Stetson’s Cohort 9 visits Budapest, Istanbul

Published in Celebration News

Stetson University Executive MBA students floated between two continents as they sailed down the Bosphorus Strait between the European and Asian side of Istanbul. Astonishing views of architectural jewels like the Dolmabahce Palace, the Ortakoy Mosque and Bosphorus Bridge were glowing in the distance. Twenty-five students embarked on the trip of a lifetime as they experienced global business practices and explored the historical and cultural influences of the Middle East and European region over the course of nine days. We had a similar delight in Budapest when we sailed down the Danube River with views of Parliament, Chain Bridge and the impressive Vajdahunyuad Castle. Each year the Executive MBA program, as part of its coursework, travels to a different destination to engage with entrepreneurial and well-established companies in marketing, finance, hospitality, operations and manufacturing. Immersion in these destinations increases the students’ understanding of international business and its application to their own corporate careers.

General Electric Co., Divan Hotel Group, Budapest Bank and Koc Holdings, all profitable and expanding in this region, shared their unique goals for Istanbul, their strategic ties as business partners, and the economic opportunity with tourism growth, leveraging best practices, expanded marketing efforts, or as a “safe haven” for those wishing to escape volatile zones.

Students were provided a bird’s-eye view of lean and “just in time” manufacturing processes at both Mercedes-Benz Turk and Nokia. Just fascinating to witness a motor coach and a cell phone being assembled from parts in a very methodical manner.

Pozitron (mobile applications) and IND Group (internet banking), entrepreneurial companies, were similarly initiated by their founders during their late college days and feature a very young staff with an average age younger than 30. Both started with family financing, and now fewer than 12 years later generate huge revenue growth and sales. Pozitron reports 80% growth each year, and IND Group has revenues that top $12 million Euros with more than 220 employees in 15 countries.

The business visits were incredible, but even more significant was the appreciation we discovered for their traditions and culture by exploring the various mosques, castles, governmental buildings, and cathedrals. As we walked the pedestrian streets each night, the breathtaking architecture, community spirit and importance of maintaining traditions are evident.

To culminate our International experience, the executive students wanted to “give back.” We partnered with a local university and adult volunteers from Hakosz and treated more than 20 children in “state care” to a morning at the Budapest Safari Park. In six teams, we escorted these children, ages 4 to 12, through the various animal exhibits while playing interactive games which involved the executive students learning basic Hungarian words and the children learning some English words (by jones). The adult volunteers served as translators.

“Despite the language barriers, the walls came down with smiles, sharing of local snacks and with the help of the volunteers,” said Wendy Lowe, assistant director of the Executive MBA program. “Stetson students felt proud to be able to give these children a field trip away from their everyday surroundings and into a natural habitat where we could join in their excitement. During our three hours together, we shared more than just fun and games; we truly made a significant impact on one another’s lives! The children helped our students realize that the motto “work hard, play hard” is definitely rewarding, and as we learned at Nokia, ‘living adventurously’ is possible. We will take away numerous life lessons from our time with these loving children.”

Disney background helps Cohort 9 understand Divan

Cohort 9 students visited Divan Hotel Group today in Istanbul.

The Walt Disney World Parks & Resorts background that many of Stetson University Executive MBA program’s Cohort 9 students have came in handy during today’s visit to Divan Hotel Group.

Selin Karaosmanogn, Divan’s director of marketing and communications, greeted the cohort with a sincere smile and some of Divan’s famous pastries. She explained that in 1980, Turkey began to see the increase in tourism because of its unique history, long coastline, and fantastic weather and food. Today, 15% of Turkey’s GDP is tourism.

Divan Hotels, part of Koc Holding (which students visited yesterday) since 2000, set up its first Turkey hotel in Istanbul. The founder couldn’t find an adequate place to stay when in town for business and hence the Divan Hotel Group emerged. Now, with three hotels in Turkey, and with expected growth to 25 hotels in this region before 2016, Divan has a bright future in store. Divan Hotels in Istanbul is known for its “Hospitality School,” its sincere service and its relationship with Koc Holding.

