With Statesmen and Kings
With One of the Former Presidents of the USA
Jimmy Carter We learned of Jimmy Carter’s visit through the media. One afternoon I was called from the Governor’s office. Mr Nevzat Ayaz, the Mayor of Istanbul at the time, was going to have a private reception at Beyti Restaurant in honor of President Carter. I was asked to join them with my wife. At the reception, my wife and I were introduced to Jimmy Carter by the Mayor. We shook hands and took our places at the long table in the restaurant. The conversations were about general topics that revealed Carter’s areas of interest. Carter was, first of all, a devout individual. His religious training was quite deep. He was also interested in charity. After retiring from the presidency, he had dedicated himself to philanthropy. He was at that time pursuing the goal of opening a cultural center in his home-state, Atlanta. After Carter had talked on and on about a single cultural center, I couldn’t, to be honest, resist requesting the VAKSA brochure be brought from my car. I said “Look, Carter, dear, we have established 35 permanent charities in 13 different locations in the country (today there are 112 in 53 locations).” Carter immediately became more interested in speaking with me. He bombarded me with questions for futher information about the activities of the Foundation. Hours passed. The dinner may have ended, but not my conversation with Carter.Carter was going to leave for Izmir on his private plane the next day. I offered him a ride to his hotel. “We can continue our conversation in the car,” I said. He gladly accepted my offer. Instead of the official cars waiting at the door with the guards, we got into the limousine I had been using that day. It was past midnight, but our talk hadn’t yet concluded. “I would like to invite you to our house for breakfast tomorrow morning so that we can continue our conversation,” I suggested. “Of course,” he replied. The next morning at 7 am Carter and his wife came to the Horse Mansion at Emirgan. We first had breakfast. I explained how we conducted the Foundation’s activities. After breakfast Carter wanted to take a walk in and around the mansion. After he had examined the paintings of the Turkish painters, he looked through the Turkish calligraphy collection, hand-written Qur`ans, and works of the gilding artists. As far as I could see, he was very impressed by the calligraphy collection. I gave him two century old plaques by Turkish calligraphers as gifts. Later on, we started to talk about the possibility of building a foundation university in Turkey. We realized we were almost out of time and so we broached a new topic of conversation. Carter made me an offer: “Sabanci, if you have time, why don’t we fly to Izmir together?” We continued to talk during the flight. I had prepared a suprise for Carter. I sent the limousine we rode in the previous night to Izmir. In Izmir when we got of the plane, Carter found our Cadillac waiting. When he saw the driver he understood that this was the same car. He gave me a compliment saying, “Sabanci, you are so clever.”We kept in touch in 1986 as well. He invited me to the openning ceremony of the Cultural Center he’d established in Atlanta. On the day of the ceremony, I got in the line with my wife to shake his and his wife’s hands at the Cultural Center. As soon as he saw me, he hugged me, introducing me to his wife and other people around him. “Welcome to the USA, Sabanci. Look, this is my friend Sabanci from Turkey, I am very happy to have him here.” he said. The movement in the room stopped for a while. The special attention he showed me attracted everyone’s attention including the mayor’s. The next day I was invited for breakfast. Only 150 of the 3000 dinner guests had been invited for breakfast. What is more important were the three tables of honor. To reach these tables you needed to climb stairs as if going on stage. I also was a guest at a table of honor. It is wrong of me to say “I.” I am a simple mortal man. This was a compliment given to a “Turkish” man. For me, the most interesting aspect of Carter`s speech was that he mentioned me as his guest from Turkey. His talking about a Greek businessman after mentioning me was also very meaningful. After the speech, those very important 150 people came over to shake my hand. Archbishop Yakovas led the prayer before breakfast. While I stood and prayed with my jacket buttoned up like everyone else, I thanked God a thousand times more. It was true that as the Sabanci Company we were listed in the Fortune Magazine`s Top 500, but with the pride of realizing the importance of sitting at a table of honor among the people invited from all over the world by a former US president, I gave my thanks to God.
