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  • Writer's pictureÖztürk Holding

'African conqueror' Turkish Yusuf Öztürk speaks

Updated: Jan 9


As the saying goes, you never know who has faith with money. Yusuf Öztürk is such a businessman. The only difference is that he has both...

The Turkish nation has not been far from Africa since the Ottoman Empire, but it is not very close to the Mediterranean except on the coastal front. Cameroon first appeared on our agenda with the words of President Biya, whom President Gül hosted in Çankaya last year, "We are waiting for Turkish businessmen for bridge, dam, airport and railway projects". Every Turk knows Africa to some extent, and loves it with humanitarian feelings, not with the savage gaze of the colonialist Europeans, but it must be admitted that it was Yusuf Öztürk who suddenly turned our gaze towards Cameroon, which is located under the North, in the middle of the black continent, by the Ocean and has all the characteristics of its nature.

189 countries travelled, anchored in 6 countries in Africa

Öztürk Holding, which was on the agenda of the economic press when it was awarded the tender for the $750 million (1.5 billion TL) "Ebolowa-Akom2-Kribi and Bertouri-Kentzou Double Highway Project", is not as you know! What you need to know is that he is one of Turkey's 'hidden' entrepreneurial heroes. Having travelled to 189 countries and established different connections in 189 countries, Yusuf Öztürk is one of the bosses who go to Africa not to camp for a two or three-day safari tour, but to do business, settle and live for a long time. He already has offices, facilities, machines, workers and engineers working hard in 6 countries.

Well, Öztürk has plenty of time (!), he goes and sleeps there. The secret lies in the brand's globalisation, earnings and giant investments in the future. "Those who think that they can go to Africa, meet 2 or 3 black people in a hotel lobby and do business are deceived, and they cannot succeed anyway," says Mr Yusuf Öztürk, proudly explaining how he overcame legal, political and local difficulties with a strategy from the tender process to the execution of the project. Because it is not in his book to go, get two specifications and wait. On the contrary, he meets with heads of state and presidents, shows what he has done, presents new visions, instils confidence, wins hearts, and then wins the tender. In short, the foundation of the work is laid by conquering the summit. It is hard not to feel excited while listening to that voice full of enthusiasm...

Africa is hungry for service, civilisation

As a young ITU graduate boss of the quarter-century-old Öztürk Holding, he says, "We are tearing our shell. Ours is not to do business with narcissistic feelings, but on the contrary, to attract Turkish businessmen there. We keep the pulse of this whole region. We have such a mission." I can see the flavour in his eyes when he says this. He is smiling. According to the information he gave, the Turkish State asks them about the ethnic structure, economic reality and population of Africa. It is as if they are honorary ambassadors. But the border is only as far as North Africa, because the Öztürks are not on the Arab side of the continent, they are completely in Africa. The fire in the African Arabs, the hostile change in their view of Turks is the proof of why they are not there, and perhaps the biggest chance.

So why Africa and not America or Asia! Their hunger for service and civilisation lies under the following statement: "Look, none of the countries here have their own airline companies or navies, and these countries are forgotten on the world map, in the dark. But now they are reviving. The whole world will be dependent on this continent in the next 50 years. Because the only place of production will be Africa..."

Where and how does he get the money? Here is the financial bomb

The conversation shifts to another point, where I focus on financing. Yusuf Öztürk, who says, "We have a lot of projects in hand, and don't take it as arrogance, but we are playing our 30th year to a sellout," and that the Holding is not only limited to Africa, but that the cross-border tender operation extends to Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Turkmenistan, tells me, with which loan does he manage all this? Where and how does he get the money? The bomb explodes with his answer, because I am sitting across from a businessman who has never been in contact with credit, who has never used credit in his life. It may sound like a joke, but it is not. "Then you are like a bank, mashallah," I say, and the second bomb explodes: "Yes, we have a bank in England that we own 100 per cent. We are about to buy two banks in Moldova and Croatia, we have reached the final stage..."

