Ilter Yurtbay, Yurtbay Seramik Chief Executive Officer and Ceramic Tile Manufacturers Association’s (SERKAP) “youngest chairman”. Adopting a discipline that values not greatness but reputation in business life, Yurtbay says “And the way to being reputable goes through being a business person who’s reliable on words, a good debtor and having modesty in the society.”
FATMA BATUKAN BELGE
You’re the chief executive officer in Yurtbay Seramik. What path you passed through and in what branches you studied before sitting on that seat? Let’s get to know you a little more…
I’ve taken on various tasks at various positions in our family company since 2011. And for nearly 4 years I’ve been carrying on as the Chief Executive Officer. I finished my undergraduate study in the University of Berkeley. I’m married and have two children.
Your founder Zeki Yurtbay is a very interesting and successful business person. He has headed the brick manufacturing enterprise while he was only 14. What did you learn from him about business?
The corporate culture in family companies is often determined by company founders’ way of doing business at that time and their value systems on business ethics and this lights the way for the future generations of the corporate. No doubt we have learned a lot from our founder Zeki Yurtbay and we keep on learning more and more. We’re indoctrinated that we must be the best in what we do and that what really matters is not greatness but reputation. And the way to being reputable goes through being a business person who’s reliable on words, a good debtor and having modesty in the society. So, we act with this in mind.
There’s a saying that big family companies are governed better by professional top managers coming outside of the company rather than children. I think you’re as Yurtbay family, you don’t agree with this…
First of all, I want to point out that every individual putting effort under Yurtbay community, are deemed as a member of the family. And Zeki Yurtbay family’s look on our corporate is in a manner of national treasure that always aims to embrace the community rather than a family company. Maybe for this reason, our fellow companies’ in-house relations are much to be admired. Still we will also pass the torch to the following generations just like every private company manager. This is a relay race. Another important issue here is how ready are the family members for such senior positions. Orders at big scales does not accept gaps. What really matters is continuity.
Your family business of ceramic manufacturing is a job you’re born into, but if you look at it as someone from outside what are the most attractive aspects of it?
Even though unfavorable aspects of being an industrialist in Turkey are being mentioned more than its’ attractive aspects, it of course has its’ advantages. Analytical thinking and close relation with innovation will keep persons and corporates always updated and open to modernity. This person, as well as enhancing his or her ability of problem solving, will also increase his or her success rate in what he or she does.
As a company carrying out 25 million meter square of manufacturing and exporting to 56 countries per year, how pandemic affected your manufacturing and sales? Did you take precautions for this?
Pandemic, with no doubt, is a course that takes hold of the whole world and it seems like this is to be struggled for quite a while. Like the whole business world, we also carefully implement the measures we took especially in the manufacturing part with the most crowded number of personnel. For instance, we have never loosened our measure protocols we put into practice early in pandemic and won’t loosen until the very last case is recovered. In addition to this we also had to revise our manufacturing and sale objectives again like all of the manufacturers. But the effects of Covid-19 last short both in domestic market and in our export sales and before the recession is lapsed to the third quarter of the year supply and demand balance is recovered back again. In case this positive progress occurred in the third quarter of the year is preserved with these numbers in the last quarter, we think that ceramic tiles industry will end 2020 with a 5% - 8% growth compared to last year despite all the negativity.
On the other hand, we consider the pandemic as a new beginning that brings all countries and affiliate corporates to the same level. For instance, our industry supplies most of the new product visuals and supplementary materials from the first spread centers of the Pandemic in Europe, Italy and Spain. And for this, these countries are regularly being visited before exhibitions and required preparations are completed. Because of the flight restrictions this year, companies couldn’t make the travels they have been making every year so a supply deficiency has emerged and as a result of this, companies, for the first time, have faced a situation where they had to bring a solution to their new season products by their related departments without getting design support from abroad. 2021 will be a year where R&D and P&D activities of the companies will become prominent. And this is a sort of competition and a challenge. We have foreseen this issue and took all the required measures and continue to take more.
IS CONTACT LESS CONTACT POSSIBLE?
The 8th Zeki Yurtbay Design Awards, which is among the sustainable social responsibility projects of Yurtbay Seramik, is held under the title of "Contactless Contact" this year.
