Evolving from a small shipping agency, the Zihni Group of Companies in Turkey is now a huge player in everything that is connected with the sea. Zihni has been around for a combined 76 years, with the company passed directly from father to son at the beginning of the 1980s.
When asked how he became involved in the business, Zihni Board Chairman Asaf Güneri told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review that he had been in the maritime sector all his life.
“This is true, even in my childhood. My father was the owner of the only shipping agency in Zonguldak at the time. We did business with Erdemir and ships that disembarked at Erdemir and Zonguldak,” he said.
The Zihni Group became a pioneer company in Turkey’s maritime sector in terms of international cooperation – it is nearly the same age as the Republic of Turkey – and as one of the country’s top business companies, it has frequently served as a model for other Turkish companies. Its activities cover the entire Near East as well as Turkey and Eurasia.
The group says its mission is to destroy the myth that one cannot have price, quality and service at the same time. It believes responsible companies can sell high-quality services at fair prices by using their experience and knowledge to reduce costs. And it boasts of providing an “Always Ready,” quality-based, safe, reliable and environmentally responsible service, of treating its customers as it would want to be treated. It describes its experience as always being a step for the future.
Zihni’s services are tailored to the specific, ever-evolving needs of each of its customers, delivered at reasonable and competitive cost, in a friendly and ethical manner. Its ability to anticipate future business, industry and customer needs and its strong commitment to be the first to respond, drives its future success.
The group believes that its employees are its greatest strength. They hold customer service first as a responsibility and are supported with a work environment that emphasizes open communication, trust, respect, uniqueness and continuous learning.
Throughout the life of the group, the objective has remained constant despite many evolutions in method. Numerous international partners have chosen to work with Zihni, which believed in mutual benefits and fair practice, and, as a result, has developed a very modern and cosmopolitan management system, which reflects its 21st century focus.
In the last decade, Zihni Group has heavily invested in logistics, sea-air-land transport, forwarding, shipping agency services, and tourism, trade, energy sector, and communication technologies. Zihni is organized for all kinds of logistics operations in Ankara, Istanbul, Mersin, İzmir, and İskenderun, and is working through sub-agencies in other Turkish ports. For its air and land transport needs, the group is also active in provinces with an industrial base like Gaziantep, Antalya, İzmit and Eskişehir.
The Zihni Group has a well-educated, dynamic, experienced and multilingual staff and capitalizes on the synergy of all the companies under its roof to act as an international logistics service provider.
On the other hand, Zihni offers full agency services at all Turkish ports and for transits through the Turkish straits, operating under Lloyd's ISO 9002 certificate.
Zihni Holding is the investment and resources company that heads the group, exploring new markets and areas for investment, preplanning business moves, coordinating inter-company relations and implementing group policies on financial, legal and commercial matters. It, in effect, acts as the central processing unit of the group. It is also responsible for energy project investment and development and IT acquisition and deployment. Zihni is the only Turkish partner of Swissotel Bosphorus and also it is a shareholder in the Mersin free zone, or MESBAS.
Turkey’s maritime sector
The 64-year-old Güneri has an interesting perspective in evaluating the sector in Turkey and how it compares with the rest of the world. “Despite setbacks over the years, in retrospect, I can say that the maritime sector was a growth sector in Turkey all the way to 2006, Güneri said.
“There were mini recessions, periods of low freight, but nothing that comes anywhere near to what we are experiencing right now. The reasons for this are many and not really of general interest. In Turkey, ship owners were more cautious and more conservative in running up debts. The maritime sector at the moment in Turkey compares well with the rest of the world,” he said.
Asked whether or not he was optimistic or pessimistic about the future of Turkey’s maritime sector, Güneri said: “I am optimistic about the future of the maritime sector in Turkey. As I mentioned, I believe we were more conservative, and therefore we are better placed. We are a step ahead at the moment we can turn this into an advantage. This is why I am optimistic about the future of the Turkish maritime sector.”
Basically it is far too early to measure how the volcanic eruption in Iceland will have an impact on shipping. Turkey’s maritime shipping sector was beginning to show signs of recovery in 2010 but experts indicate that there is a long way to go.
