A total of 42 Turkish construction firms were ranked in the global ENR list of the top 250 contractors in 2014, the second highest number of entries from any country. Mithat Yenigün, the President of the Turkish Contractors Association, says the sector is poised to capitalize on the G20 focus on plugging the global infrastructure gap, estimated to reach US$70 trillion by 2030.
Turkey has developed rapidly since 2002 and has ambitions to be a top 10 economy by 2023. What role has the construction industry played in this economic development and how important is the for the future growth prospects of the country?
There are thousands of contractors in Turkey, but only 140 of the biggest Turkish companies are approved members of our association. They undertake almost 70% of the contracting work in Turkey. Our members have signed agreements for $25 or $30 billion. But we are currently having some problems in Libya, Iraq and Russia. We have a target make $100 billion annually by 2023.
What markets do you have in mind as new targets?
We have worked on 8000 projects in 104 countries. Forty-two of our members are on the ENR list of the biggest 250 construction companies globally. We have the second most companies on this list after China, which has 62 companies, and we have been second for the past five years.
We are looking for new opportunities. In February 2015 we travelled to Colombia, Cuba and Mexico with our president. The civil war is over in Colombia and they are looking for new investments. We are building resorts and we are planning to have direct flights to Mexico City, Bogotá and Havana. Other countries also invited us and told us they want to do business with us, like Mozambique, Ethiopia, and Senegal. We will evaluate the conditions. For our companies there the only impediments are security and finance. Nothing can stop us because we are experienced enough. Our engineering is perfect.
What factors have made Turkish construction firms so competitive, and how do you think Turkish firms are perceived internationally?
You can see our work. We work as a team. We believe we will succeed. Turkish companies are mainly family-owned companies in which the owners are still working, so they can make decisions easily to go to any place in the world. This is the main factor behind this success story.
I founded my company 42 years ago after studying engineering. I partnered with my brother and we have stuck together. Now our children are integrated into the business and close to each other. But the second generation is different, so some separations can occur.
I have been the president of this chamber for 10 months. I always offer partnerships to our companies. I recommend that our companies do not compete with each other, but become partners and share the risks. This way, we can undertake larger and larger projects and make more money.
The Turkish entrepreneurial spirit is quite interesting. Would you say it is in the blood of Turkish people or that it is a consequence of the circumstances?
It is in our blood. But there are some disadvantages, of course. Our company, for example, has become the root of 10 different companies. Unfortunately, they have not all been successful. They felt encouraged to make their own companies, so they broke up from our company and founded their own small companies. We provide opportunities that everyone deserves, so that no one would need to think about breaking up. We want to grow together. It is not so easy to gain knowledge and experience. We have to transfer it to our next generations, not only to our sons, but to the whole team.
Since 1994, Turkey has been using the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) model for many infrastructure projects. What do you think about this model in terms of its effectiveness to plug the infrastructure gap here in Turkey and worldwide?
We are working on policies aligned with this target. The government is lazier than the private sector in this respect.
The G-20 is trying to find innovative ways to finance infrastructure projects. Here in Turkey you have this world leading construction industry. To what extent do you and your association view this year’s presidency as an opportunity to really grow the profile and the opportunities for Turkish contractors?
We are not optimistic about this year. There are some countries we do not have good relations with, so we need a little time to make some decisions and improvements in those areas. The world has become globalized, so everyone is integrated with each other, and all the countries are affected by each other. We have potential and we believe we will be able to improve in three years. Also, our strategic position is important.
As president of the Contractors’ Association and also chairman of one of the leading contracting firms, we would like to give you the opportunity to deliver a final personal message to the G-20 leaders…
We all should be able to live more comfortable, better and longer lives. We have to share money and resources with other human beings.