The first Turkish woman inducted in the International Women’s Forum Hall of Fame, Demet Sabancı Çetindoğan is a third generation member of the Sabancı Family. The family founded the Sabancı Holding, one of the two largest Turkish conglomerates, with companies operating in sectors from banking to energy. While heading countless of companies and organizations, she manages to carve out time to be the guardian of arts, culture, and education in Turkey and beyond.
BY PAKSY PLACKIS-CHENG
What has been a surprising learning serving as the Chairwoman of MediaSa?
Being the Chairwoman of Mediasa has in itself a wide range of functions that contributes to human life, creates values, and adds significance to the flow of life. Of course, these are the natural capabilities of corporate life, but in media these opportunities are much more prevalent. If you ask me what surprises me mostly in media, my answer would be the relentless competitive environment and variability in the advertising budgets. I observed these two aspects with astonishment in my initial years. But I cannot say that I have learned much. Ultimately, you set and apply your own rules and you grow an affiliation with everything eventually. Many things do not surprise me anymore. I studiously choose what I want to learn. Among those, my favorite tenet is being a ‘Brave Heart’.
You mentioned in previous interviews that you support social responsibility in your businesses. Please give me an example.
We launch our activities in all fields within social responsibility and apart from implementing them in accordance with the national and international standards; we also work towards developing new projects. Personally I work with a few principles:
Persistence: I see it as the basic parameter of sustainability. In all of our practices, the persistence principle is fundamental.
Balance: In order to ensure institutional persistence, we work with a structure that grasps and covers the principle of balance.
Imagination: We use our creative potential to be sustainable, measurable, and applicable when we develop practices that consider balance while ensuring persistence. This is how we implement it. Most importantly, one has to be operating with a free and peaceful mind and body within the environment.
We have activities in a variety of fields; therefore, we have different projects and organization. The first example that comes to my mind was a widely appreciated project produced by our company, Mediasa Broadcasting. It was called “Now It’s Time for Photography: My Istanbul” which included distinguished people who are in love with Istanbul. As a TV production, it was later broadcasted on our World Travel Channel. Its guests were the most prominent people in their fields such as Kenize Murad, Ara Güler, Zülfü Livaneli, Ahmet Ümit, Coşkun Aral, Sinan Genim, Kezban Arca Batıbeki, Kamil Fırat, Ayşe Kulin, Zeynep Fadıllıoğlu, İzzet Keribar, Ahmet Elhan, Mehmet Günyeli, Doğan Hızlan, Tahsin Aydoğmuş, Arif Sağ, Ahmet Hakan, Gültekin Çizgen and Türkan Şoray.
With our team, these renowned people explored their own Istanbul that inspired the books, songs, and artworks they created, and took unique photographs.
With [Armenian-Turkish photo journalist] Ara Güler, our team went to [one of the most famous avenues in Istanbul] İstiklal Street and [one of the most historic district in Istanbul] Karaköy, which are his favorite places. With [Turkish musician, author, and politician] Zülfü Livaneli [we went] to the historical Beyazıt Fire Tower and Süleymaniye Mosque, which he mentioned in his book Seranad. We also joined the Labor Day celebrations with Coşkun Aral, who is one of the first war correspondents of our country.
Then with the photographs taken by these famous people, we held an exhibition called “My Istanbul” at the Çırağan Palace. With the participation of the first lady of Republic of Turkey, Emine Erdogan, the photographs were displayed in a selling exhibition and the revenue was donated to UNICEF’s Strengthening Pre-School Education Project. As a final memory of this successful and pleasant initiative, a book was published.
Another example is the project we carried out within the dominion of our health organization Onkim Stem Cell Technologies. Thalassemia, a disease publicly known as Mediterranean fever, is still the most common hereditary blood disease, affecting people of our country. More than a million people in Turkey are unaware that they carry the disease. The risk for two carrier parents to both pass the defective gene and to have an affected child is 25 percent in each pregnancy. This is a serious rate. At this point, we store the cord blood of the infants free of charge for the low-income families.
My late father was a vigorous advocate of not only education, but was also actively supporting many other social awareness projects, adding an enduring value to humanity, our country, and his family. He became an industrialist in order to execute lasting superiority by making differences. As a commemoration to my father’s legacy, we founded Ztv that is the first and only youth education channel in Turkey. Its mission is promoting equality of opportunity in education. When you watch Ztv, regardless of your income level, you receive the same knowledge and education. We all know that a country’s educational level is the manifestation of that country’s development level. This awareness led us to this initiative for supporting young people who will maintain their success both in individual and corporate life thanks to education, a fighting spirit, divine intuition, and emotional intelligence. This is the lasting message and learning we received from our father.
You and your husband made a commitment to establish a contemporary art museum in Turkey that will hold an extensive private collection. What would you like to communicate to Turkey and the world sharing this collection and a new home of art?
Our aim is to enable the exhibition and preservation of DEMSA Collection, which includes distinguished examples of our cultural heritage and contemporary art in order to ensure that it meets with the next generations. This will also serve as a contribution to the development of our society and the museum will be in the service of the community. We want to represent our country and our cultural heritage to the best possible extent as an exclusive museum operating on an international platform. We believe that this is a responsibility owed to one’s community in which one lives and to the future generations.
What is the status of the Museum now the great Zaha Hadid [who was tasked with building the museum] is no longer with us?
A major loss for the world of architecture, I don’t think she is replaceable. We’ve been struggling substantially since she’s gone. Believe me, we’re still in the evaluation phase.
You have been driving social, cultural, and economic impact with your companies, including through the numerous philanthropic commitments. What are the ingredients required to drive positive change in a community?
