A few months ago, I had the opportunity to speak at the graduation of a university in Barcelona. I would like to share with you a shorter version of that speech, hoping that you find it interesting.
"I think life experience is shaped by stories; stories that make us learn and improve ourselves. Today, I want to take this chance to tell you two stories that had an important impact on my life and helped me throughout my journey."
The first story is related to the perseverance you would use to stand up again if you fall. It makes me think about something essential: In life, you will need to make use of your inner strengths to get back up or to simply survive.
After spending 10 years developing my professional career in Paris, at LVMH Group in 2001, I was appointed as Business Development Director at a Koç Group company. My job was on mergers and acquisitions. I loved and enjoyed it very much. And after having lived in France for 20 years, it gave me the chance to once again discover my home city, Istanbul, where I was born.
At the end of October 2004, I was informed by my doctors that I needed a heart transplant. It may not be easy for you to understand what it means for a successful and happy 44-year-old to discover that he probably has a maximum of 6 months life span to live. It was shocking, especially for my wife than myself. Probably my minds self-defense didn’t allow me to grasp the destructive reality.
In the beginning, I refused to undergo the surgery. I was morally down. But I didn’t give up and decided to accept having the transplant.
Unfortunately, willingness is not enough. An organ must be available, and it should be compatible with the receiver, and the receiver’s body must also be ready, and capable to accept it. Just a few days after, I started to plan my future life waiting for the heart transplant. During a medical test, we learned that my lungs would not accept a new heart. The doctors would not perform the surgery that was my only chance to survive.
This sophisticated test had been used in the hospital for many years. But the hospital was recently using a new algorithm. And I was rejected, by this new algorithm, by a short margin. In these types of operations, a negative test result - even by a small margin - is enough to stop everything.
So, all my dreams were over. I was down again.
But I didn’t have time to be pessimistic. I didn’t give up. In fact, you only lose when you give up.
I insisted and finally convinced the doctors to perform another compatibility test using the same algorithm. I focused all my efforts on preparing my mind and body, like an athlete preparing for a race. When the new results came out, I was right. The second test showed that my lungs would accept a new heart, on the condition that the transplant took place within a short period of time.
On the 31st of December, after a long and complicated operation, I woke up very tired - but with a new heart.
Today, 14 years later, I can easily say that I stood up and that if I ever have to go through something like that again, I am determined to have the same energy to push things in my favor.
Just as Nelson Mandela expressed: “Do not judge me by my successes. Judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”
My second story is about luck. Something that we often underestimate when we are successful and on the contrary, we feel like luck is needed desperately when things go down.
In the early stages of my career, when I made short presentations to my team about success in our business, I always included a small epsilon representing the idea of “luck.”
What I came to understand over the years is a different reality. The impact of this small epsilon, “The ups and downs of our success,” is totally in our hands. It is not unmanageable.
"Luck happens to everyone. You just need to see it, feel it, in fact; be aware of it … and catch it. "
In 2009, I was the International Commercial Director of a Turkish company, responsible for 12 subsidiaries including two in Spain: BEKO Spain and GRUNDIG Spain. We were in the midst of an economic crisis and we were facing challenges in both subsidiaries. I was sent from headquarters to Barcelona to find a proper way to solve the problem.
After the first weeks, we came to understand that the crisis was very critical, as the predictions foresaw that it would continue for a few more years. However, we thought that the big danger for us and for many other companies could also turn into a big advantage. This was our luck.
We merged these two companies, BEKO and GRUNDIG, and built a new sales team with a different strategy.
The market was financially weak. The retailers needed suppliers who would not go bankrupt after sending them products. In fact, the suppliers who had good products with competitive prices and gave flexible financial solutions could change this bad luck, and turn it into an important advantage.
We used the competitiveness of our products with the new sales strategy to differentiate ourselves in the market. We carefully analyzed the financial strengths of the retailers and with a selected few, we built fair businesses with flexible financial conditions. We also made some important social events with relatively limited budgets.
One of them was in October 2013:
300 chefs participated in the cooking marathon of BEKO that supplied more than 2.000 menus to social lunchrooms in Madrid.
The negative trend that has been going on changed rapidly.
This luck or opportunity was, in fact, perceptible to any manufacturer in the sector but only BEKO managed to take advantage of it.
The important idea I want to convey today is; not to have luck, but to be aware of luck. At the beginning of the story, in 2009, the BEKO brand was ranked 23rd in its sector. Since 2015, BEKO has moved up to the 3rd position, and the BEKO – GRUNDIG group is currently closely approaching the 2nd position.
In Spain, BEKO and GRUNDIG are now profitable and have been the fastest growing brands for many years.
"You should focus more on your behaviors rather than on your knowledge. "
Our behavior in our professional and personal life is much more important. It is how you differentiate yourself from your peers.
How do you approach people? Are you too arrogant or too passive? Are you too eager to succeed and show it too much? Most importantly, are you fair with your subordinates, with your peers, with your bosses or team members? Are you positive? If you are not motivated, do you use self-motivation? Are you ethical in your business and personal life?
Humbly, what I can advise you; is to try knowing yourself well objectively and working on your habits and the grey areas of your character. The objective is not to hide your grey areas or change them completely, but to constantly improve them and compensate them with your strengths.
You will see that achieving success in your professional and personal life is not difficult; you should only be aware of it, feel it, catch it.