Networking Interviews with CEOs and Leaders - Ozgur Umut Eroglu

DATE: 6/13/2016
Ozgur Umut Eroglu is sitting right across me. I know which questions to ask. However, I can barely sit still.
Networking Interviews with CEOs and Leaders - Ozgur Umut Eroglu.


Curious thoughts rattle around my head: "How does it feel to be a leader of a giant team that has made it to the top five in the field of EPC (power plant engineering, procurement and construction) within a decade -- a team that has outreached 5000 people through game-changing seasonal projects?", I wonder.

Right before the interview, I decide to forget about my very much rehearsed list of questions. I realize that managing thousands of people equals building a solid chain of trust. Driven by the enlightenment, I pose my first question:

Ertugrul Belen: “What are your key childhood memories that have had an impact on your current values and achievements?”
Maintaining his straightforwardness during our brief talk before the interview, Ozgur answers, without blinking an eye:

Ozgur Umut Eroglu: “My maternal grandfather was a special man. They had spared one part of their home to look after people in need. Sometimes, new people would come in to fill in the place of those who died of old age.

Ever since I could remember, somebody outside the family was looked after at my grandparents' house. Once I even saw my grandfather collecting 100 people in front of a mosque, to feed them at home.

He used to go from Sivas to Istanbul to sell cattle. He had shepherds. He was a responsible tradesman who had a sense of belonging to his profession. This is why he used to go with the shepherds to sell the cattle.

He would regularly take me to Kayseri Coppersmiths' Bazaar, which is my dearest recollection. The Bazaar was a magical place, brimming with yellow pieces of copper in every corner. The melodic, pounding sound of hammers on the copper still wanders through my head. We used to exchange old copper pieces with the new. He was fond of good food. We would eat at the best place and go back by bus. 

I remember it very well. I was ten and felt like a prominent businessman. My grandfather would ask me to keep and protect our money throughout the journey. Money would spill out of my tiny pockets. He would ask me to give him some when he needed. It was an indelible feeling. A feeling of trust.

It is key. Therefore, I believe people should be given a chance. I was appointed as Assistant General Manager at 32. I worked hard to deliver on the trust given to me. And now I pay a particular attention to building my own team based this feeling of trust.

Ertugrul Belen: “Your grandfather was an embodiment of the feeling of trust in your childhood. What about authenticity? How did you decide to study at Middle East Technical University (METU), as a child from the small town of Gemerek Yeniçubuk in Sivas?

Ozgur Umut Eroglu: “Suna, whom I called as a sister, was one of the most influential figures for me as a child. She was the captain of the men's football team. She had a stern disposition, unlike her peers who would be willing to have friendly chats with people. Suna had stood out among her male peers 40 years ago, proving her difference, and significantly inspired me to embrace who I was.

I was not quite sure what I wanted to do until I got in the university but I was thinking of being an engineer. While we were growing up, we would rarely see our father at home. He worked a lot in labour-intensive jobs to bring livelihood for a family with three children. Back then, I kind of believed that studying engineering could ensure a more comfortable life. Moreover, Suna had also become an engineer. I was good at maths.

I waited for the daily newspaper from 5 to 9 am to find out whether I was admitted. I was exhilarated to have learned that I had got in. While jumping up and down on the hay bale with rejoice, I broke my leg.
By the way, all three children of the family studied at METU.

While laughing, a thought crosses my mind in the blink of an eye: I was expecting Ozgur Umut Eroglu to flaunt his accomplishments like a conqueror across the globe.  However, I now know that he is sharing his dearest recollections which made him who he is today on the path to become an influential leader.

Ertugrul Belen: “Any figures that left a mark on you as a university student?”

Ozgur Umut Eroglu: “Prof.Dr.Nevzat Özgüven was among my professors who studied in the States, after which he even provided consultancy services to NASA. He helped me specialize in control and dynamics within the realm of mechanical engineering. My thesis supervisor, Eres Söylemez, was once the president of TÜBİTAK SAGE, after which he was appointed as the president of OSYM. He had quite an influence on my decisions. He was so invaluable that he was among the witnesses to my marriage".

