Believing the importance of foreseeing the future from an early age, Ahu Buyukkusoglu Serter, the Chairperson of the Farplas Board, “I love setting goals. What is most important is how you really want to live… First you should decide this and then set your other goals accordingly,” says.
The chairperson of the Fark Holding Board Ahu Buyukkusoglu Serter, “This is a laboratory where we design and discover our future. We can call it an innovation center. Here we work on all kinds of topics. It is not solely for the holding’s work but all fields,” says, referring to the Fark Labs launched at 42 Maslak, Istanbul.
The Fark Labs was established by Fark Holding in the early months of this year with a purpose to “create the future.” Though being called as a laboratory, it is indeed an innovation center. Apart from being the R&D center of Fark Holding’s Farplas, it also accommodates F+Ventures, Comodif, CSUM and companies invested by Arya Women Investment Platform. Ahu Buyukkusoglu, the Chairperson of the Fark Holding Board, states that they focus on mobility and thus she invites those who plan to work on this subject to the Fark Labs.
Fark Holding’s last year’s turnover was recorded 230 million euros. Farplas, one of the Holding’s companies, announced its turnover as 170 million euros. The Group made 12 million euros investment. Remarking that they will carry on with their investments through the year, Serter says they seek strategic partnerships or purchasing opportunities in Russia, Thailand and North America. At the same time, the factory based in Turkey carries on its digitalisation investments. Pointing out that they want to record a 100% growth in their current business, Serter explains their future’s plan as the work on mobility will account for 20% of the Group’s turnover five years later from now. The family-owned company was originally founded by her father and uncle in 1968 to produce and repair vehicles and vehicle equipment, and today Serter, also appearing in the most powerful women list of the Fortune Turkey, has expanded their business overseas. Having established Arya Women Investment Platform, she supports women in business while she is also among Galata Business Angels’ investors.
Serter answered our questions.
How do you evaluate 2018 business year? Could you share Fark Holding’s goals for 2019?
Turkey has gone through difficulties this last year. However, I think we were good at handling this period by giving due importance to our work and negotiating with our customers. Considering our work is mostly centered on exporting, I can say that we are at a more advantageous side. This period has not influenced our projects. We carry on with our investments. Farplas started out to “write stories making difference” and we are committed to our purpose. As you know, the world’s conjuncture has still been through its transformation based on technological developments. What stands out in the automotive industry is mobility. This is also what we focus on. We implement projects for global growth. We seek opportunities in Russia, Thailand and North America markets. We make our plans mostly towards establishing partnerships or purchasing relations. In Croatia and Romania, we expanded on a business model inspired by our own know-how. Now, we make to the Europeans what business was made to us in the past. We provide know-how and sales while they produce for us. This is how we cooperate.
Why are you planning to pay special attention to Russia, North America and Thailand?
Russia is a growing market. An environment where we already have customers. As for the North America, I’ve had a recent experience with Mata, my personal investment. The large scale of the market will provide an obvious advantage. Companies like us, as having experience in manufacturing, can contribute hugely to this market. On the other hand, we consider that 80% of vehicle manufacturing will move to Asia in the near future. That’s why we wish to invest in Thailand. One of the partners of Faraero venture is from Thailand. They are considerably influential in their country. And we want to get a share from manufacture business orienting towards the Asian market.
Investments in Turkey continue.
Our factory based in Turkey is going on with investments on digital transformation. We were awarded with the most innovative company prize last year by Turkish Exporters’ Assembly. This year we are applying to Turquality. Our goal is to be digitalised in domestic scale whereas in international scale it is to become a global supplier.
What percentage of your income do you plan to come from your business overseas?
Currently, indirect exporting accounts for the 80% of our incomes. Our goal by the end of the coming five years is to obtain 20% of our Group’s incomes from mobility business and 30% from our ventures overseas. We are going through a period where we focus on profitability rather than turnover, while at the same we do not neglect to grow our current business.
This year you launched the Fark Labs in Maslak 42, Istanbul. Could you share its story with us?
