Networking Interviews with CEOs and Leaders - Imge Kaya Sabanci

DATE: 7/14/2016
An article on Richtopia, thanks to which I keep being updated on the business world and international news, catches my eye: 100 Most Influential Women Leaders.
Networking Interviews with CEOs and Leaders - Imge Kaya Sabanci.

I look through the names: Hillary Clinton, Christiane Amanpour, Michelle Obama, and Imge Kaya Sabanci! My heart pounds with happiness. Such an achievement comes from Turkey and I know her personally! I met Imge Kaya Sabanci in the Speed Networking session I developed for the "10,000 Women" programme.

Imge Kaya Sabanci successfully held the title of 2010-2014 Turkey Programme Director for the "10,000 Women" Entrepreneurship Project launched in 2008 by international investment bank Goldman Sachs, which was later adapted in Turkey by Özyeğin University. 

In June 2015, she was appointed as the Director of the Europe, Middle East, India and Africa Region for the "Entrepreneurial Winning Women" program pioneered by Ernst & Young. She touched the lives of hundreds of women and, in essence, equipped them with a trust-driven and solid network through her work. 

Therefore, Imge Kaya Sabanci was a golden name for the Networking Interviews with CEOs and Leaders. What she did for herself and her surroundings helped her rank among 100 most influential women in the world. What set her apart from her peers? How would she describe Networking? Was she born with a natural gift she had yet to explore? Or was it her competencies that she constantly improved? Questions were again whirling through my mind. 

Ertugrul Belen: "What is the core value that lies in the heart of your achievements?”

She spills out the answer without even having to think:

Imge Kaya Sabanci: “Believing, respecting and being passionate.”

Ertugrul Belen: “Emotional values, you mean.”

The comment came as a reflex, which Imge Kaya Sabanci deeply understood.

Imge Kaya Sabanci: “When I was little I used to dismantle all the appliances at home to have a look inside and then assemble them back again. I was not trying to break them. I just had to figure out how they functioned. It may sound illogical, but I always stayed away from the things that I was supposed to do."

Ertugrul Belen: “You mean, in order to remain true to the ethical values on the way to success, right?”

Imge Kaya Sabanci: “Yes, ethical values mean a lot to me. I need to feel at peace before I fall asleep. You need to find that balance inside you.”

Ertugrul Belen: “You outreach thousands and hundreds of women to improve their lives. How come have you adopted this vision of helping, which means, in Networking terms, giving without getting back?"

Imge Kaya Sabanci: “I was like that at the preliminary school. I felt happy when I lent a helping hand. I had some goals that I pursued, but I always supported those with whom I encountered along the way."

Ertugrul Belen: “My research in Networking reveals that people may turn a blind eye to their families, and sometimes to their entire surroundings, when they get stuck with their personal goals and projects. On the other hand, you have achieved where you are today by supporting the people around you. Do you have any regrets? There must have been people who did not appreciate your support. Have you ever felt like "I would have been successful more quickly had it not been for them?"

Imge Kaya Sabanci: “No one remains to put to blame on if you're making your own decisions. This point of view has played a significant role in my life. I graduated as a valedictorian from Bornova Anatolian High School.
 Later, I ranked among the top 100 contesting students in the National University Admission Exams. This allowed me to pick the university of my choice. Sabanci University attracted me the most. Although a maiden university, they had already contacted me before my graduation from high school, and introduced their vision. 

They set their hearts on what they were doing and would do. As an 18 year old young girl, I was convinced of their philosophy of 'creating and developing together'.”

Ertugrul Belen: “It seems that you picked a challenging path back then, by waiving the established culture and opportunities an already recognized university could readily offer. What were the consequences of this personal decision?”

Imge Kaya Sabanci: “I believe I can find the balance between reason and emotion while making decisions. Consequences of that decision were life-changing for me. My experience from involving in the establishment of several university clubs to writing the charters for student communities was invaluable at this newly-founded university. 

Students at Sabanci University have to pass or fail a Civic Involvement Project before graduation. My project was about solidarity with earthquake victims that was initiated after the 1999 Marmara earthquake.

Everyone was using any means available to help the victims, through moral support projects and material aids. We were aware that the earthquake shattered the future dreams of many young people. I and other members of the project mobilized to help students who fell behind their classes. Next year there were 40 members in the project, when I was appointed to lead the entire project."

Ertugrul Belen: “At such a young age you assumed a project that required sustainability and a lot of efforts. How did you lead the project?"

Imge Kaya Sabanci: “There was only one thing I was asking the project members to consider: “Don't lead people to be carried away by expectations that you cannot meet. Your helping hand would be a glimmer of hope for those in need. And once you take it back, you would disappoint instead of  help people.  This was my first speech,  after which some left straight ahead due to the risk of failing to carry out their tasks. I was quite supportive for those leaving members, as well."

