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Far-sighted logistics firm committed to quality in the long haul

Interview - October 1, 2013
In 2014, Turkey’s Sertrans Holding celebrates its silver anniversary of providing quality-assured, value-added logistics services at its brand new state-of-the-art headquarters. Nilgün Keleş, CEO of Sertrans Holding, speaks to World Report about the company’s goals for continued international expansion, which are in tandem with the nation’s global growth aspirations, as well as its efforts to increase security in global supply chains and its active social responsibility program
Turkey is going through an exciting phase at the moment. In a period of global economic recession, Turkey has been the fastest growing economy in Europe, for two out of the last three years, and is even projected to post a respectable gross domestic product (GDP) growth figure of 4% for 2013. What impact would you say this economic prosperity has had on Sertrans Holding?

Due to the financial crisis and the Arab Spring, over the past five years, of course Turkey has been affected. After the 2000 financial crisis in Turkey, the changes in the banking sector made it more secure, so the stable financial policies, and the potential of the region as well as Turkey, together with privatisation, had a positive impact on the country. As you mentioned, we achieved 4% growth, and this year they are expecting 4%, which is good. Our company believes in our country, so we have been investing since 2008. We have been cautious, but we have been growing. We believe in the fact that Turkey will move forward.
Proof of this is we are currently celebrating the opening our new logistics centre. In our new logistics centre we offer supply chain management from one side to the other, with state-of-the-art technology. It is specialised in e-commerce and it has many luxury aspects. It is a large complex based on a 50,000 sq m area. In times of crisis, you see a change in customer needs, and we produce new products in line with those needs.
When we met with Mr Ertaş from the Capital Markets Board, he discussed how important trust and confidence is in the underlying economy to its growth. Given the current events within Turkey and the region, do you think that confidence and trust has been shaken a little? If so, what should be done to regain the trust of the international community?

It did not shake confidence, but it caused turbulence in trust. As you know, investors seek security and trust above all, and Turkey is the right country for that. But with the problems we have been experiencing in the surrounding area, particularly in Syria, this questioned our policy of zero problems with our neighbours.

These events made it look as if our democracy has been impacted, but this is a misconception. The fact that EU negotiations have stalled means that it looks like it is not moving forward. The issues with social peace regarding the new institution as well as the process for peace in the eastern part of Turkey all brought forward questions regarding this status.
Thankfully we are aware of the issues we have been facing on the economy side. The public wants peace, and we are a growing democracy. With a good constitution, I believe we will be able to overcome these issues. The problems with the EU have turned into an endeavour where the aim is not to join, but to walk in that direction.

I believe that things will take a turn for the better over the next three to four months. There may be a degree of turbulence for a while with the elections, but I think it will go on a healthy course. Of course, these events have an impact on what is happening in Turkey, but the potential of Turkey is also obvious. I believe that things will get into order – Turkey is a good model, and our democracy is not one that will be shaken up that easily. It is strong, compared to a Middle Eastern democracy. I think we will overcome these issues. 
Next year marks the 25th anniversary of Sertrans Holding, so congratulations for that. It started off as a family-run enterprise and it has now grown into an exemplary model of an international Turkish company with unique facilities that are opening imminently. Can you tell us a little about this impressive journey?

First of all, thank you for the compliments. Indeed, our company has grown, but it has grown in parallel with Turkey’s growth in general. I would like to go back to talking about the 2023 goals.

They are complementing our company’s growth and it will look at our past and future. A great goal has been set for the whole country in 2023. With our young, dynamic structure, research and development and branding and certain expertise, there are things that need to be done by our young companies all over the country, but thankfully, the work is being done in that direction, especially in medium-sized enterprises. 
Our company was established in 1989, with a focus on the textiles industry, chemicals exports and subsequently medication and machinery. We expanded in those areas and became an international logistics firm. We aimed to be in a situation where our customers need our able and well-educated staff and the best state-of-the-art technology.

We wanted to provide our customers with a chance to track their goods in an interactive way, and we provided international services in storage, customs, international logistics and each of these are separate, but we put them together. We develop products in line with the needs of our customers in all of these areas. We wanted to be the one-stop, high quality, sustainable firm, and with more than 400 people who are in our company in this country, we are proud to be able to provide just-in-time services.
Sertrans Holding offers high-quality services in supply chain management from every aspect – vertically and horizontally – in all modes of transportation, including road, marine, air and rail. In which sectors are the majority of your operations and where do you see room for growth?

Road transport is notable. We started out as an international logistics firm, but you cannot deny the importance of air and marine transport too. The direction of trade in the world is changing – there is more trade interaction with Russia, China and India. It is not just about buying from them – it is also about selling to them. So air and marine activities are very important, but roads will remain important, because the economy in Europe does not look like it is going to get much better in the next few years. So taking smaller goods faster to the shelves will remain important in general logistics. 
We also have value-added services within warehouses. That will include having items from our customers – working on them and assembling them and delivering them. If there is a problem with an item or a case, then reverse logistics will come into play. Even the destruction of imperfect goods is a part of our services there. So it is another important aspect.
As Turkey is a hub in itself, due to its potential as well as the potential of the area, air, road and marine transport as well as value-added services and e-logistics are the future.
Sertrans prides itself in offering services at a very high level, which is demonstrated by your ISO quality certificates as well as other awards. But how are you working to strengthen the brand and your services even further?

