She started off with a loom in Izmit Industrial Estate, while running from success to success in a male-dominated sector, she became the name sought by the biggest companies of our country: Çiğdem Özcan Aytaş.
When I heard that a woman in Izmit Industrial Estate was trying to do great things, and that she had successfully completed every job she took and became the name sought after by giant companies, I was proud of her without even knowing it. I wanted to meet right away and listen to his success story from his own mouth.
I wondered what he was looking for in a male-dominated sector like 'industry', how he got on, how he got into giant companies despite having such strong rivals, how he broke prejudices, in short, the secret of his success. When we first met with Çiğdem Özcan Aytaş, the owner of DNZ Industry, I found the answer to all my questions.
Because I met someone who was incredibly energetic and even hyperactive, in love with production, created to work, who could say 'dedication if self-sacrifice, self-sacrifice' for this cause, success-oriented, disciplined and ambitious, who adopted the phrase 'if even one person can do it, I will do it' as a philosophy of life. I listened to the life story of a young woman on her way to success, sometimes surprised, sometimes amazed, sometimes emotional and often proud. If you have also wondered about the success story of Çiğdem Özcan Aytaş, do not miss this interview.
I leave you alone with Ms. Çiğdem. What will I do? I will continue to follow the heel sounds coming from the industrial site.
Ms. Çiğdem, not only did you prove your presence in the male-dominated industrial sector, you have crossed the provincial borders with your achievements, and you have become the name sought by the leading industrial organizations of our country. How did you get to this point from a bench in an industrial estate?
I would like to hear from you about this journey that makes me very proud as your fellow man. But first, let's get to know you briefly. Who is Cigdem Ozcan Aytas? I was born and raised in Kocaeli. I am one of the two children of a civil servant mother and father. I spent almost all of my education life in Kocaeli, after graduating from university, I started working in a company in Körfez Küçük Sanayi Sitesi. I left the company where I worked as a senior manager for about 10 years and founded my own company in 2014.
How did you decide to start your own company?
Actually, I had no such intention, but after you have a certain experience, you start to see the deficiencies in the company better. The company I worked for was a family business, and the non-visionary point of view was starting to bother me now. I had a breaking point where they really pissed me off. Realizing that my time was up there, I declared that I would not continue to work and left. I had two options before me; I was either going to enter a corporate company or I was going to make my own way. As someone who has been programmed to work and is aware of his potential; 'Why can't I spend this energy on myself?' I thought. After all, I knew the business and had 10 years of business experience.
When you said job, what was the field of activity of the company you worked for?
Since you said 'I knew the job', I guess you decided to continue in the same industry. So how did you take the first step? It was producing tire molds, working with world giants and exporting. Yes, I knew the business, but I needed serious capital to start my own business and I did not have such capital. At that time, I officially founded the company, but I went on vacation without activating it. It was a period when I really needed this spiritually and I took a vacation for about 1.5 months. I wanted to completely reset my head before starting work. I pressed the button when I got back. I had a certain network in the company I worked for before. Clients have known me for years and my interpersonal relations have always been very good. As my first job, I went abroad, talked to company representatives, and explained what I wanted to do. They also welcomed me and I started the process without wasting any time, as the first thing I bought myself a workbench.
Did you start by buying a workbench?
Yes, with a single workbench. In the meantime, I rented a small place in the industry, put my workbench there, and started working.
Are you alone?
Partly alone. I just needed the support of a few people from my old workplace because it was a team effort and they were the people I needed.
What was your first job?
Mold maintenance. Molds were coming from the tire factory and we were taking care of it. This process took about 10 months. In the meantime, I took a very close friend of mine from my old workplace with me. He was good at business and people management, I could see the contribution of his workforce to me. It was an exhausting 10 months for me. I realized that I cannot be happy this way. After all, there was a cake in the middle, someone was eating it, but ethically, but it was not, and there was a serious competitive environment in this sector, in the long run, this business might not go as I expected. I thought that if I just do this job, I might be unemployed one day. I should have done something else.
I SELL MY CAR I BUILD CAPITAL
So what did you do?
I decided to do machining. I went to 2-3 big companies and explained myself. Of course it wasn't easy. Although it seems like a great success story for now, the process has been really painful and slow. Firstly, every firm has an established structure and when they don't think it is very necessary to create an alternative firm, it's really hard to get involved in the process, secondly, I'm a woman. In the first place, people ask, 'Does this woman know about this job?' she thinks. Since they do not know that I have come from within the business and my experience, they may approach with prejudice. Fortunately, with my experience, I managed to break down prejudices and enter a large company. My first firm was Pepsico/FritoLay. Again, I have no capital, I only have one workbench. At that time, I had a beautiful car, I decided to sell my vehicle and with that money I bought myself a CNC lathe.
Now that you've bought the bench, it means you've set to work.