The competition is open to undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate students of architecture connected to the design departments, fine arts, visual arts, visual communication design, art and design and architecture and design disciplines of engineering faculties in Turkey and the TRNC.
The first winner will be awarded with 12,000 TL, the second with 8,000 TL, and the third with 6,000 TL. The design of the first winner of the competition will be produced and displayed at the Yurtbay Seramik’s stand at UNICERA 2021 Ceramic Bathroom Kitchen Fair. Applications for the competition will continue until 23 November 2020; results will be announced on December 15th. All details can be found on the website www.dogadansanatasentasarla.com.
We always emphasize on the collaboration of industry-education institutions for years. We left behind the 7th of the Zeki Yurtbay Design Awards. How does this competition contribute on this collaboration and how important is this for you as a company?
Beyond being a design competition, we also see Zeki Yurtbay Design Awards as an intellectual capital of the industry and a social responsibility project. The biggest factors of Zeki Yurtbay Design Awards advancing further by putting more and more by every year, are our marketing department acting with the first day excitement and diligence as if it’s organized for the first time and of course, the jury consisting of the most talented academicians, architects and interior architects of our country…
In addition to this, because the candidate projects from the participants are going beyond the imagination, determining the winner really becomes toilsome and just like every year, next year, winner projects will again continue to take their places on our production lines.
Last year, you were elected as the SERKAP Chairman of the Board. You became the “youngest chairman of SERKAP.” How did you manage to earn the trust of this many experienced people?
In fact, it would be better for the estimable members of the Board rather than me to answer this question. I can say that paying regard to every participants opinion in coteries like non-governmental organizations, being unifying and fair in cases where different opinions emerge, being effective in human relations and transparency and honesty are the primary principles I adopt.
To mention about SERKAP’s activities, how much does the ceramic tiling materials occupy within our general ceramic manufacturing?
When we look at the data, I would like to point out that there’s an ever-increasing market share. Presently there’s a 65% manufacturing ratio.
What are the advantages of ceramic tiling materials manufacturers being a union under one roof?
The sectoral problems of the companies are often common and unfortunately, solution to such problems are sometimes not at the hands of the companies. The possibility of being strong with unity is higher if you have got higher number of players at stake to solve problems. In this manner, SERKAP is the longest-established association of the Turkish Ceramics Federation which was founded by the sector’s pioneers and veterans that set forward with the principle that “unity is strength”, and it keeps on creating permanent solutions for the presents and the future of our sector.
Did you carry out any work for your members’ motivation during the pandemic?
In order to keep our members’ motivation and awareness fit during the pandemic, we have taken care to organize regular meetings via web. We have discussed the measures taken by each other and made effort to gain benefits of these.
In the last ceramic sector meeting you said, “we’re trying to manage high turnovers under great amounts of debts.” What are the biggest problems of the ceramics industry?
The biggest problems of the ceramics industry are firstly, long collection terms and increase in energy and other costs and following these are manufacturing and operational expenses that display a thorough increase in recent years.
In addition to this, market raises to final products, remaining below the inflation rates that are consistently increasing in recent years, is turning manufacturing companies to sizes and technologies with relatively less competition, in order for them to maintain their profit margins and this forces the manufacturers to conduct a business where they can make it possible to exist in the market through growth by means of capacity, providing that they push hard on to their debt-stock budgets. Again, generated sources being spend only for manufacturing capacity increase activities, is not giving a chance for companies to spend these sources for R&D and efficiency works intended to cost reduction which’s maybe one of the few factors that makes companies to stand out from their competitors in long term.
At this point, following the increasing energy costs in our country in recent years, with the narrowing profit margins and cash flow shrinkage arising from long-termed collections, again market raises to final products, remaining below the inflation rates that are consistently increasing in recent years, have all weakened the manufacturer’s hand. And this leads the manufacturer to head for the areas with relatively less competition before the present credit debt stock melts away and as a result of all of these, manufacturer always finds itself under an ever-repeating debt burden.
One of two unseen effects of these factors is the arising idle capacity and the other is companies delaying the moves they should do in time for they do not want to be thrown out of the competition by means of following the sectoral developments.
In addition to all of these, the panic moves of the entrepreneurs who get in and out of the sector like a flash in the pan and whose main field of activity is not manufacturing, are causing permanent losses in the sector.