Firstly, my apologies – I do not mean to sound snobbish, but I doubt there are many firms with the same level of service quality and varied products as Sertrans. We are doing our best to provide our customers with 360-degree services.

We are trying to serve them in every aspect and we are trying to do analyses to forecast future needs and try to develop products in accordance with that. I might be a little subjective, but I think we are the first and the only company that has been producing so many products since 1990. I think we have more than 20 products that have gone onto the market. Our greatest aim is to continue to do that. I will share with you something that has not yet been publicised – we have established the Smartteam.

Smartteam is the brand name of our employees who have very high level of technical expertise. Of course, ISO is important, but I think EFQM is more important because it is more difficult to obtain that standard. We also have a green policy and I think we are the first and only logistics company with a LEED-certified establishment in Turkey.

We believe it is important and it is valuable for us and our customers to have a LEED-certified establishment. When I see products that we put forward in 1990 still being used, that makes me proud. We are not just releasing products for the sake of it – we are producing good quality and high-tech products that will last for many years.
Let me tell you about our new generation of innovative products a little bit. One of them is called E-Trade Logistics; we offer e-logistics services in our modern bonded and unbonded warehouses with a strong IT infrastructure and advanced technology. And our other new generation product is our IQ+ Shuttle Service.

The IQ+ (Innovatif Quick Service) covers all of our new generation products. And the ‘Shuttle’ is the name of our mutual, regularly scheduled partial and very fast transportation service between Turkey and Europe, including Italy, Spain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. For example, Sertrans Logistics delivers the goods to Barcelona in only 68 hours without any violation of the rules. We give a damage-free service; we claim to be the most reliable partner for import and export companies with a damage-free rate of 99.8%.
Sertrans is not only contributing significantly to the Turkish economy through its operations – and acting as an ambassador to the outside world – you are also heavily committed to social responsibility practices, including your Girls Carrying the Future program. Can you tell us a little about this and other initiatives?

Frankly, sustainability is very important to us. We plan for the next 10 years and we move looking towards those next 10 years. As a company, it is not just about providing well-organised services to our customers – it is also related to what you can give back to society as a company.

This process started in 1989. We have been working with the girls for that long, and we have more than 1,500 girls in total. The last group was 300 girls for the past eight or nine years, and if I am not wrong, I think 27 of them are university graduates now. It is very important for us, our democracy, economy, wealth and growth. Women are important, and we are proud to work with the girls. 
In our company, we also try to help our blue-collar workers get their kids educated. The environment is also important for us, but the priority is on health and education, so we have initiatives in the Bolluca Children’s Village and we also support a Leukaemia foundation for kids, and the Koruncuk Foundation, which is for children who need protection, and also the Kidney Foundation. We always have a budget for these, and we always try to set an example for these so that we can set an example for the others.

This is not something that we do for publicity – this is a must for every company, and we are trying to show that to others. 
Talking about Turkey-UK relations, what advice would you give to UK companies or potential UK investors who want to enter the logistics sector or who would like to become Sertrans’ strategic partner?

I do not think there is any need for advice. The presence of all the foreign firms in Turkey shows this. England is the basis for logistics – they use the best models for logistics. I think if British investors come and invest in Turkey, they will secure their future when they think about the potential for Turkey, the Middle East and the Black Sea area. We would be open to collaboration with companies where there is mutual benefit, with sustainable growth.
As CEO of Sertrans Holding, if we were to come back here in say three years’ time and interview you again, ideally what achievements or accomplishments would you have liked to have completed?

I believe we will become a world-class company based on our services quality and quality of human capital. I do not mean that we will have offices all over the world, but in terms of our network and quality of human capital and our vision, we would like to be a world-class company.

This year, we will become an Authorised Economic Operator (AEO), which means that you are a no-risk company. This is to increase security in global supply chains through a risk-management and compliance-based approach. We will be working for Europe and the world with no risk, and that will happen in a few months’ time.

If you are an importer or exporter and you or any part of your EU supply chain is not AEO certified, your goods may encounter delays by Customs at import and/or export points. We are also a member of the System Alliance Europe Network. This is a network of the most reputable firms, and we have been a part of that network since 2009.

We were the first and we are still the only Turkish firm to be a member. This may not be nice for Turkey, but nice for Sertrans. We are only a European company now, but next time we will be a world-class company.
What final message would you like to send about Sertrans Holding or even Turkey as a whole?

Grow with Turkey, grow with Sertrans! Our new motto is  “Sertrans Logistics moves, and moves you”. Our new website is now up and running at, so you will be able to see our new motto there and in our adverts.