One of the Former Prime Ministers of France, Raymond Barre
On my own, I charted a way of introducing Turkey to the world. I took upon the responsibility of informing politicians, artists and economists of different countries about Turkey. One of these politicians in 1986 I hosted with this responsibility in mind was Raymond Barre, the former Prime Minister and President of France. His schedule was very tight. He was coming to Istanbul on Monday with his wife and assistant and leaving the country on Wednesday. Within these three days he was supposed to attend an honorary doctorate ceremony, meet with the Turkish Ministry of External Affairs and Prime Minister, visit The House of Virgin Mary in Selcuk, Ephesus, and in the meanwhile we would also have him tour a few industrial facilities to understand the state of industrialism in Turkey. Everything had to be done on time so that he could keep to his schedule. It wasn’t possible then in Turkey to carry out such a program without a helicopter or private plane. We made an arrangement with companies that rent private planes. It was $1260 per hour to rent an aircraft seating 8 individuals. But because Istanbul was where the plane was hangered, if you flew from Istanbul to Adana, for example, you also had to pay for the return flight of the aircraft to Istanbul. The helicopter was $450 per hour. You were also charged another $50 to have the helicopter wait. On Sunday, we received some news from France. The flight personnel was going on strike on Monday. In Turkey, everything was arranged, appointments taken and the invitations made. The entire program would turn upside down if Barre couldn`t make it from France. We immediately called a rental plane agency in Geneva. They asked for 20 thousand French Francs to transfer guests from Paris to Istanbul. But they said they were going to charge about 25 or 30 thousand francs if they waited for two days in Istanbul to take the guests back. They could also fly the guests to Ankara and Izmir, but in this case they would charge 40 thousand francs. The Manager of Philip Morris, the manufacturer of Marlboro cigarettes, heard about this. He said, “We can give them our own plane. They can come to Geneva from Paris by train and then we can send them from here by our plane.” Thank God, the strike didn’t happen. Barre came to Turkey on time. We witnessed once again that determination resolves everything.
The Former President of the USA, Reagan
I met US President, Ronald Reagan, and his wife Nancy at the White House, but in Sabanci style, instead of the American one. I talked in the Sabanci style; I had our photos taken in Sabanci style. The US government had invited 100 famous business people to Washington to inform them about US politics. All the invitees were the top business people from their countries. A few important leaders of the US government and President Reagan planned to have talks with these individuals. My invitation came through the General Consulate of the the USA in October, 1987. I got in touch with the authorities from the Ministry of External Affairs. I was told that it was going to be useful to attend this meeting. The program contents indicated the seriousness of the meeting. Those who were invited to Washington as guests of the US government were hosted at the historical Willard Hotel which had been restored the year before. The meetings were held at the White House and Willard Hotel meeting halls. The speakers and hosts were the Minister of External Affairs Schultz, Minister of Defense Weinberger, and the Vice President Bush. I went to Washington together with my wife. The meetings started on the 7th of October. Murdoch, the Australian King of the Press and Maxwell, the English King of the Press, were among the business people coming from about 35 countries in the world. President Reagan and his wife’s invitation to me and my wife to lunch at the White House on October 9, 1987 was an honor. An invitation to the White House by the President might not seem very important but was very very important for me. I like documenting important events, and my small research indicated that only official photographers attended White House receptions. Particular photos taken by this photographer were sent to the appropriate people, rarely with the President`s autograph. Taking your own photos wasn’t accepted. I wanted to have my photograph taken with President Reagan. I thought I should actualize my wish. My Executive Assistant Ali Haydar Tasli was also with us in the US. Only my wife and I were invited to White House; it was out of the question to bring someone else along to the event. I carried out the plan I had thought of beforehand. I managed to get Ali Haydar