparency. One reason for this is that many businesses are family owned and want to keep it that way. Another is that they may be hiding profits from the government to avoid taxation and do not want to undergo the evaluation required to list on ISE. There are definitely some cultural barriers to overcome for the ISE to continue growing.

Another key difference, when it comes to liquidity and volume trading, the U.S. relies on algorithms whereas everything in Turkey is essentially done by humans. And one final interesting tidbit – ISE has 67% foreign investment, but when we asked which countries were the biggest investors we were told that information was classified. Not sure if this is typical of all stock exchanges but we found it interesting.

Kristina’s Thoughts – Sorry for always making references to India, but I was just there a few months ago and it’s definitely the most different from the U.S. of anywhere I’ve traveled. Anyways, having just been to India I’m amazed that Turkey is not rated as equal with the BRIC countries. Istanbul feels to me like any developed country in Western Europe – clean, super organized, great public transportation, etc. In contrast, even the large cities in India feel much more third world – buildings aren’t as modern, poverty is evident etc. From what I’ve heard about eastern Turkey it’s supposed to be basically a different country, but I find it hard to believe it’s any worse than rural India. I loved my time in India, and the people I met were kind, welcoming and extremely hardworking and innovative – but I still wonder the world sees the potential of India but not Turkey.
Also, my German came in handy again today! Anne, Jay David, Keith and I got a little lost on our way to a mall we were supposed to find for our scavenger hunt project, and as we were staring confusedly around, a man on the street asked me (in german) “Are you lost? Do you speak german?” He proceeded to explain how to get to the mall, which turned out to be about a block from where we were standing. Score one for high school language classes!

Ellie’s thoughts – In Istanbul, I’ve seen quite a few openly homosexual and transsexual Turks. I didn’t expect to see this in a country dominated by Islam. There is so much value and importance correlated to the secular state, it’s something I don’t want to take for granted.
On an unrelated note, Anna, Andy and I enjoyed happy hour on a rooftop deck. The weather, company and view were amazing. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be here. It’s not all rainbows and butterflies, but I find humor in the factors that cause me frustration.

Today we traveled from Bursa, back to Istanbul, with a ‘short’ 4 hour stop at TOFAŞ (pronounced Tofash), an automobile plant, along the way.

TOFAŞ is a joint venture with Fiat, and produces cars for Fiat, Renault and…another French brand we can’t remember… in both the commercial and consumer sectors. The manufacturing process was interesting to watch, although having never been in an American auto plant it was hard to deduce whether or not it was dissimilar to the Ranger plant on Ford Parkway, except that they sell cigarettes in the vending machines. The supply chain presentation was torturous. It was clear the presenter had been given no direction on what to present and ignored any time constraints, if they were given.

We basically were given an entire operations class, complete with detailed examples of what all of the terms he was using meant (we already knew), and a thorough explanation of TOFAŞ’ managerial structure. One classmate even tried to get things back on track by mentioning we’d already had an operations class and suggesting some topics we might actually be interested in – but to no avail. After the lecture ran an hour and a half over, we finally got out of there. It was painful enough for us, but mostly we felt bad for our tour guide Saba who would no doubt hit rush hour and spend over 2 hours getting home from our hotel. This sparked some discussion among our classmates as to how the curriculum could be improved next time around. We all pretty much agree – shorter presentations from the companies, longer Q&A, and more direction for the company lecturers as to the topics they should focus on.

Ellie – I was so bored, I left in the middle to use the restroom. I took my time getting to a bathroom and I even managed to lock myself in the stall and had to wait for some HR women (because it seems that’s the only place women work at Tofas) came to let me out. I washed my hands, dried them, fixed my make-up and went to kill a few more minutes in the hall. By the time I returned, at least 10 minutes had past, but the presenter was still on the same slide. It was so bad, even our tour guide made jabs at the presentation on the way home.

Kristina – Another note on the presentations: All of our presentations have been from Turkish people as opposed to expats – while I think this is great and provides a really unique perspective, I think expats might have a little more insight into what we as U.S. business people would need to watch out for in terms of differences in how business is done, or would be more aware of what might surprise us about Turkish companies. The Turkish perspective has been great but it would have been nice to have more of a mix of both. In other news, the sunset driving home was absolutely gorgeous. The pictures don’t really do it justice but I’ll stick one at the end of this post anyways. Also, I’m brainstorming on a great idea for a follies skit involving “trinkets.” Stay tuned.

Group picture on the ferry back to Istanbul

Sunset over Istanbul

Sunset again

Not a whole lot to talk about today in terms of the actual academic program – we had a free day in Bursa and the two of us went off in separate directions for the afternoon.

