Write: Ali Halit Diker Photos: Şeref Yılmaz
A creator of significant brand value in Istanbul and Anatolia, Gamze Cizreli is one of Turkey’s leading female investors. Now, she plans to open up to the rest of the world.
We talked to Gamze Cizreli an important role model for many young women who work in Turkey today and wish to dive in to the world of business at her restaurant in Etiler, Istanbul within the scope of World Working Women’s Day. In our conversation, which spanned topics ranging from being a woman in the world of business to motherhood and her plans for the future, Cizreli also mentioned that she uses AnadoluJet often especially due to the frequency of Ankara-Istanbul flights and is very pleased with it.
The number of female entrepreneurs has been increasing constantly for the past few years. Has there been a Turkish or foreign female entrepreneur who impressed you especially? What encouraged you as you started down this path?
My entrepreneurship started after I finished METU’s School of Management, following a three year period of work. In those days, the word “entrepreneurship” didn’t exist in business. Therefore, my entrepreneurship was more instinctual instead of being reliant on an example from others. Entering the service sector and creating a brand was my greatest desire. And I succeeded in this with the many brands I gave to Ankara with my ex-partner since 1994. After founding those, I continued on my way alone with a restaurant chain. I started out entirely to do my own work, to create value added, and to create a brand. There really was no role model before me at that time.
What kind of challenges and advantages do you think being a woman brings in the service sector?
The greatest barrier in business before a woman the greatest barrier before a woman of my social status, that is to say a woman whose path is not blocked by her family or spouse is access to capital. It’s very hard for a woman to get credit for a bank. I think the greatest reason for this is that there generally is no real estate in women’s names in Turkey. Other than that, it’s very advantageous to be a woman in my sector because it’s the woman who welcomes guests in the home. Our mothers are the ones who occupy the kitchen at home and facilitate all sorts of order. Therefore, I, too, as a woman benefited from this. Secondly, the detail-orientedness and fastidiousness of women and the rather more aesthetic approach are a great advantage in my sector.
Meanwhile, you are the mother of two children. Are you able to be involved with your children in this rapid pace? How does being a mother affect your motivation at work?
Actually, it’s highly motivating. Raising a child is the most important work. Doing scheduling correctly in my intense work tempo is not very easy. But offering them a better future and working for them to be more solidly grounded, responsible individuals gives me a separate kind of motivation. A child is a factor that ties a person to life. We don’t have the opportunity to let ourselves go. Motherhood is something else they say, “You’re a mother to the grave.” That’s very true. My two sons are my most valuable, important possessions in my life.
In terms of the competitive environment, what differences are there between Ankara, Anatolia, and Istanbul?
Of course, as in all other industries, we could say that Istanbul is the capital for the restaurant business too. Dining out is an established habit in Istanbul but there is a lot of competition here. You try to take a slice from the pie within this competition. On the other hand, Anatolia is quite untouched we have seen this in Mersin, Antalya, and Gaziantep. We want to grow in Anatolian cities. We want to grow especially in cities in Anatolia that are industrialized or have strong social life and where universities and young people are concentrated. I believe Anatolia has very great potential. We have seen in the places where we opened restaurants that people there need flavors other than local flavors and areas to socialize too. All industrialists and businesspeople have their meetings over meals here. Because of this, we believe in Anatolia. Right now, the only leader in Turkey in terms of customers’ current dining habits is Istanbul.
But despite the ruthless competition in Istanbul, you grew very quickly.
Yes, it’s practically the company of wolves. But there is one thing in our brand. Perhaps it’s the amateur spirit brought by Ankara. That amateur spirit differentiated us from our rivals before our Istanbulite guests. The emotion and the intense thinking of my crew and I reflect on our businesses too.
The location does indeed look extremely natural despite its very high standards.
Yes. That light in the crew and my personality absolutely reflect on the location. I, too, am a comfortable and natural person. I always strive to preserve this quality of mine. Turkey, too, has liked it here, and our next target is to go abroad. New York is our first target because the Istanbul of the dining industry worldwide is New York. We think we will be successful there as a Turkish brand with Western touches. We started meetings with a few places. Besides New York, we have Baku, Moscow, and a few Persian Gulf countries in our sights. I think we will be in one or two places in 2012. Things always come to us from abroad; now it’s time for us to go there.
Gamze Cizreli at one time taught at METU’s Department of Business Administration, of which she is a graduate. Cizreli wants to return to teaching at university, which she put on hold for a while due to her intense schedule in Istanbul. She has adopted encouraging young people toward entrepreneurship as her mission.
Advice from a Dragon
Gamze Cizreli was one of the dragons on “Dragon’s Den Turkey,” a entrepreneurship show that was aired on TV for some time. She is the second dragon we have welcomed in our magazine as a guest Alphan Manas was AnadoluJet’s guest in its April 2011 issue; he wrote an article with the theme of eight points of advice for young entrepreneurs. We asked Gamze Cizreli, too, for a few small hints for next-generation entrepreneurs.
Forget an Easy Life
Cizreli’s first suggestion is for young entrepreneurs to rid themselves of the delusion that they will have an easy life because they own their business when you become a business owner, you are responsible for dozens even thousands when your business grows of people.
Gamze Cizreli says three to five years of experience in the industry in which one will be an entrepreneur is necessary. She says entrepreneurship through trial and error cannot be done anymore.
Don’t Hesitate to Take Risks
Cizreli says taking risks is one of the essential rules of entrepreneurship, explaining the importance of having a plan B if things do not go well as follows: because a large percentage of startups in Turkey close due to lack of success before even completing their first year, having a plan B is absolutely necessary.
Weigh Your Character Well
Gamze Cizreli says that half of the entrepreneur spirit is already present in one’s character at birth. The remainder is added to your personality through work, experience, and the environment. Cizreli states that many barriers will appear before young people who intend to be entrepreneurs and suggests you start on this path only after being sure that you won’t be worn down by these.