Tasli into the White House. I asked him to be three people ahead of me in the queue in front of the dining hall. In this way he could shake the hand of the President, be able to turn back, and take my photo with the President. In the company of my wife, I approached the President. I shook his hand and introduced myself. I didn’t ask, ‘how are you doing’ or something. I said, “I am glad you organized this meeting. I am sure both the United States of America and other countries of the World will find it useful and valuable. I am happy to come here and meet you. Our Prime Minister is also very fond of you and has sent his regards to you and Nancy. My country is developing; keep your eyes on us.” While I was talking about all these things, Reagan held my arm, smiling. Maybe I interrupted the order of the protocol but no one said “Move on, you are interrupting the order.” If I had been a diplomat, I wouldn’t have been able to behave in the same manner. After I shook Reagan’s hand, I shook his wife’s. My wife was right behind me. The moment I was shaking the President’s hand, a camera flashed. It was Ali Haydar Tasli who had taken out a small camera from his pocket to photograph me with the President. This was an extraordinary event for the White House. The gigantic guards of the President caught Ali Haydar Tasli by his arms and tried to take his camera. Ali Haydar Tasli managed the situation very well. He didn’t give the camera to the guards. He walked away from the White House. We had a drink after this incident; then we were served in the reception hall in the White House style at tables with our names on placeholders. After lunch, right before we left the White House, I was more comfortable approaching the President and his wife. Because I’d mentioned Turkey and our Prime Minister before lunch and talked longer than the other guests, he remembered that I was Turkish and was friendly to me. After we returned to Turkey, an envelope came from the White House. It turned out that President Reagan signed and sent the photo that the official photographer of White House had taken.
The King of Belgium Albert II
The brother of the King of Belgium, Prince Albert II (now the former King of Belgium), came to Turkey in 1987 for the groundbreaking ceremony of the steel cord factory, BEKSA, 49% owned by Bekaert and 51% by the Sabanci Company. One night before the ceremony, I invited the guests to the Horse Mansion for dinner. Mr. Welch Bekaert from the Bekaert Family, the Belgium Minister of Industry and Transportation, as well as Prince Albert came. Before dinner, the Ambassador of Belgium called me, saying “Mr Sabanci, our guests would like to present you a small gift. During the reception, allow us to step aside into a separate room. We would like to give you your present away from the press and foreign eyes.” I couldn’t really make sense of it but made the neccessary arrangements. After the guests arrived, we moved into another room. The brother of the King, Prince Albert II, said, “Mr Sabanci” in such a charming manner. “We have a surprise for you. We decided to honor you with the Comodor order of the King Leopold in the name of the King of Belgium due to your efforts in carrying out such a serious joint project in the private sector. I was surprised and happy. I was very honored. The Prince took out a medal with colorful cords out of a box that the Ambassador opened and hung it around my neck. They congratulated me. They asked me to sign a document and promise that I was going to protect the honor of this medal.
Chinese Prime Minister Zhao-Xiang/strong>
As I had learned English late and not properly, I have difficulty in speaking and reading in English. I know that difficulty in speaking a foreign language draws people away from each other and makes it difficult for them to understand each other. The Chinese Prime Minister Zhao Xiang was staying in Istanbul a few days longer to visit touristic and historical places in the city before he went back to his country. I invited him and the committee that accompanied him for a meal. Then I realized somebody would have to translate when I gave my welcome speech in Turkish or English. We found someone in Istanbul who could speak Chinese. We asked the speech to be translated into Chinese. We asked the Consulate General to have the speech written in Chinese. We had the speech printed in both Turkish and Chinese beforehand. When I was about to start my speech, I had the Chinese and printed version of the speech distributed to my Chinese guests. They liked this gesture a lot; we could thus build a nice relationship. They complimented me by saying, “The most colorful part of our trip to Istanbul was this gesture of yours.”