For me, it is a way of touching people, life, and future with a sense of social responsibility. I whole-heartedly want to support my country and its people by participating in projects, which embrace especially children, women, and the arts. I feel that this enriches and invigorates me. I’m motivated by such an honor.
If we consider it in respect of the society, it carries a social value, as diversification and competition increases. By putting a signature under the projects that can create value, one goes through experiences that improve this creative problem solving and leadership skills as well as character. Relations with society and public enterprises improve and strengthen. Communication, trust, candidness, understanding, solidarity and team spirit grow stronger. Most importantly, I guess, a sense of morale develops. One gains inner peace. Just think about it; sharing someone’s problem and trying to solve it, making a contribution to a second chance, protecting the values of your country, and ensuring a social movement along with your social contributions are, in my view, among the most important concepts that educate a human being.
Please describe one of the main responsibilities you feel which comes with being one of the prominent families in Turkey?
Our ultimate responsibility is the love of country. We have been raised and educated to use the means that we have into our hands for our nation before ourselves. We are trying to instill the same sense of responsibility in our children. Also for maintaining our family name and success, we need to live in a healthy environment on a national, and even, on an international scale. It is an awareness that we obtained at a young age. This is a value for our country. We are grateful to our elders who raised us with such consciousness and sense of responsibility.
We always ask our interviewees who has left an imprint on their professional DNA. I am sure there have been many people, however if you would need to name one or two people, who would they be?
My dear late father, Hacı Sabancı… He was the most established, prominent, and meritorious businessman of Turkey.
What has he said that has stayed with you?
My late father told me in my elementary years that I should pay attention to my behavior while in society and in my circle of friends, and that I must try to help the unfortunate and the downtrodden. I came to realize that he did not say it just because of our financial situation. My father was a great man. He was deeply spiritual.
I can frankly say that being humble whatever the conditions are and setting my priority in life are what stayed with me. In every work that I have succeeded, in my way, the contribution of my belated father is significant. In every success of my three children all through their lives, his contribution will be great too.
What would be your advice for women to become more involved in the issues they care about. What would be the first steps?
First of all, they must be determined and brave. Their belief in their confidence, in their projects and their team should remain constant. They should never fear while making a business breakthrough.
Second, you need to be careful all the time. You need to learn how to use available opportunities to your advantage. What you need is more courage, more creativity, and lots of attempts… Most people see women as workforce, but I am more concerned with their entrepreneurial side. I think that any woman in any position or situation should be encouraged to entrepreneurship. We hear the stories of women around the world who have created miracles with microcredits. I especially believe Turkish women can do far more than that. All our efforts are directed at making our women believe in this, too.
What’s next? Please describe a next project.
As Turkey ONE Association of which I am the founder, we work to serve the common values of the world civilizations and to mediate the construction of a ‘universal world culture’. To be particular, the centrality of all religions in our geography unsurprisingly attracts everyone’s interest. The Mosaic Road Project is thus drawing the attention of all societies who seek their pasts and try to understand their futures.
A couple of months ago, we were invited to the Global Hope Coalition Summit, an organization I am a member of, which was held on the sidelines of the 72nd General Assembly of the United Nations (UN). We introduced our Mosaic Road project that we’ve been working on and were assured of their support.
From then on, the aim of Turkey ONE Association is to build a network of relationships, which will embrace all humanity and give service to peace and welfare. We have very distinguished and reputable persons among our members, supporters, and followers. It is all because we are proposing a universal cultural union that all civilizations will lean their backs on. We believe that it is necessary for this world and for humanity.
Besides, there is a project I put high priority on. We have prepared a report on “Peace Education” in collaboration with Professor Mustafa Özcan, the Dean of Faculty of Education of MEF University, through benefiting from the research of many scholars of distinguished universities of Turkey. I personally presented this report to Global Hope Coalition for their review and consideration.
During the negotiations of peace process, peace education is rarely addressed, it is maintained at an abstract level. As a suggestion for education, we concentrated on the addition of a new course called “Multicultural Democracy” to the curriculum. We strongly believe that this course should be taught in high schools and universities both in Turkey and the world. I will try my best to work on behalf of Turkey if the Global Hope Coalition accepts this project.
Demet Sabancı Çetindoğan is a third generation member of the Sabancı Family which founded the Sabancı Holding, one of the two largest Turkish conglomerates, with companies operating in sectors from banking to energy.
Demet Sabancı Cetindogan’s career as an entrepreneur started with DEMSA A.S., the textile retail company she founded in partnership with her husband, Cengiz Çetindoğan. Since then, DEMSA represents brands such as Tom Ford, Gucci, Lanvin in Turkey and started the seven stores chain “Brandroom”. DEMSA also operates the British department store chain’s Harvey Nichols and the luxury chain of France Galeries Lafayette in Turkey. At the end of 2016, DEMSA counted more than 130 stores employing more than 1500 people.
Demet Sabancı Çetindoğan serves on a number of boards and founded a museum foundation containing the choice works of Turkish Art of DEMSA collection. The collection includes 19th century Islamic Art, contemporary Turkish paintings and sculptures, and contemporary international paintings.
Mrs. Sabancı Çetindoğan is currently the President of the High Advisory Board of TİKAD (Turkish Businesswomen Association), President of Executive Council of YÇD (Creative Children’s Association), member of WAAS (The World Academy of Art and Science) and is recently appointed as Honorary Consul of Hungary.
A shareholder of Sabancı Holding and Akbank, which is one of the largest private banks in Turkey, Mrs. Sabancı Çetindoğan aims to continue her investments, while focusing on making an impact in her country in support of society.