Ömer Burhanoğlu / CEO, FARPLAS
“There is no end to my dreams but I really want to realise two things in my business life: To promote Farplas to the global $1 billion dollar companies league in automotive sector. To be known as the mobility lab of Turkey with the Fark Labs and to get successful start-ups from here.”
“Spreading my wings to new areas was so delightful that it was not different from flowing down a waterfall. I tried whatever came to my mind and I was being more and more joyous with each novelty,” says Omer Burhanoglu, looking back to the first days when he started working at Farplas. Such is life. While change, uncertainty and new opportunities scare some and drive them into a corner, this very same dynamism fills people like Mr. Omer with a child’s excitement.
Despite such joy, he adds, “You do not expect everybody to change.” He continues: “If everybody changes, then the meaning of change or difference gets lost. Therefore, I’ve adopted a management approach that allows working with unchanging people in our routine work and changing people in novelties. Anyway, we need both of these both groups equally.”
Omer Burhanoglu graduates as an engineer from Istanbul’s Bosporus University in 1980s. Despite he could work at any companies he wished why did he prefer Farplas, a small-scale automotive firm at that time? How did his childhood influence his preferences? What role does his photography passion from early ages play over his life now? How does he experience and manage the change? What are his dreams for R&D and Innovation center the Fark Labs which was founded on the basis of Farplas’ vision? What is his answer to his favourite question ‘what is next’?
In 1980s you completed mechanical engineering bachelor programme and graduated from the Bosporus University, Turkey’s most prestigious one. Then you found yourself at Farplas. And what happened afterwards?
Indeed, banks, exporting firms, holdings… everybody were chasing after us. However, I was telling myself, ‘I do not want to be a part of this huge wheel – I want to be the wheel itself.” Long years of schooling and education, all of which were thanks to my father’s financial and immaterial support. Naturally he wanted to be awarded for his efforts, but I was again seeking for novelties. I talked to my father. I said to him that I wanted to work in a small workshop and learn the manufacturing process.
You said “I was again seeking for novelties.” Have you always been like this?
“When I was small, I wanted people to call me not Ömer but Özel (Special). Why? Perhaps, being the second number in a family with three sons, wish for separation, the sense of antipathy against the word “middle child”… anyway, I had never accepted to be in the middle, to find myself among averages, so I named myself Ozel. I began benefiting from the advantages of being different even from that time! At university, I still wanted to be different. I was active in various social clubs unlike from one another: Sports club, photography club and motor cars club which we founded with an entrepreneurship spirit. At that time everybody had long hair but me. Everybody was wearing combat boots while I wore sneakers. Everybody loved long, green parkas and you saw me wearing shiny, colourful coats. I was studying mechanical engineering but I was also taking classes on cinema history, advertising, economy and information processing. I worked as an intern at places not related to one another.”
And you were at Farplas.
When I said to my father that I wanted to work at manufacturing, he took me to Mr. Yunus. He look at me and said, “What will you do here?” My father was the manager of the bank which Mr. Yunus got his first credit from. And now he had brought his human capital. Farplas turned out to be the most critical turning point of my life. Of course none of us knew this then.
How did you find the atmosphere there?
It was so open to novelties. Both sector itself and also the patronage. Automotive world was developing and plastic industry was on the rise. Yunus (Buyukkusoglu) was visionary. Zeki (Buyukkusoglu) had a true industrialist spirit. Let’s buy new machines, order new moulds, and grow our business… He had such kinds of ideas in his mind. We realised novelties one by one. Water towers, organisational chart, performance evaluation, bonus system, optimisation, smoking ban, the first woman employee, casting metal and aluminium materials into plastics, localising imported components, trying new raw materials… Spreading our wings to new areas was so delightful that it was not different from flowing down a waterfall. We tried whatever came to our minds and we were being more and more joyous with each novelty. The very first cost analysis, essential materials planning, project management, total sense of quality, switching to hi-tech machines and robots, staffing and matrix organisation. We were competing with others not over pricing but by novelties. We were attending fairs, adopting values and hanging them on walls.
What kind of responses did you take?
Drafting and planning is only a part of the work – what is more essential is to be a role model and take the lead. This is the most lasting, the most effective way. So, I put my efforts into being a right role model to establish a corporate culture and team spirit, to make contributions and ensure developments by means of the beneficial human model. To solve problems facing us and in the absence of them to try my hand at new things. All this will allow us to understand the customer and we will arrive the next stop before them to set up a new ‘shop’!
And that shop is the Fark Labs?
We drove the innovation within ourselves up to a certain point because automotive was just automotive. New things were on the materials, product, customer diversity and geographical differences. Once we began switching to the online with the advent of digitalisation, the change was not limited to its own anymore but be reflected on all components. Automotive sector is not just automotive sector today. Rather, a part of the digital world, a critical part of it. And in this different world the game has also been played differently. It is a quite different discipline and has to cooperate with different kinds of people, different partners, maintained by different methods in a different environment. That explains why we needed to found the Fark Labs.
Let’s talk about the people you work with, your team mates… What kind of people do you like working with? What is your favourite working way with people?