The Former US Minister of External Affairs Schultz/strong>
In the year 1986, when the US Minister of External Affairs came to Turkey for an official visit, he spent one weekend in Istanbul. He visited Istanbul’s historical places with his wife and had a Bosphorous tour. I hosted him and the board members accompanying him in Emirgan for a lunch. Vahit Halefoglu, the Turkish Minister of External Affairs at the time, and other members of the Turkish Ministry of External Affairs joined us too. When everybody took their places around the dinner table, I welcomed them as the host. During lunch we talked about Turkish-American financial relations. I said “As Turkish business people we are not seeking financial help from the US government. We would like the development of our financial relations to be given more importance.” I finished my speech with a famous Chinese story: “We didn’t want the US to feed us by constantly sending us fish. We would like to learn how to fish and be given the chance to fish and thus feed ourselves,” I said. When one of the invitees, Vehbi Koc also made similar comments, Shcultz half jokingly said, “I came here to eat but you sandbagged me.” This conversation got published in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, and Herald Tribune. To smooth things over, I considered inviting Schultz and his wife for coffee to my house in Emirgan. Although I knew Americans do not usually accept program changes, I asked Mrs. Schultz who was sitting next to me “Our house is just around the corner. If you yell out a ‘Hello’ it can be heard from our house. Would you like to have coffee in a Turkish home and see some samples of Turkish painting and calligraphy?” “Sure let’s go,” she said to Schultz when she heard of my offer. We went all together to the Horse Mansion in Emirgan. We had coffee. In more amiable setting we found the chance to have more pleasant conversations. Both Schultz and his wife admired the works in the collection and got an impression about Turkish art. In 1987, the US government organized a meeting in the White House to talk about international policies. After Schultz’s speech, three people had the opportunity to speak. Unlike the two others, I stood up to talk. I directly addressed Schultz: “Mr Schultz, do you remember when you came to Turkey, you and your wife had been my guests in my home by the Bosphorus? I was glad to host you.” “Yes, of course I remember. You are going to talk about textiles, aren’t you?” he said. “No,” I replied. “ They are all written here,” I said, showing him the palm of my left hand. Then I showed him the palm of my other hand. “In this hand I have all the things we’ve been brainwashed about. You want a happy world where smiling people live. You’ve been researching at hospitals to increase life expectancy. These are good. They are all in this hand, I can keep talking about them. What about this other hand? Do you know what kind of things are we going to see when we look into this hand, Mr. Schultz? The mistakes you have made. For the past 8 years, people have been dying in Iran and Iraq, everyday, our neighbors. On the one hand you are trying to increase life expectacy; on the other, you turn a blind eye to the death of those others. If you stop selling guns, they cannot continue like this. But the defense industry will continue to grow and there will be lots of profits. The country will develop. And the death of thousands of people will be overlooked. Who is going to end this war?” Schultz went back to the stage, turned to me, and said, “Now that they are your neighbors and the danger is right around the corner, why don’t you stop it yourself then? I realized it was impossible for me to get another chance to speak and answer Schultz`s question. What could I do? I was eaten away with this fact. I had to say something. Then I decided to continue with gestures. I stood up. I pointed at my height. I extended my arms in both directions. Everybody understood. The answer to the question “why don’t you stop the war?” was “because we are short.” Everyone burst into laughter. Schultz stopped judging me and sat down.
