This year we attended the pladis Leaders Meeting held on the island of Nantucket, Boston. Let me first talk about our meeting. Then I’ll talk about Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard Island, and whale tourism. These fireside chats, held in a friendly atmosphere away from the workplace, are very beneficial regarding sincerity, loyalty, and motivation.
Let me give an example of why we do it. Have you ever climbed to the top of any mountain? My first experience was at the age of 14 when we went to the top of a mountain at two thousand meters on a school trip in Davos. It was a challenging task for me at that age. After all, we reached the summit; the entire class was together in a few hundred square meters of space, and nowhere seemed higher.
Company organizations are of a similar nature, with a few people as the business leaders and a few dozen key personnel. They need to come together as if they were going to climb to the top of a mountain, that is, be a good team, adopt the same goals and strategies, and fulfil their responsibilities by acting in harmony. To achieve this, one should be free from the disturbances of the environment, away from the daily rush.
It is advantageous to get together for a few days in a non-work environment to exchange views and even to take advice from experts on this subject. I give importance to and support meetings made in such informal settings. This year, our “fireside chat” was held at a hotel near our pladis CEO Salman Amin’s country house on the island of Nantucket. The previous night, we were hosted at Salman’s house.
So, what is my duty in such meetings? What do I do?
First, I summarize the current situation from my point of view as the chairman and shareholder. After summarizing the situation and explaining my thoughts, I prefer to proceed in the form of a Q&A. I both take questions and ask questions. In our leaders’ meeting, which we held in Nantucket this year, one of our guests was Sociologist Assoc. Dr. Ertugrul Ozkok. He attended our meeting with his questions and comments. Ertugrul has long been curious about the globalization of Yıldız Holding and our management methods and would like to see it in action. At last, we were finally able to do this. From him many years ago, I learned about digital journalism after he met with Bild editor-in-chief Kai Diekmann in Berlin.
I began the meeting by saying:
To have fun and be successful, you must always work hard and be able to adapt to changes. Our goal is #makehappybehappy.
Then, I explained the conditions under which Ulker was founded in 1944: Ulker was founded at the end of the Second World War, but the future did not seem sure at all. Turkey finally determined its side and declared war on Germany. Sabri Ulker had borrowed all the necessary money to start the business. There was no flour or sugar; bread was rationed. But this was their only chance. Based on their family values, they joined forces, but in those challenging times, they only had one chance…
My first boss in my business life was my eldest cousin. Our resources were limited, and it was necessary to hit what you aimed at. However, today we have plenty of hands; even though the world is different, new generations are more fortunate…
I continued: I think there are two types of people; it is necessary to choose the most suitable person for every job, namely, by merit. But there are some people, that without them, the work can’t be done. These are people with special abilities, leaders like you. If we don’t have them, we have no business. You can trust these people to build the business. Thanks to leaders like these, we have our job. Now, there is a new generation, and you must treat these young people well. This generation does not perceive risks the way we do. Their attention span is shorter. One hundred forty characters speaking the language of Twitter. Managing these young people by specifying OKRs (Objectives Key Results), you have to guide them on what and how to do.
When I complained about the exams during my education, I explained that my father had told me, “When you start working, your life will not get easier.” As a matter of fact, I summarized that it was so that I could not control my agenda and that I was directed to things outside of my agenda due to many external factors.
Finally, based on my business philosophy, I added the following: Mutual understanding and friendship are important between people who want to be a team or in a team. The most crucial feature of teams is their trust in each other. Mistakes are not people. The person who corrects his mistake is valuable. We cannot ignore mistakes and their consequences, but we appreciate people who improve. Every mistake helps us get better.
Trust is the most critical thing; trust is essential in relationships. Of course, first of all, merit and reference, but start the relationship with confidence, and do not stop trusting. I think that I have consistently built a high level of trust in my relationships. You have to believe in people, trust them and be open in communication.
As I said at the beginning, then the questions started coming.
‘What is your dream for pladis?’ was asked.
I replied that our business view must be different to compete with global competitors. Only then can we cover great distances in a short time. Of course, everyone has a history, experience, and culture. It’s okay to be different. Yet, we must be aligned with how we do business and the target. Only then can we surpass our global competitors…
Another question was: how can we create more synergy with Godiva?
Godiva needs to first grow more in the Omni channel. Of course, we can create common performance indicators. We can exploit synergy.
Regarding consumer trends, the question came up, ‘what do you think about Health and Wellness products?’ My answer: The distinction between healthy and unhealthy food is artificial. Every food can be harmful if consumed too much, even water… Seeing that people have different needs is essential, as well as giving them what they need. Globalization and personalization in consumption are two important trends that should be closely followed. Begin by looking at the demand; it’s our job to give them what they want but also to make sure they’re healthy. You need to teach about a balanced diet. Health and Well-being are opportunities for innovation at work.
The question came up, “What will be the role of pladis in Yildiz Holding Strategy for the next five to ten years?’’
I started by saying that I am a biscuit maker. Then, I continued as follows: pladis is our main business, this should be kept in mind. Murat Ulker likes to take risks, but he takes calculated risks in his work. In the end, if worse comes to worst, we risk everything and keep pladis running as the first priority. Your job is to protect your constellations.
‘How can the application be different?’ This was a question I had been waiting for. My answer was simple:
1 – First, solidify the foundation.
2- Describe the success and describe how it will be celebrated.
3- Clearly define the authority and responsibility for everyone in each area; the authority/approval matrix helps everyone to differentiate and solve the problem.
One of my leading colleagues first commented, “I like to listen to your pragmatic optimism,” and then the question came: Considering that there are so many disruptions in the supply chain all over the world, including Turkey, what is your dream for McVities?