I find the greatest joy in opening new paths to everyone who wants to walk over them and offering fresh visions to them so that they could experience the delight of their successes while keeping alive their desire to achieve even better. My goals has been always to draw missions that will enable them to feel that every work they perform contribute both to our company and their careers. I do not want to work with people who do not oppose to my ideas and lose their desire for development and struggle. They must always have a goal and deal with not individuals but the essence of the duty. They must be result-oriented and analytical, provide figures as evidence, perform each work with due diligence, do whatever they speak and promote their ideas strongly, in other words they must not give up what they believe in. Customer-oriented, with a win-win mentality, open to help others but also getting help from others; they must value cooperation. I cannot give standardised, prototype descriptions. Sometimes I find person to the work in question and sometimes I find work to the person.
Let me say that I can keep the correct mosaic pieces together by uniting quite different personalities, quite different talents. First I myself believe in my goals, create public opinion and convince key people. If my goals are not easily accepted by others, I wait a bit for them to mature but I do not give up; I often bring forward them, telling how useful they are and how they will make contributions. Once I am convinced that they are mature enough, I shape them in a more systematic way, making it easier to be acknowledged. Before myself, I expect heads of each department to promote these goals. If I identify any employees that will fail to run towards such goals or oppose the change but still will provide benefits to us, I position them outside this structure to continue obtaining benefits from them within a different model (such as sub-industry, contact basis or spin-off).
How do you motivate people you work with towards change? Is your message “The future is so brilliant,” or “Here will burn down in a moment, if we do not take quick steps, we will burn as well”?
Not both of them exactly. I say to them, we have a big cake here and taking the biggest slice to make the best use of it depends on how fast and how aware we are. This is not only for my own company but all relevant partners, and in this way I try to pioneer to form a suitable ecosystem. On your own, it is so difficult to reach these goals. Without doubt, pointing out to the danger waiting us is as effective as highlighting the opportunities, to induce people to take steps. Therefore, I say to them that if we do not notice the cake before us, we cannot find even a slice of bread let alone cake.
To change and make others change is hard. Why is it so?
Who wants to drive themselves to the unknown! Why they want to go outside their comfort area while they keep working as they’ve got used to! Ordinary person or even a person above average standards does not want this or else they appear to want it. In my opinion, you do not expect everybody to change. If everybody changes, then the meaning of change or difference gets lost! Therefore, I’ve adopted a management approach that allows working with unchanging people in our routine work and changing people in novelties. Anyway, we need both of these both groups. Technically speaking, change does not happen with square waves, the on/off system, but requires a switching just like sine wave.
Now your favourite question: What is next?
There is no end to my dreams but I really want to realise two things in my business life: To promote Farplas to the global $1 billion dollar companies league in automotive sector. To be known as the mobility lab of Turkey with the Fark Labs and to get successful start-ups from here. My greatest wish is to write a story of a successful Turkish company, with right people and right strategy. It is so easy to say fancy words! However, focusing on goals to make them real requires leadership, passion, persistence, change and development. Meanwhile, what would crown my goal is to honour those who have contributed to our work up to here and not forget their efforts, and to ensure that the team to realise our mission will take joy and pride in their work while obtaining prosperity as well.
“MY PASSION FOR PHOTOGRAPHY MADE ME FEEL THAT I WAS NOT ONLY CARRYING A MACHINE WITH ME BUT A POINT OF VIEW. WHAT I NOTICED IN THINGS WAS THAT SEEING THEM WAS EVEN MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN FRAME THEM. I SENSED MY LIFE GAINED A DIFFERENT MEANING WITH THIS KIND OF PERSPECTIVE.”
This interview would not be complete if we skip to talk about your interest in photography.
When I was little, what differentiated me from other children was also my hobbies. During secondary school years, I was taking photos with the photography cameras of my father, an amateur photographer himself. Nobody else took photos and shared them with their friends after printing them on cards. This did not only make me different from others but also got me closer with the girls! I cut from sheet rolls I printed in photofinishing labs that I prepared with chemicals in the dark room at our house. I began with my hands and gained ‘my eyes’ gradually
First I focused on family elders and friends portraits. Over time I discovered people on the streets. As a milestone, I can say that I started dealing with photography professionally when I took a photo with my Zenith camera, at the age of 16. When I was an undergraduate student, I was quite active and took place in Ifsak exhibition hall, university’s photography club, some exhibitions and competitions. After stepping to work life, I and my camera could meet only during trips. We travelled through a lot of countries to see new sights and faces.
Did I promote to seeing rather than looking at, thanks to photography? I can’t decide this. However, my passion for photography made me feel that I was not only carrying a machine with me but a point of view. What I noticed in things was that seeing them was even more beautiful than frame them. I sensed my life gained a different meaning with this kind of perspective. I discovered how to possess my life by turning moments into memories. I dedicated my book Aynı / Ayrı (Same/Different) to one of those people having founded the first photography club in Turkey – he is my beloved father Ali Rıza Burhanoglu, who introduced and inspired me in this quest with his own passion for photography.
Röportaj: Zeynep Güven Ünlü