Recently, I visited GODIVA’s office in New York and had lunch with a team of young employees working at the office followed by a chat. I really like spending time with young people because it gives me an excellent opportunity to communicate my experience which I accumulated in years while I benefit a lot from their eye-opening views. In fact, we have this in our corporate culture as ‘reverse mentoring’. Within the scope of reverse mentoring, our newly graduated colleagues are mentoring experienced executives in the company. In short, learning from young people is always an exciting and nourishing experience. Nowadays, social media is the perfect place to be if you want to learn from young people. So now, let’s get back to the lunch I have mentioned: First they asked me questions and I answered them. Then I asked them some questions as a homework, which they thought over and shared their answers with me. For me, the best part of this experience was to learn and compare different views of my young colleagues coming from different countries and cultures. If you want to learn the details of what we talked about in this “in-house GOYA”, you should read the article.         



We got together with my young colleagues at the New York office of GODIVA. They made an announcement in the company and we had lunch and a chatting session with 7 young colleagues and Nurtaç Ziyal Afridi, Godiva’s CEO. First they asked me their questions and then I asked mine.


Their first question was about “my views on sustainability and the role of sustainability in the chocolate industry”. I told them that building a more sustainable business depends on not wasting anything across all phases in  all business processes from procurement to production and packaging. A “zero-waste company” is a company that benefits the society and the whole world and that is what we are trying to achieve at Yıldız Holding over the years. Less waste also means less money wasted. Consequently, generating profit is the ultimate goal of every responsible individual and organization/business, creating value for the whole.

I also told them that on a global scale, all businesses are trying to do their best in order to create more sustainable operations and therefore following what  the competitors are doing in this sense really matters. It is really crucial to follow what our competitors are doing and follow the technological developments associated with our business in order to bring the processes to perfection and improve our customer experience.


Over the past few years, GODIVA has changed its focus from being a retail-oriented company to a company with an omni-channel distribution and sales strategy. What does “change” mean to you?

Change is inevitable, there seems to be a problem if companies and human beings do not undergo any kind of change. Acknowledging that change is an ongoing process and anticipating both good and bad changes are both critical in terms of being prepared for the future. In other words, change is an undeniable reality for people, for the business environment and for the whole world. What we can do is to anticipate these changes as much as we can and be prepared for them. We should keep in mind that fortune favors the one who is well-prepared.

What is your favorite travel destination in the world?

No matter where I travel, I really look forward to going back to Istanbul, the magnificent city where I was born and raised and now where I live. I have traveled all around the world, I have had the opportunity to see so many places both for business purposes and for leisure. From where I stand, I can say that nothing compares to going back to the place called home. 

What are your advices for people who just started their careers? 

When I was young, I had the opportunity to work with my father for many years. I can share with you a piece of advice from him which I highly benefited from. We used to work long hours and when I was too tired to move on, my dear father Sabri Ülker always turned to me and said “when you feel really tired, get some rest by switching to another job and then come back again to finish your initial job”. My subsequent experiences truly confirmed this. 

Even though I no longer have to work to earn a living for my family, life taught me the lesson that being a “workaholic”, that is having a new project to realize or having a new area of interest is crucial for an individual to achieve a better version of himself and his job. Achieving excellence is not a one-time goal, but it is a continuous improvement process. You can achieve your career goals by working with the same motivation each and every day; however, it seems easier said than done!

Can you easily identify a successful marketing campaign?

Years ago, they presented a marketing campaign and to be honest, Ihad no idea whether it was good or bad. Then the ad was broadcasted. Afterwards, my colleagues showed me the results of the campaign: It was a huge success and the campaign really worked well. Since then, I prefer to confide in my creative colleagues working in the marketing department. 

What is your opinion about identifying white spaces?

Let me put it this way, white space is a creative discourse used for areas where no competition exists and products which are not even considered as an option for companies. While it may be tempting to explore the white spaces, trying to do so without a clear intention and goal for what you would like to achieve in these spaces, can be a trap. In other words, once you have full control over the gaps in non-white spaces, then it is the right time to explore the white spaces. 

What do you think about the future of NFTs?

To be frank, I am still looking into NFTs and I choose to wait until I fully comprehend what they are. We can hang the digital artwork on the wall like a painting, but you should plug it in and you cannot watch the news on that screen. 

Would you rather make biscuits or chocolate? Which one is more exciting? 

Chocolate is something we can almost attribute  to science. However, making biscuits is kind of an art because of the countless variables you have in place while preparing, baking, and packaging the biscuits. Here are some of the variables: the values of temperature and humidity on a specific day in any given location in the world, presence of hot and cold spots in the oven, whether the flour is milled properly or not, whether the biscuits pass through the production line correctly or not. It is an artisanal process where you need to consider so many things simultaneously, so I think making good biscuits is a tough job which I still enjoy. 

After all those years in business life, what are your opinions about people in general?

