Just as there is a strong team behind every successful manager, there’s also a strong family. Tuncay Sagun, Chairman of one of Turkey’s most successful water product exporters, Group Sagun, agrees with this statement. Sagun stated that the hero behind the curtains is his wife. “If I was ever reborn, I would become a fisherman and marry my wife again,” he said.
Q: Can you briefly describe Group Sagun?
A: Our story began in Samsun. My grandfather was a fisherman and my father Kemal Sagun established Kemal Balikcilik by taking things a little further. He was making exports in the 1970s. I took over the business from my father in 1998. I began to work as a member of the third generation. I can say that I was born a fisherman, that’s why I began as an apprentice. I believe you can’t become a fisherman, you are born as one. I decided to enhance the company during that period and increased exports. I also expanded our product range. We generate USD 150m in annual turnover by exporting various products, from bass to sea bream, tuna and salmon in 11 facilities across five different regions in Turkey to 35 countries. We provide employment for 1,000 people. We do sea bream, sea bass and tuna farming in Izmir. We grow Black Sea salmon in Sinop, trout in Kayseri and Kirsehir, and sea bream and sea bass in Antalya. We are breeding frogs and snails in Ipsala. Each of these products has different markets. We are a company known abroad rather than domestically. Group Sagun is our umbrella brand. We have eight companies. Our flagship is still Kemal Balikcilik.
Q: What about your production numbers?
A: We have an 8,000-fish capacity in Black Sea salmon. We are not actively using all of it, but enhancing it gradually. Salmon is a developing field because the consumer is used to Norwegian salmon but we have just begun introducing Black Sea salmon. We make exports to Russia, Japan, Europe and the U.S. We process 5,000 tonnes of sea snails in the Black Sea as raw material and we sell these products to Far Eastern countries. Our bream and bass capacity stands at 2,000 tonnes in Antalya and 4,000 in Izmir. We have increased our exports in this area, exporting to over 30 countries. We are one of the best in the Mediterranean in tuna. We have over 2,000 tonnes of capacity. There’s no other company in Turkey that is engaged in such a wide variety of seafood in so many different regions.
Q: Can you tell us about your typicalwork day?
A: I call the managers of production facilities in all regions as soon as I wake up. I ask them about the situation then I go to work. I go to the Sancaktepe warehouse where our executive board center is because a warehouse is safe. Then I stop by all the units at the company and go up to my room. I check the news when I have my morning coffee. My phone traffic is quite busy. Nearly two-fifth of my day is spent on the phone because fishing is a 24-hour profession. And they say ‘the sea gives birth to seven voyages in one night’. It makes sense to follow things closely since the profession is alive. Communication is the key to this job. My wife is the real hero behind the curtains, and my children Ogulcan and Nazli are also actively involved in the business. They provide huge support.
Q: Your children have also joined the company. What are their duties?
A: My son Ogulcan Sagun studied economics at Sabanci University. He’s the vice president of the company. He has full knowledge about everything from imports to exports, production and finance. My daughter Nazlican Sagun is 25 years old and she graduated from Ozyegin University. She’s a lawyer. She takes care of our company’s legal processes. My two children grew up around fishing. They were always involved in the business every weekend, holiday and summer holidays and they would stroll around the production facilities with us. We didn’t ask them if they were going to work in this business; they were already involved in it. You can’t master something you haven’t apprenticed. My children worked as apprentices. They worked in the field. There is also another member of the family in the management, my nephew Firdevs Kulekcioglu, who is our CFO.
Q: So, who makes the final call in the company?
A: We hold an executive board meeting every month. We talk about plans rather than family issues. I respect the decisions of my son Ogulcan but I also guide him through my experiences. Because in life, you can’t buy two things; experience and health. I made a lot of mistakes in business, so they surely will make mistakes. But the fewer mistakes they make the better it is.
Q: Can you tell us about your investments?
A: One of the most important of our 5 to 10 year plans is for retail. We may launch a brand for retail as frozen, fresh, or canned products. We have a brand called Marines for hotels, restaurants and cafes in terms of frozen products but we may launch a new brand. We can either create it from scratch or buy a brand. We will have an active role in the U.S. and Japan by launching offices in these countries. Fish is the only free-flowing animal protein source in the world without a commercial barrier. Therefore, we have potential.