Ellie’s note – Turkey’s an amazingly beautiful country. Today, we took a gondola to Ulu, the biggest mountain outside Bursa. Just like that, we were in a snowy, alpine environment. When we arrived we were greeted with bright sunshine and call to prayer.  A group of us hiked for a bit, the landscape wasn’t too much different than 6 – 7000 feet altitude in Colorado. Then, we took the bus to the ski resort which looked to be the equivalent of Loveland, with wetter and a bit less snow, but not too bad. One thing that strikes me about the parts of Turkey I’ve seen, is that poverty is either limited or hidden in the cities, at least as so far as I’ve seen.

One thing that strikes me about this trip is how little classmates seem to know each other. I’ve been surprised more than once and it’s a little sad, as we’ll be done with school in just a few short months.

 Kristina’s note – Today I FINALLY got the chance to practice yoga for a half an hour, and also went with shopping with some of my classmates to pick up some gifts.  I found a great birthday present for my fiancée and a couple of “trinkets” for myself as well J  One of my favorite parts of this trip has really been the conversations I’ve had with my classmates.  I think I’ve at least had a meaningful conversation with everyone in our group before, but being away from the CSOM environment has given us a chance to bond on a more personal level.  In class, we see most people (besides close friends) on a surface level, but when you travel with people for two weeks you get to know each other in a deeper way, which has been overall really wonderful.  A few evenings of staying up half the night sipping wine and having philosophical and/or random and nonsensical conversations is always a good thing, IMO.   I also tried the Turkish bath and it was very relaxing but I wish the massage had been about 20 minutes longer… we all need it I think, after sitting on the bus all the time J

Monday will be a tour of the TOFAŞ Automotive Plant – should be interesting?

–          Kristina and Ellie

We both agree – today was our favorite day of the trip so far. Cool, sunny, calm and the smell of wood burning . The morning started with a trip to the Green Mosque in Bursa, built in 1412 but not fully completed. One interesting thing we learned today is that there is a mandatory seven year completion for mosques – if the architect is unable to meet the deadline it’s just assumed they aren’t very good at their job and the mosque is left to stand there unfinished, shaming them for not being able to finish it on time. Lovely. Fortunately the only thing about the Green Mosque that is unfinished is some carvings on the front windows, so it is fully functional (unlike some unfinished mosques that can’t be used at all).

Unlike at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, where we were rushed through before the afternoon prayer, we were able to take our time and really learn about the Green Mosque. The muezzin spoke to us for several minutes (translated by Saba, our tour guide) about prayer and the rituals he goes through every day as part of his job. He also sang several passages from scripture for us – it was quite haunting and beautiful. By the end, our feet were all freezing (no shoes in the mosque) but it was a fantastic experience.

After the mosque, we drove to the village of Cumalikizik. Cumalikizik still has the feel of an old village, although there are some obvious indications that tourism is creeping in (the old women selling homemade bread and jam also sell beaded keychains emblazoned with the “Turkey” logo). We spent about 45 minutes wandering up and down the mostly empty cobblestone streets, admiring the amazing view and rich colors of the village. After we were done wandering, we drove down to the silk bazaar to have lunch (local Iskander Kebab – basically bread covered with a bunch of meat and then doused in a seasoned red sauce) and do some shopping before heading back to the hotel.

Kristina’s note: I’m not a particularly religious person but I definitely would consider myself spiritual – it’s just that my spiritual outlets are more along the lines of practicing yoga and singing in choir than praying in church. In the last ten years I’ve traveled to two places – Rome and now Turkey – where religion permeates that place’s history and culture, and both times have been truly moved by the depth of dedication and spiritual devotion. Theologist Marcus Borg wrote in his book Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, “the Bible is like a finger pointing to the moon.” I’d like to think that all of these things – Islam, Catholicism, Buddhism, even reverence towards music and nature, are all pointing to the same thing. It’s important that we don’t focus too much on the pointer, and lose sight of the moon.

Ellie’s note: Our guide told us that in Bursa there is a good mix of Muslims – conservative, cultural, and non-practicing. The only indication you can get that this diversity exists is based on the dress of the women – be it full Burkas, just head scarves, and women who do not cover. It seems from an outsider’s perspective that the integration is very much harmonized. There’s more diversity than you’d see in many other places and less segregation than you’d see even on the West Bank. At first glance, it seems as though the Turks have a good thing going. I am anxious to find out more.

A group of CSOM students in Cumalikizik