Proud work received in Saudi Arabia

When the conversation turned back to projects abroad, he said, "We currently have a job in Saudi Arabia. It is a very serious, marvellous business. With the knowledge of our Prime Minister, it is a very proud business." Well, since it is a secret and the Prime Minister is one of the heroes of the subject, we cannot resist, we insist on asking "What is it?". But in vain! Unable to overcome the situation of 'the name of the project does not come out', we are contented with the promise of "God willing, we will announce it very soon".

Is now the time to buy a house? Here is the answer

What we have summarised so far is the 'outside' of Öztürk Holding. What about the inside?

Putting the data listed by Yusuf Öztürk in a row, Öztürk is a holding that has undertaken 5 million 320 square metres of contracting in Turkey, has always acted with its own capital, and is the owner of Turkey's first urban transformation project. According to Yusuf Öztürk, who said, "We asked for forgiveness and withdrew when the expropriation problems arose in the Esenler Airport Neighbourhood project and the contractor's share dropped to 30 per cent according to the flat-for-floor agreement. We are monitoring the process," Turkey is saturated with housing, meaning there is not much need for new housing. Moreover, the time is not suitable for buying. Because the price scale is unstable.

He addressed the Turkish business world: Believe in Africa

When the answer to every question is ready, every answer is surprising, and the next question is provocative, the minutes pass quickly. Yusuf Öztürk, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Öztürk Holding, with whom we discussed the black continent, their business, vision and mission for almost an hour, gives a message that Turkey should care about before saying goodbye. Hollywood star Robert Reford captivated everyone who watched the cult film 'Out of Africa'. Yusuf Öztürk, the young star of the Turkish business world, calls on investors to follow him. He calls all entrepreneurs who are engaged in trade and production from food to textiles, construction, trade and production to 'My Africa'. It is on us to tell you, you are invited...


-Let's get to know you first, then could you tell us the story of the establishment of Öztürk Holding?

Yusuf Öztürk: We were established as a family company in 1989. I was born in Amasya, the son of a military officer father. We are four brothers. My other brothers are in charge of different companies. We may not have a 50-year adventure, but we have a 25-year adventure in commercial life. After graduating from the ITU Department of Electrical and Electronics in 1995, I became the head of the company. In 2004 and 2006, I was the president of the World and Turkish Businessmen's Association. In this context, we had contacts from international sectors and business councils. This is one of the reasons for our expansion into Africa. In other words, I can easily say that we have connections with many companies in the foreign conjuncture. I have travelled to 189 countries and we are a company with different connections in 189 countries. Of course, we are gradually opening up and tearing our shells. Our aim is not to do business with narcissistic feelings on our own while doing business with these countries, on the contrary, to attract all the people doing business in Turkey to these countries. We have such a mission.

There are six African countries in which we are currently operating. These are Guinea, Ghana, Cameroon, Angola, Tanzania, Zambia and Sudan. We have offices and personnel working in all of these countries. We keep our finger on the pulse of this whole region. I think that all economies will be in Africa in the next 50 years, so Africa is a good market for us. Because it is a consumer society. A society that can buy whatever you give. Therefore, this is the only continent where you can destroy whatever you produce. Therefore, we have very big investments here.


-What are you doing in Africa?

Yusuf Öztürk: Let me talk a little bit about why we are successful in Africa. As you know, there is no money in Africa. All people go to Africa with delegations, with trips organised by chambers, TIKA, TUSKON or similar organisations. OK, these people go, but the commercial perspective is very different there. Because you have to live there. In other words, an African there can see the difference between the speech in the hotel lobby and those who have an office there. Think of it like this, there is a big difference between the person you meet in a hotel lobby, conference or panel and the person who has established his office here. In other words, it is essential to have an office when you are in trouble or when you are going to be in trouble. That is why Africans also know this. That is why we set up offices in localities and direct teams. In this sense, this is our first chance.