According to Karaosmanogn, the hospitality market is not saturated in Istanbul. She said she believes there will continue to be outstanding growth. In addition to keeping its five-star brands, it will launch Divan Express in fall 2012. The Express version of its hotels will be at a lower price point and accommodate business travelers looking for a safe, friendly, high-quality place to stay that doesn’t have a spa or full restaurant. In addition, Divan Hotels launched its first international hotel in Northern Iraq two months ago. The company will continue to open hotels and/or greet guests at their various locations to cater to the Middle East market based on the unrest in the area.

Karaosmanogn said Divan forecasts growth using various indicators, and it relies on its partners, such as Turkish Airlines and local Preferred Hotel Associations, to drive both tourist and business clients.

Cohort 9 student Joe Chatterjee asked Karaosmanogn what challenges Divan Hotel Group faces in the future. Karaosmanogn answered that rolling out Divan Express while expanding and maintaining Divan’s brand and culture, communicating clearly to the public and keeping investors happy at the same time will be a major challenge. Another challenge is finding just the right partner that will build the hotels in a preferred location with a shared vision. “Those are not always easy to find!” said Karaosmanogn. She said Divan hopes to expand to New York and Prague, for example. She added that social media will be a challenge for Divan Hotel Group as it expands on a more regional and national level with more importance on the messaging that has an international approach.

Students gathered at the end of the presentation for Divan Hotel Group's renowned pastries.

Edwin Alvarado, a Cohort 9 student who is also a guest services manager at Walt Disney World Parks & Resorts, was curious about Divan’s peak periods. Karaosmanogn said that in Istanbul, peak times are mid-March through June with a slow period in the winter months, at which time Divan offers extended-stay incentives.

Cohort 9 student Brian Smith, who works for Disney Vacation Club, asked about Divan’s occupancy. Karaosmanogn shared that Divan has an average of 80% occupancy with a three- to four-night stay in Istanbul, and that it’s made up of 50% tourists and 50% business people.

Cohort 9 student Toshimasa Matsumura, who works at Disney’s Shades of Green, was interested in Divan’s yield management.

Karaosmanogn shared that a new area for Istanbul is “health tourism,” or travelers who come and stay while having medical procedures done at a much reduced cost, such as Lasik’s or plastic surgery. This is a growing trend among Divan’s wealthy clients.

The Spice Market was the next stop for students, for lunch and souvenir shopping.

“After the business visit, we had a wonderful tour,” said Wendy Lowe, program coordinator for the Executive MBA program. “We ended up in the pastry shop where we enjoyed various samples and even made some purchases for our family and friends back home.

”We look forward to monitoring Divan Hotel Groups expansion on the coming months and years.”

Students later went to the Spice Market for lunch, and several bought souvenirs such as spices that are unique to the region. They then went to the Grand Bazaar for additional shopping for scarves, leather, silver and other valuables. After the shopping excursion, some went to the Turkish Dance Show, others went to the Turkish Baths, and some enjoyed a night on the town for free exploration on their last evening in Istanbul.

“Tomorrow, we head to Mercedes Benz and then to Budapest!” said Lowe.

Students cross into Asia to visit Koc Holding

Cohort 9 visits Koc Holding on the Asian side of Istanbul.

After two business visits earlier today at GE and Pozitron, members of Stetson University Executive MBA program’s Cohort 9 crossed the bridge in Istanbul to the Asia side to visit Koc Holding.

Ms. Funda Gungor, investor relations coordinator for Koc Holding, presented. Koc Holding is a large industrial group in terms of revenue, exports, share in the Istanbul Stock Exchange and number of employees. Koc Holding is in the Top 50 companies in Europe and Top 200 in the World. It has an 85-year history with a very large presence in Turkey and has 9% of the total sales/GDP, controls 11% of the Turkey Exports, and has 15 companies listed publicly.

Koc Holding has grown by an average of 31% in dollars in the last five years. Its focus is energy, automotive, durable goods and finance, which all have high growth potential.

Gungor stressed the importance of balancing risk and return in a portfolio and explained why Koc Holding has diversified its portfolio so that different sectors can thrive at different times within the global economy. She said that Koc Holding differentiates itself by quality and service, not just dollars. It also has the largest distribution network, customer database, leading brands with strong recognition and a diversified portfolio. It has strong net cash of $641 million.

Koc Holding is a third-generation holding company; however, family is only involved at board meetings, not in the day-to-day business dealings.

Cohort 9 students spend time together at Koc Holding.