Ertugrul Belen: “This project of yours at university served as a pilot project for the upcoming years of your life. You are currently involved in international projects. Did you have the chance to do anything international back then?"

Her expression and energy reveals that Imge Kaya Sabanci vividly recalls the excitement of those years."

Imge Kaya Sabanci: “Yes! Open Society Institute , currently known as Open Society Foundations, sponsored our Civic Involvement Project. I had the chance to sport my vision on an international platform even during university years. 

I again wander off the list of questions in front of me. Regardless of how clichéd it may sound, the notion of happiness crosses my mind."  

Ertugrul Belen: “How do you describe happiness in your job? Receiving awards? Or having a significant impact?" 

Imge Kaya Sabanci: “Feeling happy has never been enough for me. You cannot be happy when alone. I am happy when any tiny or sizeable effort of mine receives the recognition it deserves. Awards have not been a criterion for happiness in my career."

Ertugrul Belen: "How would you react when your efforts go unnoticed or are not recognized?" 

Imge Kaya Sabanci: “Of course I feel disappointed. However, I stay away from over-generalizations that arise from a disappointing experience. Some even miss the meaning of thankfulness.  No matter what topic, situation or position is, I never skip thanking. I don't shy away from recognizing an effort."

Ertugrul Belen: “Non-profit organizations are voluntary attempts, therefore relations are managed in a much easier way. You have been actively involved in non-profit organizations. Is it possible to maintain this mind set in private sector?"

Imge Kaya Sabanci: “I have been involved in non-profit projects for quite a long time but I have been always been active in the private sector. I have remained loyal to my principles regardless of where I have worked."

Ertugrul Belen: “Let's also talk about your Networking principles and habits, then. What do you do to improve and maintain your new and existing contacts?"

Imge Kaya Sabanci: “When I see some news on the Internet or receive an update e-mail, for example, about an acquaintance, it is essential for me to call and congratulate them. I still keep in touch with the people I got to know in my workplace 10 years ago.

You need to follow up with what the people your circle have been doing in order to maintain your relations. It is a pleasure for me to spread the word about the achievements of people I do and do not know. This is a precious chance for me to have solid relations."

Ertugrul Belen: “I would like to ask this question because you have an impressive circle of people. Do you think everyone in Turkey is as open to sharing as you?" 

Imge Kaya Sabanci: “Unfortunately, not. When I look at it, I sometimes see people only announcing the achievements of those who they don't know. It is as if they would miss an important share of their pies when they spread the word about those in their own circles. I find it quite odd."

Ertugrul Belen: “Do you have any formula to manage your Networking efforts, i.e. those sustainable relations based on mutual trust? Or do you follow any systematic methods?"
Imge Kaya Sabanci: “There is not a formula. It is all about sustainability. I mean, I don't allocate a specific day in a month to Networking but I always note down telephone numbers and particular information I need to keep in mind. I have been taking notes down for years in my notebooks. They still serve as a reference for me. They are like a precious encyclopaedia of Networking. 

My genuine and natural way of contacting people helps me maintain my relations in a much more efficient way. Moreover, I am always driven by these two questions:

1-    How can I be beneficial for the people that I know and have just got to know?
2-    Who should introduce with others to help them achieve something together?

This is the way I think, which always proves to yield very good results."

Ertugrul Belen: “Could you give an example?”

Imge Kaya Sabanci: “Three years ago, I was invited to Pakistan to give a speech on women entrepreneurs. One of the topics under the umbrella of Ladiesfund Entrepreneurship Conference (LEC) was Global Game Changers.

Recently, I paid a visit to the States. I was in a meeting with the global director of Empower Women, a programme that was launched under the umbrella of the United Nations. Pakistan was among the agenda items. Therefore, I introduced her to Tara whom I had met at LEC three years ago. As a result, they have managed to create a sphere of influence which was beneficial for thousands of people. I have dozens of similar examples.”

Ertugrul Belen: “Do you always follow up on the impacts of your attempts to introduce people? Do you ever wonder if your introduction resulted in a collaboration afterwards?”

Imge Kaya Sabanci: “I sometimes do follow up on the result. But I don't pursue a personal benefit by introducing people. I also don't want to put pressure on them. They already share with me in a week's time if I introduce right people with each other."

Ertugrul Belen: “Chatting is a key skill in Networking to exchange information. Do you prioritize, let's say, any topics or people to chat?”

Imge Kaya Sabanci: “I don't put a limit to who I can chat with. I like being a part of daily life. I am even curious to know what concerns the drivers of a particular taxi station.

If it is called prioritization, I prefer chatting to give information as well. I mean, I update my circle of people if I have heard of a development or beneficial programme that could be relevant to them. Therefore, without the need to prioritize, I find common things to talk about, to chat with, and to improve, people." 

Ertugrul Belen: “Sharing and finding common grounds with people is among your priorities then. These are key and essential components of Networking. Could you give personal examples?

