INTERVIEW: HAKAN BEKIROĞLU
CHIEF LEGAL OFFICER, TOFAŞ
GC catches up with Hakan Bekiroğlu to discuss the automotive sector in Turkey, and his
thoughts on his career so far.
G C I N T E R V I E W
THE LEGAL 500
GC: Did you always know that you wanted to become a lawyer?
Hakan Bekiroğlu (HB): Actually, I did not always want to become a lawyer. My father is also a lawyer, but I wasn’t very fond of becoming one at first. I studied mathematics for one year, but then he somehow managed to persuade me to switch to law. I always enjoyed mathematics to be honest, and that’s actually one of the reasons I continued my career as an in-house counsel: because I get involved in all the aspects of the business that in reality are basically ‘mathematics’. That’s the reason I also pursued an MBA.
The plan was actually to start my own business. I think I became an in-house counsel somehow by chance − I started working with a local subsidiary of a worldwide beverages company and realised that it was something that I actually liked and enjoyed doing.
GC: What have been the standout projects of the last 12 months that you’ve had involvement with?
HB: Tofaş has gone through a very intense period of investment. We have a new vehicle programme called Aegea, with Fiat, which is now going above one billion euros of investment. For my two first years at Tofaş I have been involved in this project, including the investments, financing, documentation, contracts and anything involved in that project. For two years now we have been trying to get the project going. As of the last quarter of 2015, we have started to produce the first batch of Sedan vehicles for export and for the local market. We are now getting close to the production of Hatchback and Station Wagon vehicles, belonging to the same project. So far, it makes me more than proud to see that the project is going well beyond expectations − we recently received an award from Autobest 2016 for Best Buy Car.
GC: What is the best thing about working for Tofaş?
HB: The automotive sector itself is a very diverse one, worldwide and, naturally, also in Turkey. It’s a strong and constantly evolving market. The legal dynamics of the sector make it an interesting and challenging one to be involved with − particularly if you consider the wider legal surroundings, thus everything you have to be aware of. Consequently, being the legal chief of a big manufacturing company as Tofaş, one becomes quickly attuned to the dynamics and diversity of the sector, which of course makes the role, for me, quite appealing.
GC: Has your business been affected a lot by the European crisis?
HB: It has been affected. As a very basic strategy, we try to level our business with both exports and the local market, so you can imagine the impact, especially after the crisis of 2008 and the shrinking markets. Fortunately, now that things are stabilising, we are gearing up quite fast in order to recover the lost ground. The Turkish market especially has been growing quite stable over the past few years, and we are getting to a good point.
GC: What legal challenges or issues do you foresee that you and your team will be dealing with at Tofaş over the next few months?
HB: Our new government has just announced its yearly programme for 2016, which involves many changes in major legislation, such as personal data law and competition law. This means lots of compliance programmes for me and the team. I think the coming six months will be very busy days and nights trying to build these compliance programmes. In addition, product liability laws are changing and I’m quite involved in that. There is a new system that we foresee will come at the end of 2016, and it is a major issue for us. We also have new legislation for e-commerce.
GC: How has your business been affected by the current economic and geopolitical climate in Turkey?
HB: There has been instability in the country during 2015 − we have had two major elections, and we have an undeclared war that is going on the Eastern region of Turkey with ISIS and PKK. We had several terrorist attacks, including in Istanbul. The instability with Syria, Iraq and Iran of course is affecting the business, and especially the latest developments with this little dispute with Russia.
However, although everything has gone down in terms of sectors, it’s peculiar that the automotive and construction industries have gone up. We really don’t know the dynamics behind it. We are trying to figure it out. It might be that instability and the fear that taxation would go up has forced people to invest in these two areas. It is truly peculiar.
The new agreement with Iran might bring about positive developments. Geographically, Turkey is in a very good spot. We try to maintain good relationships with all the markets surrounding us. We have this power, this opportunity, but first we need to focus on the stabilisation of the region.
GC: What are the main legal and compliance challenges for GCs operating across Turkey and, more specifically, in the automotive sector?
HB: The fact that laws have been changing very quickly: this is the major problem for investors. You cannot foresee what is going to happen in the future and this is a big problem for companies overall, not just for GCs. That is the biggest challenge. Secondly, even if we have the laws established, most of them of course are coming from the EU. There is a problem with application and how the clauses of the legislation are perceived. That is a big problem for us. You cannot foresee what is going to happen in due course.
GC: What is the secret to being a good leader? How do you go about motivating team members?
HB: I don’t think there is a secret formula to that. You need to learn to adapt and react to every situation that ends up at your desk and to educate and motivate your team towards finding a risk free solution.
This means that you need to drive the team towards being a part of the business, to act as solution finders rather than dispute solvers, which is then very much appreciated and recognised by the company and my team. I really try to push them to understand that we act as the safety net of the company; we should supply the right tools to the ones walking on the tightrope in order to avoid the fall.
GC: If, for some reason, you couldn’t be a lawyer anymore, what would you do instead? Would you go back to mathematics?
HB: Yes, probably, and finance. I really love maths and finance. I really like to track the numbers and get results out of that. At the end, it all comes down to numbers, don’t you think?
GC: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
HB: Well, I don’t have a lot of free time! My schedule is quite busy, at least now. My wife and I really enjoy cinema, especially European movies. Other than that, I try to play the guitar. Not that frequently, though. Now that my daughter is growing up, I cannot play her lullabies anymore − she asks for strange pop songs that I don’t even know.