The year is 1960. The address delivered by Vehbi Koç who had invited the company managers to Divan Hotel was concluded with the following words that would later was reputed to be his manifesto: “Do not forget! We exist as long as our state and country exists.” These words that remind us that we are all in the same ship became a maxim among the managers of the Community.
Vehbi Koç was born in Ankara in 1901. He attended Ankara Middle School. He ventured into business life in 1917. Having taken over a grocery store from his father in 1926, he had himself registered at Ankara Chamber of Commerce under the title, “Koçzade Ahmet Vehbi”.
While busy with trading on one side, he expanded his business receiving representative rights in Turkey of foreign companies such as Ford and Standard Oil. He undertook contracting deals. He took his first step towards institutionalization of his enterprise by establishing Koç Ticaret A.Ş. in Istanbul in 1938.
In 1948, convincing General Electric Company to build a light bulb factory in Turkey, founded a joint venture with that company, and started production in 1952.
Vehbi Koç, considering charity work as a social duty, started his undertakings in the social environment with institutions such as:
• Vehbi Koç Student Lodgings (1946)
• Vehbi Koç Eye Bank in Medical Faculty of Ankara University (1963)
• Cardiology Institute in Medical Faculty of Istanbul University (1964)
• Turkish Education Endowment (1967)
• ODTÜ (Middle East Technical University) Koç Student Lodgings (1968)
In 1950s, Koç, taking significant steps in the manufacturing industry, went into local production of import-substitute products. He realized local manufacturing in the fields as wide as automotive, white goods, radiators, electronic equipment, textiles, safety matches etc.
Ever the first production in the automotive industry in Turkey was initiated in 1954 by the manufacture of agricultural tractors at Türk Traktör factory. Arçelik, today the biggest private industry company in Turkey, was established in 1955, followed by Türk Demir Döküm Fabrikası in 1954 and Aygaz in 1961. These were followed by a multitude of industrial plants.
As the number of industrial companies gradually increased, Vehbi Koç, believing that sustenance of life of private enterprises depended specifically on their institutionalization, founded the first holding company in Turkey by establishing Koç Holding in 1963, so as to operate his businesses from a single center by utilizing the best method in allocating resources to the companies.
After the establishment of the holding company, founding new companies followed one another. In 1966, the first local car manufactured in Turkey, ‘Anadol’, was introduced to the market.
Vehbi Koç, aiming to invest in the agriculture industry as well, having investigated the feasibilities in the sector for a long period, established in 1967 TAT Tomato Paste Factory that channels the potential in agriculture toward exports by utilizing the ‘farm-under-contract’ model.
It was in 1968 when an important step was taken in the automotive sector in Turkey by the Tofaş factory partnered by Fiat. In 1971, Tofaş put the first ‘Murat’ on the production line, its name inspired by Sultan Murat in the Turkish history.
Vehbi Koç, who perceived very early the importance of exports for the country’s economy, established in 1970 Ram as the first capital company of exports in Turkey.
Vehbi Koç, relinquishing the management of the enterprises he wished to participate in to professional managers through the structure of the Holding company, dedicated himself more towards social services and the operation of the Foundation.
By an inspiration that occurred to him in one of his visits to foreign lands, he undertook the leadership of the movement to channel the wreath donations to education, in the establishment of Türk Eğitim Vakfı (Turkish Education Foundation).
He established in 1969 the Vehbi Koç Foundation for activities in education, health and culture areas. The foundation realized a multitude of cultural, healthcare and educational projects.
He donated in 1976 the Atatürk Library at Taksim Square to the Istanbul Municipality. Sadberk Hanım Museum, the first extensive private museum in Turkey, dedicated to Vehbi Koç’s deceased wife was inaugurated in 1980. Vehbi Koç Foundation Koç Private Lycée with is curriculum in foreign language opened its gates, followed in 1993 by the Koç University.
Vehbi Koç retired himself in 1984, and devoted more time in social activities
Noticing the importance of the issue of population and family health in Turkey, established the Turkish Family Health and Planning Foundation in 1985, and assumed its presidency until his death.
In 1987, the International Chamber of Commerce declared Vehbi Koç as ‘The Businessman of the Year’. Mrs. Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India, presented the shield of the title to him in New Delhi personally.
In 1994, the United Nations Organization awarded Vehbi Koç citing the grounds of the reward as the successful efforts of the Turkish Family Health and Planning Foundation and its president. The World Population Planning Award was presented to Vehbi Koç on 14 June 1994 by Boutros Ghali.
Among all this work, Vehbi Koç, in order to pass on his experiences to future generations, published two books, titled My Life Story in 1973 and My Memories, Views and Advices in 1987, both of which were translated to English.
In “Targets and Principles Document” addressing the companies, he describes his personal “Constitution” as:
“My Constitution is as follows: I exist as long as my state and country exists. If democracy exists, we all exist. We should spend an all out effort to strengthen the country’s economy. As economy strengthens, democracy settles on a more solid ground and, our reputation in the world improves.”
Vehbi Koç lived a full life of 95 years spent among his affairs on industry, commerce and international partnerships, foundations, social services and education affairs.
Vehbi Koç is a businessman to be patterned in industrialization through private sector, institutionalization, professional management, education and health through foundations, and social services.