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Immersion Trip to Turkey 2012

Students travel to Turkey for first-hand look at emerging economy

Turkey 2012

June 10, 2012

In May, a group of Brandeis International Business School (IBS) students traveled to Turkey to get a first-hand look at an emerging economy. Their first official stop, however, was not at a company, a bank or even a university. Rather, they went to visit the Old City and had a workshop at Caferaga Medresesi, where they practiced the Turkish art of calligraphy and marbling.
It might seem unusual, but Senior Lecturer Can Erbil says that learning about the culture and history of the country that serves as the gateway between Asia and Europe is essential in understanding how it does business. The two art forms, developed after the Prophet Muhammad banned realistic paintings of people or objects, serve as a metaphor for the Turkish economy.

“People still had an urge to express themselves, and so they found a way,” said Erbil, who organized the trip for 29 students. “This resilience and flexibility is evident today in how they conduct business. If one market won’t work, they will find another. That adaptability comes all the way from their Ottoman and Islamic roots.”
Turkey 2012
The week-long Hassenfeld Fellow Overseas Immersion Program, conceived and funded by retired Hasbro Chairman and CEO Alan Hassenfeld, is designed to give students an intensive introduction to the business and economy of a dynamic overseas market. Participants learn about the countries through classes and panels before the trip and then follow up with a report after.

In Turkey, students learned more about what the country’s inflation and GDP numbers really mean during tours of several companies, visits to universities and lectures on such topics as the country’s macro-economic environment, its demography and labor markets, and the climate for business and investment.

“What surprised me most is that Istanbul is a very modern city, and yet systems such as education and finance are behind,” said Terray Griffin MBA ’13, who has been to 28 countries and lived abroad in Peru and Spain.

While the education in many schools is good, there are not enough of them to meet demand. In the financial sector, loans and credits are relatively new, and corporate bonds were introduced just three years ago.

The highlight of the trip for many students was the time spent with the Turkish people.

“Nobody could have prepared us for the conversations we had,” said John Orr’12 MA ’13, “It’s a very introspective society. People are more in tune with what is happening politically and economically.”

Orr, who has an interest in emerging markets, said he went on the trip both for what he could learn about the economy and for the opportunity to see historic Istanbul, which served as a capital for the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires.

For students who have never been to a country with an emerging economy, it was a chance to understand the nuanced blend of modern and tradition that shapes such a market, Erbil said. Students who come from emerging countries had the opportunity to compare theirs with Turkey.

He said students were surprised at how many international companies are already operating in Turkey and the availability of goods and services. The country appears modern in many ways with a newer metro system and expansive shopping malls, but there is still a huge disparity between how different companies do business.

This was reflected in visits to two manufacturers. On one end of the spectrum was Standart Pompa, a relatively small water pump factory that relied largely on manual labor. On the other was the larger, more automated Arçelik, which makes washing machines complete with pet hair removal technology and fabric sensors. That company belongs to the family-owned Koc Holdings, the only Turkish company in the “Fortune Global 500” list.

The immersion program is supported by many well-known and highly respected Turkish companies and individuals, including Turkish Airlines, Bahçeşehir University, TÜSİAD, DEIK, Dudullu Organized Industrial Zone, Mr. Jak Kamhi, Mr. Enver Yucel, Mr. Murat Önay and Ms. Begum Ozdogularli.

The students are now working on a three-week term project on a variety of subjects such as whether there’s a market in Turkey for Latin American coffee beans or whether Arçelik could sell its innovative machines in the U.S.