Turkey will benefit from its bid to become a full member of the European Union regardless of whether the country of 70 million is accepted by the EU, the head of Coca-Cola Co. in Asia, Africa and a portion of Europe, said during a recent trip to Atlanta.
“The journey is more important than the destination,” Ahmet Bozer, president of Coke’s Eurasia and Africa group, told GlobalAtlanta.
Mr. Bozer, a native of Turkey who now lives in Istanbul, was honored Nov. 17 by Georgia State University’s J. Mack Robinson College of Business, where he received a master’s of science degree in information systems in 1983.
Turkey applied for full EU membership in 1997. Negotiations began in 2005 and are ongoing.
The EU application has helped Turkey’s economy by bringing in more foreign investment, Mr. Bozer said. “The fact that people think Turkey is going to join the EU actually creates a thinking of stability, therefore the money comes in,” said Mr. Bozer. “If Turkey is on the journey for EU membership, then the Turkish economy continues to develop. All the regulations are harmonized with the EU regulations. Those are all good for Turkey.”
One possible stumbling block for Turkey is its large population, Mr. Bozer said.
“By the time Turkey joins, Turkey might be the largest country in Europe,” he said. “Does that mean that Turkey would have the most [EU] parliament members? Would that be something the Europeans like? I don’t know. I think size will be an issue. But I think it’s good for Turkey to follow the process.”
When Mr. Bozer moved to Atlanta at age 21 from Ankara, Turkey, to attend graduate school at Georgia State, the economic outlook for his home country was not bright. “Turkey had a very closed economy,” he said. “It was illegal to have even one [U.S.] dollar in your pocket.”
In the United States, he saw a far more promising economy and an inspiring mindset for business. The thinking was that, “If you have a clear objective and you really apply yourself, you can achieve a lot, ” said Mr. Bozer. “That was a revelation for me. I felt motivated. I felt empowered.”
Mr. Bozer, who was hired by Coca-Cola in 1990 as financial controller, was transferred to Turkey in 1992 and was quickly promoted. He is now in charge of Coke in 90 countries, including India, Russia and South Africa.
In many of these countries, Coke sales are growing rapidly despite the economic turmoil of the last year.
In India, Southwest Asia and most of Africa, Coke sales are particularly brisk, said Mr. Bozer.
“We’ve reported over 30 percent growth rates in quarter three and quarter two in India,” he said, adding that higher sales were a result of Coke’s investment in India and also the overall growth of the Indian economy.
“All of Southwest Asia, the smaller countries around the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, they are all growing at nice double digits,” he said.
In Mr. Bozer’s territory, Coke sells products that are not offered in the U.S. In India, for example, there is a popular Coke mango drink called Maaza that commands a 40 percent market share.
“It tastes very good,” said Mr. Bozer. “We’ve never tested that here in the United States but if you ask me individually, I would say that it is probably a product worth looking into.”
Other countries in Mr. Bozer’s territory, such as Russia, are experiencing the economic downturn “at its maximum level,” Mr. Bozer said. Coke’s strategy is to increase market share in those countries when the economy is down so that Coke sales will increase at a faster rate after the recovery.
Mr. Bozer is not the only high-ranking Coke executive from Turkey. The other is Muhtar Kent, Coke’s president and chief executive officer.
When asked if there should be a direct flight between Atlanta, where Coke is headquartered, and Istanbul, Mr. Bozer laughed.
“For me, yes,” he said. But ever the businessman, he acknowledged that it remains an economic decision. “Obviously the airlines will have to look at the number of passengers to see if it is worth that line. But it would make my life very easy if it was there.”
In Atlanta Nov. 17, Mr. Bozer received Robinson College’s Alumni Global Business Leadership Award. Ann-Marie Campbell, president of the Southern Division of Home Depot Inc., received the Outstanding Young Alumna Award. Brad Ferrer, executive vice president of finance and administration for CNN Worldwide, received the Alumni Award for Service to the Robinson College. The Robinson Alumni Technology Award went to Jeff Hwang, chief executive officer and co-founder of Pyramid Systems Inc. His wife, Sherry Hwang, co-founder of Pyramid, received the Robinson Alumni Entrepreneurship Award.
For more on Mr. Bozer, click here.