The Former Prime Minister of England, Ms Thatcher/strong>
The former Prime Minister of England Ms. Thatcher came to Turkey in 1988. She first went to Ankara for official meetings. Then she came to Istanbul. I had the honor of meeting Ms. Thatcher at a lunch. Dalan, the mayor at the time, introduced me to her with words of praise. I mentioned our cooperation in industry with some British companies and our activities that started with Imperial Chemical Industries and were extended through cooperation with other firms to Ms Thatcher. Despite her busy schedule in Ankara and Istanbul, Ms Thatcher looked fresh. She was good looking and attractively dressed. As far as I understood, she had been given some information beforehand about the industrial investments of the Sabanci Group and the activities of Sabanci Family`s foundation. I told her that we had publications on these matters in foreign languages. I also gave her as gifts books on Turkish painting and calligraphy as well as books that introduced other pieces from the Sabanci collection. The most interesting thing happened two weeks later. The British Ambassador in Ankara asked for an appointment. He came to my office. I thought this was just a courtesy visit. The British ambassador told me he brought a letter from Ms. Thatcher and put the letter on my table. Briefly, this is what the letter said: “Dear Sabanci, Thank you for the great books about the Sabanci collection and the activities of your foundation. It is very kind of you. The books are very interesting. I am sorry that in my short visit I didn’t have the time to talk with you more. I am sending you and your brothers my best regards. Margaret Thatcher”. The Prime Minister of England showed European courstesy in putting my name on the salutation of the letter and in the closing, in handwriting her signature at the end of the letter. Receiving this letter was an honor for me. We moved to Istanbul from Adana for the sake of Turgut Ozal We got to know Turgut Ozal when he was working as an Undersecretary of the State Planning Organization. We followed and greatly appreciated his work. In 1970, when Nihat Erim’s prime ministery began, Turgut Ozal resigned from his position at the State Planning Organization. So we offered him work with our family. In those years, Suleyman Demirel was really close to Turgut Ozal. Suleyman Demirel found Turgut Ozal`s undertaking responsibility in the private sector premature and recommended he go abroad and gain experience working at the World Bank. Turgut Ozal took this advice; he went abroad and worked at the World Bank. But we still kept in touch with him.Two years passed. I first sent a message to Turgut Ozal and then set off for Washington to offer him a job. I stopped in London for a night and, upon my friends’ recommendation, ate rice with mussels and sea food at a restaurant. I woke up at the hotel in the middle of the night with a rash. I looked in the mirror. I was all green and swollen. I asked for help. A doctor came. “We will take you to hospital. You’ll have your stomach irrigated and have to stay in hospital at least a week.” he said. But I was going to Washington the next morning for my appointment with Turgut Ozal. “I will come to hospital in the morning,” I told the doctor. I tried to empty my stomach using Turkish remedies. In the morning I packed with difficulty and got on the plane with my swollen body. In Washington, Turgut Ozal and his wife, Semra, met me and took me to the hotel. I made my offer without waiting. The first reaction came from Mrs. Ozal. “Mr. Sakip” she said, “If Turgut accepts your offer and starts to work with you, I have a pre-condition. It is better that you know it now than later. Wherever my husband goes I go with him. I don’t leave him alone.” I took these words as a sign that Mr. Turgut was going to accept our offer. Mr. Turgut started to work at the Sabanci Company. He took on various responsibilities. He was the General Coordinator and Executive Director at the Company as well as Vice President and Executive Director at Akbank. In other industrial institutions he had responsibilities as a Managing Member and Vice President of the Managing Board.
Ozal kept telling us that it was not possible to manage the work of Sabanci Group from Adana and insisted that the Company should be based in Istanbul. Although I found it really difficult to do so, for the sake of Turgut Ozal, we moved the Company from Adana to Istanbul. Now I see that he was right, we made the right decision. It wouldn`t be right if we had stayed in Adana.
In the House of the One of the Former Presidents of Turkey, Cevdet Sunay/strong>
General Cevdet Sunay continued his life with his wife in an apartment when his presidency was over. The government assigned Sunay an official bodyguard. I heard that he wasn’t feeling good. I requested an appointment to visit him so as to wish him a speedy recovery. It turned out that his gracious wife, in wanting to offer me something, had sent the body guard out for cake. When I arrived, his wife opened the door for me and then went to the kitchen to make coffee. Something very interesting took place. I was going to be served coffee either by his wife or Cevdet Sunay himself would have to carry the tray from the kitchen although he was sick. I couldn`t accept such a thing. I ran to the kitchen, took my cup and returned to the room. I drank it. Then I took the cup back to the kitchen. But I found this situation really strange. I got an appointment from the Prime Minister at the time. I explained him the situation and the importance and necessity of assigning a sufficient number of assistants and a house for life to former Presidents and Prime Ministers. I mentioned this to other authoritiries when I had the chance. After a while, seeing that such possibilities were being considered and even applied at certain levels made me very happy.