Our second chance is to finance ourselves. There is a situation like this at state levels. These countries need everything. Today, the most developed African country is 40 years behind Turkey. That country is Tanzania. When you do business in a country 40 years behind, they need everything. They need roads, they need water, they need airlines and railways. But it just needs it. Because there is no money. If you calculate the inputs of the Ministry of Finance, work in coordination with them, document how much income it has, how much it needs, and explain this to the right bank or fund organisation in line with this document, you will find the right solution. Therefore, our banking brings us profit. If you calculate them well and offer them a good credit solution, the state is already willing to carry out all kinds of projects with you. Therefore, this is our biggest success here. The misconceptions of the contractor companies travelling from Turkey are as follows; they perceive it as contracting in the order we are used to. They think, "We will go, we will give a 10 per cent letter of guarantee, we will start the work". But I do not recommend the work they start because they have very serious problems. Look, projects start in Africa today, an appropriation is made in advance, but that project is never finished. Until today, there has not been a completed project in 58 African countries. In these regions, including Algeria and Tunisia, the work cannot be completed in terms of contracting. Because either the financing runs out or the appropriation is terminated and the project is left unfinished, etc. Unfortunately, there are such problems. But our advantage here is that since we bring our own credit, we direct the financing with the management company determined by the bank. In other words, we are successful in these projects, not because the state authorises us, but because the financial institutions authorised by us serve us. There are such projects I have carried out in Guinea, Sudan and Ethiopia. The success in these projects brings you a great advantage as the financing is brought in by you, directed by you and carried out within the vision you have designed. The project starts and ends with the final.

What are we doing now? Our mission is as follows; we take the project, we want to do it by sharing it with the staff trained for this work in Turkey. This is already our aim. We have a lot of projects at the moment. And they are taken directly from the state. We do not have a company or an Ahmet, Mehmet or an individual. We get these jobs by meeting with the state and the president one-on-one.

We have taken this 565 km road today, but it took us a year and a half to prepare. Because we prepare the budget, we investigate how much that country can borrow and how much its revenues are. Therefore, we prepare all of this process ourselves. Therefore, our advantage is high. Let me also say that if we were to receive work from 58 African countries in total, we would probably create the US budget. Believe this. Because they do not have a working model like us. For example, I just came from Ghana and we came with our arms full.


-Is your project basket full?

Yusuf Öztürk: We have a lot of projects in our hands and nobody should take it as arrogance, but we have been playing our 30 years as a sell-out. The projects we have are enough for us and we don't add more. We receive requests from maybe hundreds of countries. We are taking pre-requests from professionalised companies in the market in Turkey who are currently doing this job. Apart from this, we invite companies abroad. They come, we meet, in terms of subcontracting.

You can also call what we do as an 'honorary embassy'. For example, our state elders ask us, "How many ethnic groups or how many tribes are there in Africa?" Or they get information from us about the economy and population of the country. We do this for many African countries.

The countries we do business with are strategic and sea-facing West Africa, South Africa and South East Africa. We are not in the Arab regions. To put it bluntly, we don't want to enter them. There is an advantage in the countries where we are located, each country carries five countries on its back. If you are in Guinea today, Guinea, Gambia and Mali carry these countries on their backs.

Look, none of these countries has its own airline company or navy, and these countries have been forgotten on the world map, they are basically a dark continent. But now they are reviving. The whole world will be in need here in the next 50 years. Because the only place of production will be Africa.


-Could you tell us about the tender process of the "Ebolowa-Akom2-Kribi and Bertouri-Kentzou Double Highway Project" in Cameroon, which has been on the agenda of the Turkish economy and the economic press? What legal and political difficulties did you encounter and how did you overcome them? When will the roads be opened to traffic?

Yusuf Öztürk: The Bertouri-Kentzou Double Motorway Project is a 564 km road with three stages. The project sizes are 189, 193, 195 km and consists of three bases. The dual carriageway is round trip. The reason why it is on three bases is due to expropriation. The total cost is 750 million dollars. Minus plus 10 per cent can balance. The total project will be completed in five years and three stages. All 564 km of this 564 km road is ready and the first stage is starting now. The second stage has reached 90 per cent.

Many manufacturers will benefit from this project because almost all of the equipment will come from Turkey. In this sense, many companies from Turkey that will invest in this project will be able to bring their products to the market like us. This is a great advantage for these companies. On this occasion, they will get to know Africa.

By the way, the countries we work in are extremely safe. It is not like Central Africa or Nigeria. They are people raised with European culture. Their level of culture is perhaps above that of Turkey. Because each person speaks at least two languages.