Ozgur's eyes shine with gratitude. I am looking forward to hearing what he has to say:
“By the way, meeting Mehtap, my wife, was the most precious mark that my years at university left on me. So much so that, I decided to turn down the invitation from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to be with Mehtap.

Ertugrul Belen: “I think that many university students will read this interview. If you had the chance to go back in time, what would you have done differently at university?"

Ozgur Umut Eroglu: “I was an accomplishing student in academy. All my grades were AA, with the exception of Thermodynamics. However, I was not involved in any clubs, communities or groups.

I wish I had played music. I love the side-blown flute. I wish I had read history a bit more, because history constantly repeats itself. It is key for us to gain an insight into our experience in the business world, along with an understanding of the developments in the region. I believe that even daily behaviours and corporations' decisions can be traced back in history.

Moreover, my old friends still remember how good I was at football, to such an extent that could allow me to become a professional football player. I used to run very fast. Motivating a child towards a certain goal matters. I was quite late to find this out.

Ertugrul Belen: “What was the trigger behind your achievement in the energy industry?”

Ozgur Umut Eroglu: “The fact that such an established organisation like GAMA was behind me was a great opportunity. Embarking upon EPC, though, was such a challenge. Ireland, for example, was among our first destinations. It was also the first time we were admitted to bid in a tender. I remember celebrating it. We landed on that tender, which served as the first bloom of a successful venture of ten years.

Ertugrul Belen: “Which of your work are you most proud of?"

Ozgur Umut Eroglu: “We leveraged that tender process in Ireland to turn into a giant team which handles 3 billion dollar projects in ten years' time. Recently, we have been listed in Fortune 500, as a company with the highest growth in exports. GAMA Power Systems has landed on a significant project in Saudi Arabia once again after a long time, and we have made an agreement with Algeria. We have won several projects in Iraq.

What also makes me proud from a technical angle is that we have become the first company to have implemented H Class gas turbines (the most efficient technology in the world) in two different projects, together with two different manufacturers (Siemens, GE) simultaneously in EPC."

Ertugrul Belen: “How do you describe the "right person" for your team?”

Ozgur Umut Eroglu: “One can learn any job as long as they have a sense of ethics.  The time you discover and motivate hard working, honest and professionally respectful people is when the universe works its magic.”

Ertugrul Belen: “What do you think it means to have good relations in the business world?”    

Ozgur Umut Eroglu: “Communication comes to a stall if you build your relations merely on contracts. You need to solve existing problems without shielding yourself with contractual clauses. Striking a balance between business and communication, and keeping the communication channels open. This is the key."

Ertugrul Belen: “What have you achieved from Networking?”

Ozgur Umut Eroglu: “Almost all my achievements are the fruits of good relations and Networking.  You'll understand you have built the right network when you see twenty people lending a helping help to you once you need it.”

Ertugrul Belen: “If you were to redefine Networking, how would you do it?”

Ozgur Umut Eroglu: “Building relationships that have a depth, rather than merely exchanging business cards. What I mean by depth is that one feels comfortable asking a favor from you, and you can do the same. It means that both parties enjoy a bond based on mutual trust. Don't give a blind eye to those who deserve your attention when they ask a helping hand from you.

Ertugrul Belen: “Which matters more? Meeting more people or having longer, more meaningful talks with less people?”  

Ozgur Umut Eroglu: “Balance matters here, along with sustainability. Deeper talks contribute to personal connection. Optimization is key in relationships, like in every other aspect of the business world.

Ertugrul Belen: “What are your most-preferred environments for Networking? Why?"

Ozgur Umut Eroglu: “I'd say international energy fairs and conferences. Normally, you would have to devote a lifetime to meet this many people. During such events, though, you can invest in relations, rather than only focusing on investments in products and services."

Ertugrul Belen: “How do you react once a complete stranger, say a university student, starts talking to you while you're outside for a walk or somewhere else?”

Ozgur Umut Eroglu: “I like the fact that people know me. If a university student, I always feel glad to be sharing my experiences upon hearing their question. They also contribute to me. I give an ear to their passions. Don't forget that their passions turn into dreams. Their dreams turn into goals, which one day turn into truths..."

Ertugrul Belen: “What do you think are the main obstacles to Networking restricting its potential impact?”