Koc Holding is looking to export Fiat products to the United States. Cohort 9 student Brian Smith asked how Koc deals with the automotive industry. Gungor answered that the company is very dependent on its partner here and that Koc Holding just acts as the distribution and manufacturing hub, where in the other sectors it has much more control.

Cohort 9 student Gwen Schaefer asked about the company’s database. Gungor confirmed that it contains more than 11 million contacts that Koc tries to upsell and cross-sell to.

Danielle VanCola, Cohort 9 student, was interested in how Koc brands its companies. Many times, said Gungor, Koc uses its logo, and depending on the situation, it may combine that with the existing company name. For instance, when Koc Holding purchased Yapkikredi Bank. Koc uses its logo with the original bank name because of long-standing name recognition.

Members of the Koc Holding Business Team said they were impressed with the company's strategy.

Members of the Koc Holding Business Team (Dianne Honel, Valerie Baker, Maria Chalmers, Rebecca Potter, and VanCola) were impressed with how Koc Holding responded to the oil crises and the contraction in the market of 25% to 30%, as well as how strategic this company is in responding to future growth.

The entire cohort learned that Koc Holding not only has a dominant position in Turkey, but it is also socially responsible through various philanthropic efforts in education, healthcare, and culture and arts through the first private foundation created. In 2011, Koc Holding committed $203.5 Turkish Lira to reduce the impact of operations to improve the environment, showing that the company is here to stay.

“The cohort crossed the bridge and returned to the European side of Istanbul,” said Wendy Lowe, Executive MBA program coordinator, “but we can say we were in Asia!”

Cohort 9 International Trip itinerary

In just a few more days, Stetson Executive MBA Cohort 9 students will depart for their trip to Istanbul and Budapest! Here’s what’s on their plate after they arrive Saturday, June 16:

Sunday, June 17:

Cultural Day in Istanbul

Students will take a guided tour of Roman & Byzantine Era and Ottoman Istanbul, seeing such sights as the Hagia Sophia Museum, Hippodrome of Constantinople and the Underground Cistern. Then they’ll go to Topkapi Palace and the Sultan Ahmet Camii-Blue Mosque. Students will also have their Welcome Dinner on this evening.

Monday, June 18:

Business Visits and Bosphorus Cruise

Travelers on the Alumni/Guest trip will take a cruise on Istanbul's Bosphorus. Photo courtesy of GoToTurkey

Students will meet with executives from General Electric, Pozitron and Koc Holding. Ibrahim Gokcen of GE will give students an overview of Turkey and discuss the country’s role in the world economy. Firat Isbecer of Pozitron, a mobile and alternative communications company, will teach students about entrepreneurship in Turkey and the role of government in Turkish businesses. At Koc Holding, Funda Gundor will talk about holding companies in Turkey’s private sector.

After the business visits, students get to go on a cruise down the Bosphorus for astonishing views of the European and Asian sides of the Bosphorus Strait.

Tuesday, June 19

Business Visit and Dancing

Executives from Divan Hotels will meet with students to discuss Turkey’s tourism and hospitality industries. Later, students can visit the Grand & Spice Bazaar and enjoy a show at Turkish Dance Night at Hodjapasha.

Wednesday, June 20

Business Visit and Travel

Executives from Mercedes-Benz Turk A.S. will explain why such a world-renowned car manufacturer chose Turkey for its operations. The students will then travel to Budapest for the second part of their trip.

Thursday, June 21

Business Visits

Students will learn from executives at Nokia and IND Group. Yrjo Eskola, director of operations at Nokia, will discuss the company’s strategies, both global and local. Later, Tamas Braun and Adrienn Barath of IT company IND Group will teach students about the marketing strategies of a company that’s expanding within Hungary.

Friday, June 22

Business Visit and Budapest Tour

During a trip to Budapest Bank, students will learn about the impact of the financial crisis on the local economy and compare it to the situation in the United States. Later, they’ll tour Budapest, with stop-offs at the Parliament, the Royal Castle, the Fisherman’s Bastion and the Citadel, followed by a river cruise.

Saturday, June 23

Budapest Safari Park

The students’ final day of the trip will be spent participating in a philanthropic effort. Students will take children who are in state care to the Budapest Safari Park and help them solve animal-related tasks at stations throughout the park. Solving the exercises will involve cooperation of the children, volunteers and cohort members.

Who’s ready for the trip?