Doing Business in Turkey

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By Ludmila (Mila) Rusakova Golovine

If one wanted to find a suitable country in which to do business which was set to burst onto the world scene, it would be difficult to find a better candidate than Turkey.  Since its 2001 financial crisis, the country’s economy has done exceptionally well.  The numbers speak for themselves.  Between 2002 and 2008, the country’s economy grew at an annual rate of 5.8 percent while during the same period the European Union grew at only 1.8 percent.  By 2010, the Turkish economy was valued at $729 billion making it the 16th economy in the world.

The country’s economy is growing at such speed that it is beginning to rival Brazil, Russia, India, and China, the celebrated top emerging economies.  In fact, some have even dubbed Turkey, “the China of Europe.”  Moreover, the country is positioned to become an even bigger powerhouse.  It is one of the great crossroads countries of the world.  It is literally divided between two continents, Europe and Asia.  Consequently, it is set to become a larger transit hub for both goods and natural resources between Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.  Some economists have predicted that by 2050 Turkey could become the 10th economic power in the world.  This situation offers great promise to those seeking a country in which to do business.  However, without proper cultural preparation, it will all be for naught.

The most important aspect that distinguishes Turkish business culture and that of America is the importance of the relationship.  While Americans focus on figures and contractual obligations, Turkish people tend to concentrate on the character of the person with whom they are dealing.  Quite simply, they will not do business with someone they do not know and trust.  This aspect usually frustrates Americans because it slows down business negotiations and deals.  This situation usually occurs in meetings.  Initial business meetings hardly ever concern the actual deal or proposal.  It is at this stage that the Turkish counterpart will want to get to know the American counterpart.  Although this may be frustrating, it is important to maintain patience and allow the process to advance accordingly.

Conversation is the best way to put your Turkish counterpart at ease.  Certain topics of conversation are good while others are taboo.  Family is always a good subject; however, it is best to talk about children and not spouses.  Sports are also good topics.  Football, or soccer as it is known in the US, is immensely popular in Turkey so it would be good to be familiar with the local teams.  This type of knowledge will impress your Turkish counterpart.  As a general rule, religion should not be discussed.  It is nearly impossible to know how your counterpart will react so it is best to avoid this subject.  Turkish history is a good topic but requires caution as some Turkish historical events have been controversial. The Turkish people enjoy talking about their history but it is best to let them lead the conversation on this subject.

Although religion should not be discussed it must be recognized.  Turkey, although staunchly secular in the public sphere, is predominantly Muslim and devout.  Consequently, they will pray five terms per day toward the holy city of Mecca.  It is important not to schedule a business meeting at these times.  In addition, during the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims must fast all day until sunset.  Be cognizant of this if you are planning to schedule a social function with your Turkish counterpart.  Also, alcohol is forbidden in Islam.  It is best not to drink unless your counterpart does.  As previously stated, the public space is highly secularized so alcohol consumption is tolerated in certain areas but it is impossible to know if it is acceptable in a given situation until your counterpart initiates.

While getting to know the American counterpart, Turkish businesspeople usually like to conduct business lunches and dinners.  Bear in mind that the host always pays.  If the Turkish businessperson makes the invitation, it is considered rude for you to try and pay.  Very importantly, Muslims do not eat pork as it is forbidden in Islam.  Consequently, do not try and order any pork-based dish as this gesture will be highly offensive.

There are a few aspects of Turkish address which can make an impression upon your Turkish counterpart.  If you are on friendly terms, you may address him by his first name followed by “bey”.  If it is a Turkish woman, the form of address will be the first name followed by “hanim”.  If your Turkish counterpart is a doctor or a professor then these forms of address should be employed followed by the first name.  These are little things but they will be most impressive if you can demonstrate that you know them.

Although it may not be discussed frequently in the news, Turkey’s status as a place to do business and invest is only rising.  It is an excellent place to expand your business ventures but in order to do so you must be culturally aware and maintain an open mind.

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As a graduate of the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Houston, Ludmila (Mila) Rusakova Golovine, Founder, CEO, and President of MasterWord Services, Inc., started her company with a vision of seamlessly connecting people across any language, any time, and any culture.  She can be reached by email at mgolovine@masterword.com, by phone at 281-589-0810, or visit her website at www.masterword.com.

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