UDEC group president, believing education is a corporate responsibility
Fifty-year-old Ahmet Azmi Zirh is from the ancient Black Sea coastal city of Trabzon, formerly known as Trebizond, in northeastern Turkey. Every summer “…from the age of 10, I used to work on the beaches – from polishing shoes to selling soft drinks. I didn’t lack money – my parents were not poor – it is just that I wanted to have my own spending money.” Ten minutes with Ahmet, in his tastefully furnished office, I felt at ease with his charmingly infectious laughter and his self assurance – devoid of any arrogance or boasting.
Ahmet has a Masters degree in architecture and has been in Kyiv now for three years – as president of the rapidly growing UDEC group. “We have been a player in the global market for 28 years and moved into the Ukrainian market in 2004. Currently we have 14 companies in Ukraine – from telecommunications to construction to real estate – and employ 1500 personnel.” Ahmet and his general manager, who took on the role of translator, did their best to elucidate me on the multi-faceted aspects and activities of UDEC group, but all to no avail, since I have no head for engineering or rocket science. So, sipping on the aromatic cup of tea offered to me, I suggested that we get back to ‘terra firma’ and talk about simple things like Ahmet’s life in Kyiv; his vision about the company he heads and his appreciation and fears – if any – of Ukraine.
Ahmet, leaning back in his chair, gave out another one of his bellowing but endearing laughs and said: “My children are still at university. So, though I have been here three years, I have not been able to bring my family over to Kyiv. But every opportunity I get
, weekends mostly, I fly over to Istanbul and spend it with them. As to my vision about the company I head, I want us to become a national leader in the GSM sphere – built on customer satisfaction and ever-improving quality. I also want, sooner or later, that we become leaders in the booming real estate sector.” That last statement took our conversation, just for a little while, to investor’s woes – risks, red tape, lack of transparency, etc. – when it comes to that unusually reactive sector, but we both agreed that this Word with… feature is not the right platform for that subject.
“My appreciation of Ukraine is naturally for the country’s immense potential and its great wealth of educated people. Having said that, I must also point out that in certain areas the education tends to be too theory oriented. That is where we can step in and offer practical training. We already have a student program whereby we give out 500 scholarships to talented students from all over Ukraine. We also encourage students to take up part-time jobs with us so that they can not only acquire practical knowledge but also can earn some money. In that sense we are also functioning as a university. I am a strong believer and advocate of corporate responsibility in the education sector.”
Ahmet is also quite candid about Ukrainian employees attitude toward corporate loyalty. “They still haven’t assimilated or even understood what that means. There is a long way to go. But slowly the desired and needed professionalism is seeping into existing companies and the newcomers are only too ready to embrace it.”
Knowing that his group is also involved in the construction of residential as well as office complexes, I raised a pet theme of mine: the abominable lack of any facilities catering to the needs of handicapped people – especially the ones in wheelchairs. “True. I agree with you. We try, all the time, to incorporate those requirements into our projects. But we can’t fight it all by ourselves. Those requirements must become government policies. It is up to the municipal authorities and politicians to pass the required laws and enforce them and implement them.”
Later into our conversation, Ahmet told me that some years back he personally founded a center for handicapped children in Turkey. He also told me that the center now houses 150 children and that all their needs are fully taken care of. Bravo, I thought, and shook his hand with utmost sincerity and warmth.