Güneri took over Zihni when quite young, bringing with him new ideas such as opening an airline but it didn’t happen in the end. “It is true that I once was thinking of an airline, small planes, short distances, cheap tickets, rather like the models they have in the United States, in California and Florida, but the idea did not develop, for no special reason. We cannot do everything, we have to choose.”
Today Zihni is looking at the energy sector for the future and Güneri’s son, Turgut, is leading the group in that direction. The former is in agreement with it but stresses that tourism also is an important sector for the future. “We are concentrating on both. In energy, our focus at the moment is offshore services.”
In 1974 Güneri married Betigül who is a painter and has several shows and the two have another son, Cömert. He manages to maintain his youthful looks, perhaps because he always finds time to walk and bicycle. Because of Zihni Holding’s far-flung interests, he travels a lot – even being caught up in the Eyjafjallajökull eruption this past week. He’s also a friend to have in good times and bad.
The future of Turkey’s tourism sector
Involved in the tourism sector, Zihni said: “Turkey will always be one of the countries that is a major tourist destination. In recent years the Ministry of Tourism has put in a lot of work and money to advertise Turkey abroad and we are receiving the benefits. Turkey has become a star destination not only for mass tourism but also for the so-called jet set.
In this, he said Russia and Arab countries were playing a major role. “Both areas have the potential to spend and to invest. The sector also diversified. There are alternatives to classical tours. The old town sections in Istanbul and in other cities are being renovated as they were. We see urban renewals, old and historic buildings turned into residences, boutique hotels, etc. These culture-focused activities will further bring money and long-lasting interest to Turkey.
“There are many projects that will lift our tourism and place it into a different, higher platform. One such project is the Galata Port project. Look what renovations and restorations did to the Sultanahmet area. We are expecting a similar liveliness in the Karaköy area with the Galata Port project.”
He said his company is a firm believer in the future of tourism in Turkey. “We own two buildings right on the waterfront in this area, with magnificent views of the Bosphorus and the old town, wonderful skyline of Topkapı, Hagia Sophia and Sultanahmet – the kind of view that is published in magazines that viewers can’t believe is true. These two buildings are going to be used for hotel residences as well as high profile restaurants and cafes. We are in no hurry but have started to evaluate serious and long-term investors in these sectors.”
The Greek connection
Güneri who is known as a friend of Greece, was one of the people who courageously became involved in improving Turkish-Greek relations at a time when relations were still bad, becoming involved in the Foreign Economic Relations Board, or DEİK’s, Turkish-Greek Business Council for a number of years.
During those years there has been quite a change in relations between Turkey and Greece. He is very positive about what was achieved since 1988 when the Council was founded and especially after dialogue started in 1999 between the foreign ministers of the two countries.
“DEİK’s Turkish-Greek Business Council has been instrumental in developing Turkish-Greek relations and in bringing the two countries to such a close commercial partnership over the years. I can say that there is no field that has not been started and made a success of between Turkey and Greece that has not been a project originating from the T-G Business Council.
“I have worked hard and happily with outstanding and exceptional businessmen and politicians and bureaucrats from both countries over the years. It is time that we build up and leave our duties to the coming generation.”
Referring to Greece’s current and potentially disastrous economic crisis, Güneri believes that the private sector in Greece, especially the maritime sector, is strong enough to spearhead an economic revival in Greece.
Furthermore, he said he believes they will be able to overcome their present problems. Zihni has a number of joint ventures with Greek companies and has been doing business with Greek companies for quite some time. Güneri, however, is adamant that the crisis is not affecting Zihni’s business in Greece. All in all, the company has been very, very successful.
Güneri is also involved in the Turkish Marine Environment Protection Association, or TURMEPA.
Asked to evaluate the organization and its success or lack of it, Güneri said, “Looking back I can say we have been more successful when compared with the Hellenic Marine Environment Protection Association [Helmepa], maybe we are lucky to have to educate 70 million and not 10 million.”