My advice is: “Take people as they are”. Trying to change people for your own good does not work. Another piece of advice would be to work with people who have hobbies and interests. Instead of fitting a person to a role or position that intimidates him, you need to find out what works best for that person. #makehappybehappy

The last question was directed at Nurtaç Ziyal Afridi and was about the pleasant aspects of working with me. In order to have an opinion about me, you may want to know her answer as we have been working together for years.

It really feels strange to convey what others said about oneself. I would like to share this part from the minutes of the meeting:

“What attracted my attention most was that Mr. Ülker has a firm grasp of every dimension of what he has been working on. When it comes to Mr. Ülker, there is no such thing as cursory participation in any process from production and packaging to supply chain and customer relations. What I respect most in Mr Ülker is that, although he is the top decision-maker, he takes care of all the details associated with his work and is in full control. In addition to his commercial competencies, he also has ethical and moral values which allow him to make the right choices for both his business and the world.

Despite his long-term success and global recognition, Mr. Ülker constantly thrives to improve himself, he always finds enough time to learn and think about current events and follows everything in order to find out which areas he may need to train himself, his employees, his friends and his family. I think this presents a great opportunity for people who work with him. Through his blog and his LinkedIn account that he has been actively using, he even finds the time to make his decision-making mechanism known to everyone in a creative way. While he always tries to see the big picture, he is always keen on dealing with everyday matters. Though he works long hours, he somehow finds enough time to spend with his loved ones and his team. Additionally, he always makes time for his hobbies. I learned a lot from him. I have been inspired by his hard work and his leadership. And this inspiration helped me a lot while shaping my leadership skills.” 

After answering these questions, it was my turn to ask my four questions to my young colleagues. So, you will learn these questions if you read the rest of this article. If you also want to answer the questions, you can send me an e-mail, I will definitely read them all. I will share with you some of the answers that my colleagues have given me because they contain a good piece of information with regards to their points of view, their views on business life in general and our working principles. 

1- Why are you sitting at this table? 

In the first response that I read, the respondent explained that he got information that he might need on internal stakeholders, our business partners and press relations. This response is a good example of how young people develop a sense of responsibility so early, that each employee is also an ambassador of the institution he works for. I was really impressed that he got it all very well and I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that all responses covered the same thing as the first one. Besides, as an employer, I was very happy to learn that they have embraced our brand in such a short time which in turn made me think that we are doing the right thing about our #makehappybehappy approach 😊. Another young colleague mentioned that he has been in  the group for less than a year, but he has already had the opportunity to work one-on-one with all the managers in the company making him feel supported by the organization. I felt very satisfied with the fact that horizontal and egalitarian communication style was mentioned in each and every response. I was really impressed that young people have found it normal to easily communicate with executives at all levels and they have embraced GODIVA’s story and plans for the upcoming period. 

2- What is your purpose in life?

In general, they want to be happy, maybe that is the reason why they have chosen to be a part of a company where the key principle of its holding company is stated as ‘spreading happiness’. Another thing that I liked most was that they were comfortable with the fact that life is a journey. All of them mentioned ‘their desire to gaining experience and continue learning’, how nice of them.

One thing I would like to mention is that I was able to follow the reflections of different cultures in their responses. A young Muslim colleague mentioned the role of Islam in his life, while another colleague from India wrote about karma and his desire to give back to society. It looks like we are a big family with multiple colors in the company. 😊

3- What is your five-year plan?

All our young colleagues are enthusiastic and highly motivated, and they are idealists. It was nice to see that light shining in their eyes during the lunch as much as reading their responses afterwards. 

They have long term and beneficial goals! I read a wide spectrum of responses ranging from reducing the carbon footprint of GODIVA and reducing waste to communication plans for the 100th anniversary celebrations of GODIVA. 

4- Can you please share your views on the acroynms that we have come up with? What do GOYA; GOAL21, MOVERS, GOLDPLAN mean to you?

One of our colleagues wrote that they exactly look like the method he used to easily memorize math formulas when he was a student. These are the abbreviations which symbolize the DNA of an organization, that give a hint about the goals of a company. These abbreviations clearly state what we prioritize: travelling and seeing everything, not standing still, exploring, being the leader, if we cannot be the leader, be the first runner up, but we do not accept being the second runner up. 

One of the colleagues mentioned that he really liked these abbreviations as part of a transparent communication and a clear statement of company goals. 😊 A crystal clear expression of goals and methods is an integral part of achieving success. 

Last Question

We asked four questions; however, one of my colleagues made an additional revealing about what lesson she had learned from the lunch: “Be workaholic” and “take people as they are”. If you ask what I learned from the time I had spent with my colleagues is that they have embraced my enthusiasm and motivation for this business. We, as people from different cultures and with different points of view gathered with a common goal and created this unique and colorful organization. I hope the results we get will always be this good. 

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