This is a laboratory where we design and discover our future. We can call it an innovation center. But innovation centers are founded for creating only one product group while in the Fark Labs we carry out projects on all subjects ranging from company branding to training programs. It is not solely for the holding’s work but all fields. It houses an extension of Farplas’ R&D center while activities on internet-connected vehicles are also held here. In addition to F+ Ventures, Comodif, CSUM (Creative Solutions on Urban Mobility) and companies invested by Arya Investment Platform, my personal investment Hecha, Miss Locma and hotel brands are also a part of the Fark Labs. We witness how fields are unrelated on the surface can learn from one another. Our wish is to host here especially those working on mobility in Turkey. We set five values for the Fark Labs. We want to make business with people having these values. We will cooperate with people who have a goal in mind, motivation to work, always aim a further step and show passion and persistence. We will offer them opportunities to become entrepreneurs within corporations. If you look at Fark Labs’ logo, you will notice it is so colourful but also have some vague gaps. Such gaps are environment for our growth. At Labs, we plan to grow our own business with new partnerships. In other words, we want to grow but also make others grow. We reflect to the Fark Labs what we have learnt from “gain while making others gain” mission at Arya Women Investment Platform. Gaps on our logo represent spaces for new people and new insights. We need capable people and logical thinking; we are not looking for those who will only occupy the gaps. We also should acknowledge young people as the true owners of mobility. Their preferences will lay down all the rules. Therefore, mobility projects by the young are our top priority. Take micro-mobility. We think that it solves a critical problem and business models based on it will spread rapidly. Researching this area, our engineers at the Fark Labs take their scooters and helmets and go outside to the streets. Their solution to transportation is scooters and they try to identify challenges and opportunities facing us in this area.
How would you mention your investment plans?
We focus on mobility. Our company Comodif has made an important progress on this field. It implemented Ko-pilot (Co-pilot), Fiat Yol Arkadaşım (My Seatmate) and Motrio projects with Turkcell, Tofas and Renault respectively. It is now the leading firm in Turkey in the field of software and hardware solutions for smart vehicles. We aim to extend such products developed by Comodif to more vehicles in Turkey. Therefore, we are considering strategic cooperation or perhaps we will open ourselves to investments. Starting with only two individuals, this venture is a corporate success in our eyes. With F+ Ventures, we also started by planning that it’d transform into a fund investing on mobility area and up to now we have realised more than 5 million dollars investments. Among our investments I can count Chargepoint in America, Valens in Israel and Garaj Sepeti (Garage Basket) in Turkey. Besides, we have internal investments. Incorporated into Farplas, CSUM (Creative Solutions for Urban Mobility) works on user’s experience. As you know, Farplas produces service sets used inside busses. CSUM makes research to find out whether we can reflect these service sets to bus windows and use the glass windows as screens. In other words, we are not afraid of demolishing ourselves and change our current products. We prioritise innovation. CSUM experiences with designing equipment for the future. This can be service sets but also smart suitcases…
What we wish is all corporations interested in mobility, our customers and shareholders cooperate with us at Fark Labs; we wish to cooperate with them to develop products, do research and even make investments. Coming years will see such a widespread and swift change in the automotive industry that players of the field will not easily handle this on their own, that’s why we need cooperation more than we do before. At Arya Investment Platform we concluded the second round of Tutumlu Anne (Economic Mothers). With an investment equivalent to 200.000 Dollars, Tutumlu Anne shows a rapid growth by selling second hand kid’s products. Operating in alternative protein and animal food sector, Naturansa took an investment from America. It will begin to produce for Turkey too. This niche manufacturing is highly suitable for Turkey’s value added exporting model. Besides, I am an investor for Fazla Gıda (Fazla Food). It collects the companies’ waste products and out of date materials. It made a deal with Metro Group in Germany. Sustainable food investments will become more of an issue. Miss Locma, which is our own venture, is now in the cities of Ankara, Bodrum and finally Istanbul’s Bağdat Caddesi. And we are passing to franchising model.
Your investments focus on various fields which are not related to one another. Which criteria do you consider before deciding on which area to invest?
The investments may seem unrelated but they have common points. I have three main pillars on which investment decisions I make: The first is mobility – I invest by means of F+ Ventures. The second is the woman – I invest on ventures by women through Arya Women Investment Platform. And the third one is technology – Galata Business Angels is my respond here. As for the technology, I prefer when it is adapted to sustainable food and nutrition. Besides, such investments are an opportunity for me to experience areas which I am not knowledge about but want to learn. Investors tend to invest on areas they know well. We are living in an era where we need to digitalise the conventional and make what is already digital as part of the daily work flow. Therefore, we should be flexible and open minded while taking our steps rapidly.
FORTUNE MAGAZINE, APRIL ISSUE
It is a lab but do not imagine it as a place purely white, everywhere sterile. If anything, it is cosy like California or colourful just as Mexico. Life starts all over again – so, should we not expect offices to change as well?