Imge Kaya Sabanci: “Sure. International Finance Corporation (IFC), established as the private sector division of the World Bank Group, contacted me for a research on Women and Entrepreneurship. I introduced relevant people and shared with them all the research, information and names that I have collected over the years. The feedback from IFC representatives was quite surprising: “This is the first time somebody has shared such valuable information with us, and has been quite attentive to introduce relevant people”, they said. 

This has turned out to be a precious contact. After a a while, IFC suggested me as a panelist to the ‘Worldbank Solutions 4 Work’ conference. I suddenly found myself in a network of information and people that was founded to eliminate youth unemployment by 2030. I was both a panelist and moderator in that conference. I helped two female social entrepreneurs to introduce their work during the panel. 

Two months later, I was invited as a panelist for the launch of ‘Solutions 4 Youth Employment Global Coalition’, which was set to take place as part of the 2014 Annual Meetings of the World Bank and IMF in Washington. I was an invitee to represent the civil society and give a speech on entrepreneurship. As much as I was honored, I could not help but wonder: There were various names who could successfully assume this task. Why did they choose me? 

I was very much impressed to have later found out that many people, from the panelists I moderated to other participants, also suggested me. 

In the meanwhile, I personally witnessed the expansive impact of sharing, like the butterfly effect.
Despite my busy schedule, I care about supporting people in any possible area. I don't turn down such invitations."

Ertugrul Belen: “What do you think about Networking on social media? Is it important for you to have a presence on these channels?”    

Imge Kaya Sabanci: “I don't use Facebook. I invite people to my place when I want to share personal photos. My personal life is, as the name implies, personal.

I actively use LinkedIn for business purposes. But I am not stressed by the need to share something everyday. 

On Twitter, I share precious pieces of information I collect from the events I attend, for those who have not attended. Sometimes, I share up to 30 posts from a meaningful conference. I give reference to the people who spread the info, and recognize their input." 

Ertugrul Belen: “We have talked about Networking intensively. What do you think the name Networking implies? How would you describe it?”    

Imge Kaya Sabanci: “Delivering benefits to people, exchanging information, inspiring, and recognizing achievements is what Networking means to me.

When I listen to somebody, I am always there, without the interruption of my phone and WhatsApp. 

Even when they are trying to sell something, I listen. "I don't know how I can be of help", I say when I have no idea as to how I can be helpful."     

Ertugrul Belen: “You are frequently in meetings with senior executives. What are the tricks of Networking with them?"    

Imge Kaya Sabanci: "In general, there are already several people who provide them with operational support. Therefore, the key value you can deliver is introducing them with people who they may want to get to know."

Ertugrul Belen: “You travel on a frequent basis. Do you have a certain Networking approach in this regard?”     

Imge Kaya Sabanci: “I get in touch with my contacts in the destinations of my travels. They spare time for me. I try to do the same when they come here. This ensures the sustainability of my international contacts.”

Ertugrul Belen: “Do you hold back certain questions while you are networking?”

Imge Kaya Sabanci: “The trouble shared is a problem halved. “Is any of you have an idea about this topic?”, I comfortably ask people around me. It is not a matter of wanting, it is asking. “Do you personally know about this"; or "Do you know any person who can help with this?”, I ask. Now that everybody is quite busy, they may miss the fact that one needs support if we fail to share. I mean, one should not be so much self-enclosed.”

Ertugrul Belen: “What would you recommend to university students who are willing to create a circle from scratch?”

Imge Kaya Sabanci: “They need to talk. Without expecting anything. They should not waste time with people if they feel something negative. 

They should, for example, ask what they could learn from the people they meet, if they don't have a particular field of interest to chat about.

They need to ask themselves what is exciting for them instead of which field they should pay a particular attention to.

They need to spare time for each person they get to know. Even a simple “Good morning” would a great starting point. I personally suggest that, instead of WhatsApp or social media, they make phone calls or have face-to-face contacts for birthday celebrations or get well messages. 

And they should believe in the value of coincidences. They need to genuinely invest in relations, without expectations. Once I was in the middle of a quite busy schedule that lasted two weeks. On a day I had a flight, a fellow lecturer who contacted me from the university asked me to meet his wife. I had just finished a meeting, when we had a quick coffee before my flight. That person had a huge impact on my career at EY." 

Ertugrul Belen: “Where will we see Imge Kaya Sabanci in the future? And do you kindly have anything to add?

Imge Kaya Sabanci: “It is a great pleasure for me to be involved in work that has an impact on the society. I want to expand the scope of this impact, in order to deliver value to the world. I don't know when or how I can do it. But I feel that power inside me. 

Nature is like a mirror of the balance in personal relations. My grandfather was a special person whose efforts served as a first to improve the lives of people in his surroundings. I think it was my grandfather who taught me to respect nature. There will always be another day and another night. This is how nature works. Everybody knows this. Unfortunately, though, some live as if life would never come to an end; as if there would never be another day or night.

Respecting nature is being able to be natural."