Article 1: An Interview with Bilal Kaafarani

Milliyet – Serkan Arman - April 17, 2011


I met Ülker with an interview and came as an admirer of his vision 


'Master of Innovation’,  Bilal Kaafarani, recently transferred from Coca-Cola, has begun his duties at Ülker.  Kaafarani, who says he was very impressed by the vision of Murat Ülker when he was writing the book about business leaders, says, “For the sakes of both YH and Turkey, I fervently hope that many of his ideas will become reality.” 


Bilal Kaafarani was recently honored by BusinessWeek magazine as one of the world’s “Top 25 Masters of Innovation”. For the past four years, Kaafarani had been Coca - Cola's  Global Innovation and Technology Senior Vice President. This week he joined YH and the Ülker brand as the Chairman of the Global Innovation and R&D Group (in all categories except beverages).  


As soon as he assumed his duties, Kaafarani answered all of Milliyet’s questions on a range of topics that included how his introduction to Murat Ülker came about, the projects he has in mind, working at Coca Cola with Muhtar Kent and the views of his American wife about life in Istanbul.


How did you reach the decision to come to YH? How was the offer to work with them extended to you?  


- I first met Murat Ülker when I was researching and writing my book, Breaking Away: How Great Leaders Create Innovation that Drives Sustainable Growth - and Why Others Fail.  I had worked with YH’s International Operations Manager, Jim Zaza, in the past. He introduced me to Murat Ülker. The book which I co-authored with Jane Stevenson was written after we had carried out interviews with 150 leaders of the business world.  One of them happened to be Murat Ülker. After we were introduced and because of the book, we had other opportunities to get to know each other better.  It was during this time that Murat Ülker first made me an offer.  He is a truly visionary businessman. The success he has had and the way he explains his ideas really impressed me.  I also noticed that, besides his visionary approach, he has an open-minded attitude that has penetrated into the holding and influenced its employees.  


Godiva is very important.  


Had you heard about YH or Ülker before? Did the fact that the Holding had acquired a brand name like Godiva influence you?  


I knew a bit about Ülker and YH previously. During the writing of the book, I gained deeper knowledge of the company.  If one looks at the vision of Murat Ülker and the places that he wants to take the company, Godiva is a significant element. I really hope that the thoughts he has expressed regarding YH and Turkey, and the ideas that have been formulated with our team of friends will be brought to life. Turkey has unbelievable potential. Right now it is a very good place both socially and economically.  I will do my best to contribute to this success. The acquisition of Godiva by YH is an important indication of what can be achieved by this country and I am proud to be a part of that vision. 


We are designing a new location for innovation.


What are some of the first projects you will initiate for Yıldız Holding? 


Yıldız Holding’s projects have been most successful and have yielded the desired results. These achievements are a source of pride for Turkey.  My efforts will be aimed at adding new projects to complement existing ones and to develop an understanding of what innovation really is. For example, we are moving the setting for our innovative activities to another location.   There, our goals will be to improve and develop work that is currently being done, to examine and evaluate every detail of our business processes and to do a lot of brainstorming. Our general objective is to consolidate and strengthen YH’s innovative foundations. My understanding of “innovation” lies not only in the context of research and development. It is important that innovation be applied to every function of the organization. 


What is the importance of innovation for an international company?  

When a number of teams with a common purpose work together, their company becomes more productive and efficient. 


Muhtar Kent is an old friend. I feel home at Turkey.


You worked closely with Muhtar Kent.  What can you tell us about Muhtar Kent? 


I have known Muhtar Kent for many years.  He is an excellent manager and a good friend. We worked on many important projects together in the past.  My wife Janice is a very close friend of Muhtar Bey’s wife, Defne Hanım.  I feel very close to the Turkish culture and I feel home at Turkey. I have admired Turkey as a country for many years and I feel very fortunate to be here now. 


Turkey is a Powerhouse.


You come from a geographical area similar to this land.  Does working for YH give you a feeling of ‘homecoming’?  


I was born and raised in Lebanon.  At the age of 17, I moved to the USA. Both Turkey and Istanbul seem very familiar to me. I am very comfortable and it seems like I have lived here forever.  I believe in Turkey’s potential with all my heart.  I can see how intelligent and hard-working the Turkish people are.  In future this country will continue to be a powerhouse. My wife is American. The first time she set foot in Istanbul she really liked it and was impressed by it. For us, I am sure that this experience will be very enjoyable. 


My contract with Coca-Cola prevents my participation in YH’s beverage operations. In a past world such as Pepsi and Coca-Cola, , , , , en büyük gad, içecek firmalarda çaW, , , K. A, , cakY, ld, zHoldi, , g'de, çecek sektöründe Ar-Ge çakmalarına s, z bakmayacakta, . Grupta Cofa Turcab, b, r damarkavar. Bu tercihmnedemnedjr? There are clauses in my contracts with former employers which warn against carrying my knowledge from one company to another and I feel the idea behind this practice is right. My duties at YH will have nothing to do with the beverage operations of the company. 



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