Ozgur Umut Eroglu: “People are still not aware of the fact that Networking is a skill which can be acquired and improved. They embrace it if they are naturally gifted. Otherwise, they don't believe that they can improve this skill. No matter how academically good you are in the ultimate state of the business world, you cannot progress unless you position yourself in a network.”

Ertugrul Belen: “What is the role of Networking in your industry?” 

Ozgur Umut Eroglu: “There are different players in the energy industry, including producers, service and good providers, and investors. They are interdependent. Therefore, we are in desperate need of building a network, like every other industry. Such a network would help us find the right channel for prospective investments, or valuable information about technological developments. Moreover, industrial networks can pave the way for joint projects and collaborations. Networking has a significant role in energy.”

Ertugrul Belen: You topped the list of 25 companies with the highest growth in exports. How do you think Networking has contributed to this achievement?"       

Ozgur Umut Eroglu: “Projects in this industry tend to have an international scale. Therefore, we are an international firm. While on the search for a new project, you need to learn everything from the very early stages and prepare in detail. We constantly communicate with vendors, potential clients and experts. This means networking, which allows us to promptly contact the right people in the case of a need for new investments, while helping us be prepared for project developments and upcoming tenders. In order to contribute to the economy, we look for our resources in Turkey even in the case of vacancies in procurement. Accomplishment has come early because this is among our priorities."

Ertugrul Belen: “What would you recommend to those who want to climb the corporate ladder and become a young CEO?”

Ozgur Umut Eroglu: “I watched my steps. I did not rush through the ladder. I am the CEO of the company which I once joined as a bidding engineer. In some cases you are forced to take 5 to 10 steps each time. However, climbing step by step makes you better prepared. One needs to be patient. Prospective CEOs should work hard to be equipped enough. Moreover, they should have a network ready once they achieve the position of their dreams. A weak networking vision in industrial and professional spheres once you are granted an executive position would make the company self-enclosed. However, you need people to serve as a bridge between your company and the world.

Ertugrul Belen: “Do you spare any time for yourself in such a busy schedule?”

Ozgur Umut Eroglu: “I like spending time with my family. It is a great pleasure for me to watch my son's tennis matches. I do Pilates regularly. Recently, I have joined a photography class. I like photographing people in their daily lives. Moreover, I have also started attending amateur cooking classes. I am interested in the Far East cuisine in particular. I obtained an amateur captain's license a while ago. My plans include starting practices with a sailing boat before long.

I believe an executive should also be a "coach"; therefore, I have enrolled in the Balance Center under the Art and Science of Coaching Certificate Program in Erikson Coaching International. By the way, one of my greatest hobbies is reading psychology and history."

Ertugrul Belen: "I have found out that you have launched a blog where you share your experiences. Could you please give the name of your blog and perhaps other channels where people can contact you?”

Ozgur Umut Eroglu: “Sure.
LinkedIn  ”

Ertugrul Belen: "And my last question: How do you think people will remember you?"

Ozgur Umut Eroglu: “People will remember me as a serious, trustworthy and honest person. Only those who know me well will talk about my funny side."

Quite impressed by such a genuine interview, I thank him. I give my Networking book as a gift. He asks me to autograph the book. "Such a modest person despite his outstanding achievements and stern disposition", I say to myself.

Ozgur Umut Eroglu is the CEO and Vice President of GAMA Power Systems, a firm that has successfully implemented 46 turn-key power plant projects with a total installed capacity of 25,000 MW in 14 countries across 4 continents.

In the last decade, GAMA has been elected among the top five global companies in the field of EPC-based (engineering, procurement, construction) turn key projects for power plants, primarily including combined circle plants, thanks to an international team of 5,000 people.

Driven by his experience of 20 years which covered tasks of Vice President and General Manager for GAMA, Ozgur Umut Eroglu led the operations in Europe, Africa, Middle East, Turkey, Russia and the CIS in the field of international project finance and industrial investments, along with constant contribution to turn-key projects for power plants.

He did a BA and MA in the Mechanical Engineering Department of METU.

During Networking CEO Program, I appreciated even more the immense role of Executive Assistants in the success of CEOs and leaders. I thank Ms. Sumer Cavusoglu of Gama Power for supporting my interview with Mr. Eroglu.