All personnel will come from Turkey. Only auxiliary staff will be used from there. In other words, heavier labourers and manual workers will be used from there.

Our total team will reach 2 thousand people. In fact, according to our contract, we are obliged to use 100 per cent Turkish personnel. But instead of bringing 100 per cent Turkish employees, we also use the local people in that country and help the development there. In other words, we bring labour force and employment in addition to technology.


-Are there any completed or ongoing projects that you have won in other continents?

Yusuf Öztürk: We currently have business in all countries where we have local offices. All of them are very serious and considerable. We are currently making calculations for all of them and many of them have already started. For example, we have 11 projects in Iraq. They are mainly in the centre of Baghdad and in the cities of Salahaddin and Ambar. Apart from this, we also have projects in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Turkmenistan, all of which have already received their licences.

-Is this $750 million tender the biggest project you've ever received?

Yusuf Öztürk: We currently have a business in Saudi Arabia, and it is a very serious and marvellous business. With the knowledge of our Prime Minister, it is a very proud business. God willing, we will announce it very soon. Contracts have been signed, we have received the licences.

-What are you doing in Turkey?

Yusuf Öztürk: Of course, we are present in Turkey. We are a company that has made a commitment of 5 million 320 square meters in Turkey. We are a company that knows very well both the meaning of the commitment and its on-site execution. We are not a 'build-sell' or 'sell-build' company. We are the only company that has not used a TL bank loan to date. Until now, we have always operated with our own capital.

We are the owner of Turkey's first urban transformation project. In Esenler Airport District. It's been two years. We did the demolition in the first year. However, at the end of the first year, expropriation problems arose in large parcels. The municipality had a lot of trouble with this issue. According to the flat-for-land agreement, when the contractor's share dropped to 30 percent, we 'asked for forgiveness' and withdrew. They are currently trying to resolve the issue with TOKİ and Emlak Konut. Of course, we are still involved and following the process. Because the expropriations are not over yet. We are currently following it, but if you ask us if we are very enthusiastic, we are not very enthusiastic.


-How much does Turkey need for new housing? Do you think the ongoing constructions, especially in Istanbul, are appropriate, inadequate or excessive?

Yusuf Öztürk: This is a city with high supply and low demand in Turkey's current housing purchasing supply-demand balance. And all of Turkey is saturated with housing. Almost 45-50 percent of the current housing production is planned abroad. The buyers of every house you build in the city centers of Istanbul will be Turkish anyway. There is no foreigner. But 80 percent of the buyers of the projects you develop in rural areas (Beylikdüzü, Esenler, Bahçeşehir) are from abroad. Therefore, 55-60 percent of the produced supply is planned and exported abroad. Of course, what I'm saying is for Istanbul.


-When is the right time to buy a house?

Yusuf Öztürk: This is not before the election, of course. I think if the elections are over and a month passes, a house can be purchased. Because there is a very unstable price scale right now. Now, in the past, Emlak Bank would produce a project. It was 400 thousand liras in Ataköy, a house in Şirinevler was 40 thousand liras. Now this balance has changed. 400 thousand liras in Şirinevler and 400 thousand liras in Ataköy. So people's tastes and desires have changed. Now they desire projects and look at social opportunities. But as I said, the market for housing purchases will ease even more after the election.


-Are you thinking of opening to the stock market?

Yusuf Öztürk: The stock market is a liability and a big responsibility. If you distribute it while making money today, you will be very good, but tomorrow when you cannot make money, you will be the worst company. That's why no matter how much I grow, no matter how much I expand, there will never be the slightest work on the stock market in the back of my mind. It doesn't suit me in terms of style.


-Do you have a message for the Turkish business world on behalf of Africa?

Yusuf Öztürk: As a final message, all people in Turkey, especially those engaged in trade and production, should go to Africa for everything from food to textiles, from textiles to home decoration and construction materials. He needs to see Africa, he needs to believe it. But if he says, "Let me go and do business with a few black people at the hotel," I don't think he should go at all. They should go and establish a boutique office there, even if small, and continue their existence there.(Photos: Sinan Özel) Sources:

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