Often credited as an inspirational role model for women in the male-dominated transportation industry, Chairwoman of Aras Kargo Evrim Aras discusses her commitment to women’s empowerment in Turkey and using intuition and innovation to build up the Aras Kargo brand.
Last year, the G20 made a commitment to narrow the gap between male and female employment by 25% by 2025. If you look at Turkey, you have one of the lowest female participation rates in the workforce among OECD countries. How do you assess the potential for Turkey to reduce this gender employment gap?
In Turkey, because of our patriarchal background, there is intense pressure on women. Women do not feel very comfortable in their own powers. So first we have to encourage women to take responsibilities. You know I became a senior figure at TOBB. We have very successful women role models on our board and we are all working for the young women, who want to be entrepreneurs and create something new. All around the world, women have this situation and maybe, in Turkey, if a woman wants, she can do it. I think we are showing this. I am the only woman CEO in the transportation sector around the world. This is a male-orientated business, which has 12,000 employees in Turkey. My father was very dominant and very sharp. If somebody needed shouting at, he shouted. After him, I came along and people trusted me. Because of my vulnerability or empathy, people trusted me and I trusted them. I said: “I am here, with all my responsibilities, to serve you. Let’s do it together” So we wrote a very successful story about our company. If a woman takes her power, then the others will have to respect her.
In the last couple of years the proportion of women working at Aras Kargo has grown considerably. How did you manage to achieve this?
Firstly, women are equal with mothers: they have to be mothers; they have to organize the house. Women need more support to do their job. So we gave that support in our company and we gave them some rights: for example, the first day and last day of school, they can go to school with their children. We also have some nursery rooms; we gave them bonuses; if the company offers a woman employment, then our employees can have a bonus (CV, references) for that job opportunity. So with this support, women feel much more comfortable. In the field, we also have women, we have careers for them. In the hubs, we have more women too. If they feel that support, they come.
What are your expectations for the newly launched W20 and the benefits it could bring for women in Turkey and other G20 countries?
At TOBB we are very focused on the organization and we want to show the world that if a woman wants something, she can do it. And in Turkey, when we look at the history, every time women took power, all wars were finished or the country became much more successful. So all of these negative things going on, women can bring peace and calm the country.
How important a role does Aras Kargo play, as one of the country’s leading CEP companies, in facilitating trade within Turkey and exports across the world?
We are a 35 year-old company, with a foreign partner. Until recently we have helped carry forward internal trade. Now we want to take the company to the international level: first with our neighbors, we already have trade relations with Europe. As you know, the world has become local and we use e-commerce. With the internet revolution, the borders have no importance, so trade is becoming much more global. We have a client who has been making shoes for four generations, a special kind of shoe that you will see in Hollywood movies. Only people who passed by the shop were able to buy them. After some years of development in the logistics sector, he was able to send his shoes overseas and recently he has been selling his shoes all over the world. He is one of our customers, he has expanded through us, and he is growing with us.
On your website you spoke about making Aras a global brand. Can you share with us your vision for the future growth and expansion of the company?
We can do that expansion with partnerships, I think. We can find the right partner in Iran or in Azerbaijan. All around the world there are CEP businesses, so we have opportunities to partner with others and expand. We are starting to expand through partnerships, so we don’t have a name in those countries, yet.
What innovations have you introduced to the market here in Turkey?
Technology is very important for our company because it is a human-based business, so time is very important. For time management we need very high quality technology and we have our own IT teams and innovation teams. We are going all around the world, looking for the latest technology. For example, drones. We are trying them, but not using them yet. Our teams are testing whether they are efficient or not. Also, we are trying Google Glass. We are very interested in innovation. Technology, economy, environment... the ecosystem should be efficient because we are an operational company and we have to connect the people and the deliveries. Backstage, we have huge systems built into our business to keep up with our needs. I believe that after telecommunications, CEP businesses are very important for the future generations.
What values have enabled the growth of the company from the small company started by your father into the huge brand it is today?
A lot of things have changed during the last 35 years. My father started the business because at that time, where he lived, in Anatolia, outside the bigger cities they didn’t have electronic goods like refrigerators, etc. He started selling these things in Anatolia. He did door-to-door marketing. After 10 years, he made an innovation and he used that network to start the CEP business. He learnt about cargo operations and he taught that to Turkish society. And then it started growing and growing. I started working with my father in 2001. I said: “We have to be a brand.” After a few years, my father came and he said: “You wanted a brand, here you have a creative agency. You are now the communication manager. Do it!” We changed our identity; we put our first advertisement on T.V. and then we became a brand. That allowed us to go corporate. We created a board so the brand awareness became powerful in our society. And now we are going international with our foreign partners.
How do you view the potential for Turkey to recover its momentum following the second election of the year scheduled for November 2015?
When we look at last 10 years of Turkey, we have to say we developed a high performance and high growth. And then we suffered the global crisis. Because we had gone through that crisis before, we weren’t affected that much. But from the beginning of 2012, growth began to slow. This year we have just a 2.9% growth rate. Our neighbors are in conflict, and there are political uncertainties, so all eyes are on Turkey because of the geographical and strategic position. Of course, we have a young population and we trust in them, because they are more educated. With this young population, we have innovation opportunities; that is because they have attended educational institutes around the world and they are really interested in technology. I have some hope! As a businesswoman, I want to teach and give courage to young people.
How do you feel about the responsibility of being a role model for women in Turkey and internationally?
It is a great honor for me. Every woman is a role model for me, as well. I don’t know whether I am a role model or not, but if my ideas are a good example for somebody, it is great.
What advice would you offer to women who are looking to start a business in Turkey?
If you have a dream, run after it. You don’t have anything to fear about that. Of course there are challenges in our mind, but you have to overcome them; it’s like working your muscles.