Over the past three decades, Turkey has watched the Anatolian
Tigers grow from small and medium-sized enterprise (SME)
entrepreneurs in the Turkish interior to conglomerates on the
country’s top company lists.
Although these business leaders have traditionally been cool to
the idea of foreign partnerships, analysts say the new
generation of Anatolian Tigers has global ambitions that
present lucrative opportunities for investors.
The term Anatolian Tiger first emerged in the 1980s as
entrepreneurs from Turkey’s conservative and
underdeveloped heartland began taking advantage of the
country’s liberalisation agenda to expand their
businesses aggressively into companies with thousands of
"Today the profile of an Anatolian Tiger company is a
hard-working, family-based manufacturing firm," says
Istanbul-based business intelligence specialist Gokay
During the first half of the 20th century, much of the
industrial activity in central Anatolia was focused on
textiles, but, as globalisation drove up competition in the
sector, the industrial activity shifted to consumer goods and
secondary products feeding other Turkish industries.
However, some signature Anatolian Tiger companies remained in
textiles, with Taha Textile being one of the
sector’s most notable successes. Founded by three
families in 1988, it signed a lucrative agreement to supply
fabric to French clothing company LC Waikiki that same year. It
grew so rapidly in the years that followed that it bought out
LC Waikiki in 1997, thus making it a completely Turkish brand.
In 2005, the European Stability Initiative released a report
describing the Anatolian Tigers as "Islamic Calvinists" which
had succeeded based on a mentality of selfreliance, thrift and
reinvestment of profits. However, these qualities have made
Anatolian Tiger companies traditionally less accessible to
Mehmet Gun, founding partner of Istanbul-based law firm Mehmet
Gun & Partners, says foreign investors looking to partner
Anatolian Tiger companies should be aware that cultural
differences will present a number of challenges when
negotiating a deal.
To begin with, the family-run enterprises that typify the
Anatolian Tiger model tend not to be interested in selling
stakes to strategic investors, but are open to the idea of
joint ventures with foreign companies, according to Gun. But,
given that many of these companies continue to be led by the
entrepreneurs that built them from the ground up, they also
tend to require significantly more persuasion concerning how a
foreign partner can help move things forward, he says.
Nonetheless, after prospering under a booming Turkish economy
in the 2000s, the Anatolian Tigers have acquired global
ambitions that require close cooperation with foreign
This is also in part due to a generational shift. Whereas
families in central Turkey faced a lack of educational
opportunities when the Tiger movement began, many of the
children of the first Anatolian Tiger entrepreneurs have now
studied at elite business schools across the western world.
As they have returned to take up the reins on the boards of
their family companies, Turanlioglu says they have brought
global vision and western business practices with them.
Gun says they are now increasingly looking for opportunities
for global expansion, and provide unique opportunities for
foreign firms seeking a partner to help them penetrate
difficult markets in the former Soviet Commonwealth of
Independent States (CIS), the Middle East and Africa, Gun said.
Since the mid-2000s, the Turkish government has pushed hard for
local companies to expand their trade and investment ties with
non-EU neighbouring markets both as a means of ameliorating the
country’s high current account deficit and also to
position the country as a regional economic centre.
Turkey has steadily made in-roads into the CIS and Middle East
and north Africa markets by expanding exports and providing
know-how in the construction and manufacturing sectors, but
Turkish companies have only recently penetrated sub-Saharan
The Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists of Turkey
(Tuskon) announced in 2011 that it had prioritised the
establishment of stronger business ties in new African markets,
and some progress has been made.
Turkey had just 12 embassies in Africa in 2003, but has since
expanded that to 34, with new posts for commercial councillors
created in 17 sub-Saharan states.
Turkey’s bilateral trade volume with Africa has
surged from $16bn in 2010 to $23.4bn last year, and Turkish
Airlines now flies to 39 destinations in Africa, adding its
latest — Cotonou, Benin — in June. Turkey
formally joined the African Development Bank last December and
Turkish companies have launched a series of ventures in Africa
over the past few years, although many of them remain at the
early stages of development.
In Uganda, for instance, a consortium of 11 Turkish companies
called the Turko Group announced earlier this year that it had
earmarked $20m for a series of ventures in agriculture,
healthcare and construction.
The Turkish government has also signalled its
interest in establishing a foothold in even the riskiest of
African markets. In 2011, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan became the first non-African head of state to visit the
Somali capital Mogadishu since the country descended into
conflict in 1991.
Turkey has since given hundreds of millions of dollars of aid
to Somalia, and has followed its humanitarian entry with
private investment. Last September, Turkish company Favori, a
part of the familyowned Kozuva conglomerate, took over the
management of Mogadishu’s Aden Adde International
Airport and pledged to invest in a $10m expansion. Turkish
construction firms have also been reportedly linked to a series
of infrastructure and retail projects under development in
Analysts say Turkish banks have been slow to follow the
country’s trailblazing construction and
manufacturing companies entering the African market. With
little presence on the continent, Turkish lenders have been
reticent to grant companies project finance or export credit
for investments there. This has created a potential opening for
liquid foreign investors seeking partnerships with Anatolian
Tigers on African ventures.
Gun says he is bullish on the opportunities that now exist for
foreign firms seeking to ride Anatolian Tigers’
aggressive globalisation, but added that misunderstandings in
negotiations are common. "You really have to try to understand
the culture that is unique to the environment," he says.
He adds that foreign investors should be aware that many of
these companies conduct their business in a way that is similar
to handling a family’s personal finances, and "not
all business transactions will be reflected in the books".
Although such discoveries can be disconcerting from a western
corporate point of view, they do not necessarily indicate
mismanagement, he adds.
Likewise, family-run Turkish businesses tend to be put off by
western dispute resolution methods, and Gun says those portions
of any proposed agreement should be brought to the agenda very
carefully. "Culturally, when a [Turkish] family has ambitions,
it dreams big. We do not like to talk about the negatives of
the dream," he says.