Thinking today, I combined two businesses (Ulker + United Biscuits) to get a balanced portfolio and reduce risks. Again, pragmatic optimism may have been perceived. The question that followed was: How should we attack and defend? Using the sailing analogy, the seas will be choppy in 2022-2023, so how can we travel faster?
First, list what could go wrong and think about how to fix it. Be optimistic, but also think pessimistically. Although traffic rules make the journey boring, we must follow them to prevent accidents. Our customers should know you and believe that you are targeting a win/win for both sides. For example, if you both increase the price and offer a discount, they will not believe you; they will not trust you. The price/return for the entire value chain should be satisfactory. There is a belief that a higher-priced product is more reliable. Predictable behavior builds trust in consumers.
Another interesting question: Is there a Digestive 2.0 project on the horizon?
Digestive McVities is our top-selling biscuit brand in many countries. You see, they are asking if there will be a higher version of it. I said: Anything can happen as long as its essence and foundation are preserved. Our consumers who buy our large classic packs are very conservative. Consumers who buy individual product packages are more adventurous. Godiva Domes has become a category after years of struggling. This category is now called ‘Crunchy Chocolate.’ For example, “Digestive …” might be a bright idea. Why not?
As expected, a question came from the last Davos meeting, which I attended a while ago, where I shared my impressions with you: sustainability was the main theme of Davos and the Consumer Good Forum. What are your thoughts on this?
Since I should not repeat what I said before and explain what it will do operationally, I summarized my thoughts as follows: We need to understand what this means for people. Sustainability means not wasting time and getting it right on the first try. Don’t be lazy; find a solution. Being simple means not making things complicated. Sustainability should not be a means of competition between economies; it should focus on facts.
And then we came to the youth… They asked why young people want to work for us.
I have said the following about this subject, which I have touched on many times in my articles: There is often a wrong impression about youth. In fact, they care about the world. They are not lazy. Their cycles are different. Their jargons and speaking styles are different. You can count on young people to be responsible, hardworking, and driven to achieve. Help them with OKRs (goals and key results). Celebrate with them. I saw a tablet from an ancient civilization in Mesopotamia in a museum, and I was told that the irresponsibility of youth, etc., had been complained about. At that time, I understood once again that complaining about youth does not change; we must change ourselves.
Sociologist Assoc. Ertugrul Ozkok enriched our meeting with a long series of comments and questions. In short, what he said was: As a sociologist, I listened to you, and you talked about hard work and family values. The new generation wants to do point-and-shoot business, do what is necessary, and have free time; what do you think about this and the effects of 4-day work? At least in Europe, we will see the effects of the 4-day work. What is the current attitude of consumers? Traditional products can be difficult to work with and difficult to evolve as there is an immense change in consumer behavior. Strong brands, but aren’t even the strongest brands in danger? Producing great products no longer guarantees sales. Companies can find themselves protecting animals etc. they find they have to add additional emotional things, such as human and social purpose. Apple is a great product but an ugly company, isn’t it? We also experienced this deterioration in journalism. We had great people, and we wrote great things, but just like in Kafkaesque works (**), we found ourselves going to the office one day, but even the office didn’t exist anymore. Family values and founding fathers are important, but if we are inspired by Freud’s Oedipus complex (***), how do you kill the Founding Fathers (I say this symbolically) in Ulker?
Salman Amin, our CEO of pladis, in whose house we were a guest, gave a speech after Ertugrul and shared his views: “Change is the only thing that does not change. Human nature actually rejects change. Big businesses that adapt to change not only survive but also succeed. So how do you adapt to change? First, by thinking and doing how I will be applicable and different. If traditional (tired) brands don’t think like that, they become commodities and disappear. What brands need to do is reverse time. Changes create dilemmas, but they are also great opportunities.”
The bottom line: Diligence is important. What we need is work, but by thinking analytically… We must be better than everyone else. This was not how work was done in the old days. Now employees work when they are off work. If the goals are achieved with four days of work, what’s the point of keeping people at work anyway? But shorter working hours are not for all of us. Do not doubt that those who need to be constantly on the field or those who produce services will use this option last. Our brands are old, but we are young, so we have to be up to date. These brands came from our founding fathers with their values and working principles; if we do not protect them, we will lose our essence, and if we do not interpret them according to changing conditions, we will lose our future. It’s important to be like Ulker; Ulker keeps up to date and is a brand for people of all ages. To sum it up, the FMCG business is built on the masses, but in the future, we will have a high degree of customization (****) in what we call the Dark Factory (fully automated factory). For example, we will make a Jaffa Cake for the birthday of the person and deliver it to their address. It’s all about following trends that will permanently impact our business, and we reach them before they do.
At the beginning of my article, I stated that the purpose of the leader meetings is “to get together, to be a team, to focus on the same goal but not to be uniform, to internalize target strategies. Again, this meeting did not prove me wrong; I think the purpose has been achieved. I will explore Nantucket and the nearby island of Martha’s Vineyard. I’ll write about my discoveries in the next post.
GOYA is an acrostic politely meaning, “Get Up and Don’t Sit Around Anymore.” It is the symbol of our motto to make periodic trips in order to learn and control the place where the process, process, and function take place.
(**) It is an adjective inspired by Franz Kafka, meaning threatening or frightening, as in Kafka’s descriptions. As a natural part of the narrative flow in Kafka’s stories, unique to his style, he expresses the state of being disconnected from the known and perceived reality.
(***) The assumptions on which the Oedipus complex is based can be simply stated as follows: A boy competes with his father for his mother’s attention; a girl competes with her mother for her father’s love.
(****) The reason why it is called a dark factory is that it is thought that there will be no need for lighting in non-human places.