Yes, I became an alternative supplier for jobs that require mechanical manufacturing. At first, they gave me the most difficult jobs, they wanted me to prove myself. I think we did it all because we both knew the process and chose my team from the right people. When things went well, I bought another bench, then another. I created an acceptable course for myself. When I started this journey, I knew that I would not be a 'Hasan Usta Atelier' in the industry. I had set up a boutique workshop and our difference, our stance, somehow separated us from our competitors. We worked with that company on machining for about a year. I thought that if I was working with this company, I could work with others as well, so I started new searches.
There never is. Always more and always better. I am extremely impatient in character, but incredibly patient at work, even I surprise myself sometimes. I wait for the right time, the right person. I am a good listener, I get what I need from the person in front of me. I evaluate a message he wants to give me, a criticism or an event he tells, and save it on my hard drive. If the person I'm talking to is someone I can take as a role model, I save extra if I see that potential. When I received good feedback from the company we worked with, I identified two more customers using my own business network, went, interviewed and agreed to make a sample study with both of them. One of these companies was Şişecam and the other was Ford Otosan.
In the meantime, how many of you were working on this road that you set out on your own?
We reached 7-8 people when one day I witnessed a talk by the maintenance people at Pepsico/FritoLay. A machine from abroad had to be brought in and the existing machines inside had to be taken out. The firm had received offers for this job from two of Turkey's leading companies, but the numbers were way above their budget. In such projects, if you damage the machine during transportation, you must be able to finance it. I did not have such strength, but I knew that I could do this job. In fact, there was nothing very aggressive in the middle. We informed the factory management that we could do this job.
Great courage. Did you have any experience in this matter?
In the company I worked for 10 years, we were always replacing the machines. I had some knowledge of how to lift the machine, where it was sensitive, but that was not what I trusted, I knew which team to work with. I said, 'We will do this job', but at first they did not consider us. We projected how we could do it, then we made a presentation. We got the job with the approval of 4 out of 6 people in management. I interviewed a very professional team to lift the machines because it was not something to risk. In our work, we have been meticulous about everything from job security to on-time delivery. We have successfully completed the job. This job was my turning point. I would either continue machining or do a project management job. Everyone was doing the machining. There were those who opened shops in the industry and spent years at the head of a lathe. The only thing that separated me from them was that I was more presentable and visionary. The risk in the project management job was great, but it was much more exciting and a job that satisfied me. I finally made up my mind that I would continue manufacturing but put the emphasis on the project management work.
THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME
As far as I know, the project management work is not limited to this.
After FritoLay, we started machining at Şişecam. We were working as a stock supplier, producing 2-3 very special parts. We did a study for Şişecam, we started to manufacture a few parts that require special manufacturing, which they bought from abroad. My company had reached a serious level only 2 years after its establishment. I think it's me; I have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. I don't know whether to call it luck or coincidence.
I know there is something, and when I'm there, I can turn the situation in my favor. At that time, Şişecam had a new factory investment and wanted to grow and renew itself, but the existing structure of the factory in Gebze was no longer suitable for this. We were already working with Şişecam as manufacturing. By referring to the work we did at FritoLay, we informed them that we could be their alternative supplier during the new factory investment process. While these processes follow each other, Polisan A.Ş. We made contact with the company, and from there we got the resin/urea line mechanical maintenance job. We have done periodic maintenance for 2 years. In this period, we became approved suppliers depending on our working style, quality and coordination according to planned production times. It is one of our main customers that we continue to work actively at the moment.
Did you get Şişecam's relocation job?
It doesn't exactly try that. First of all, we took care of the mills that have been used for years. It was a very aggressive and difficult job. I've never been afraid of any job in my life because if even one person can do it, it's a doable job. What could I be missing from him? I always looked with this logic, but for the first time I was afraid of this job because I had no knowledge about mills.
How do you feel in such situations?
I am incredibly excited, but it is a beautiful excitement.
Do you ever think 'what if I can't'?
Never. As I said before, if even one person can do a job, that job is doable. Because if I don't do it, someone else will. We got the mill business, but I couldn't do it in my industrial shop because the mills were the size of the shop. Meanwhile, I rented a place in Arslanbey. First they sent one of the mills and tested if we could make it. We completely dismantled the mill in 15-20 days. They came and checked us. We completed the maintenance of the mill in a few months and delivered it. Afterwards, we maintained two more mills. We actively participated in Şişecam's new investment process when the first mill was completed in the planned time. We have proven that we are good at project management with the mill maintenance business.
Other companies must have been involved in Şişecam's relocation process. It's a big job because…
Of course it did. We are talking about the relocation of a giant factory. But we can say that it carried 70-80 percent of DNZ. All machines and production lines in the factory in Gebze, whose tender was left to us, were dismantled, all parts requiring new manufacturing were manufactured by us and installed in the new factory in Balıkesir. All processes requiring electricity and automation were carried out and commissioned by us. We were actually involved in this process with 3 projects, now we are carrying out the 7th project. We went for a few months, we have been in Balikesir for 13 months. We are a very warm and strong supplier of Şişecam, especially in the chemicals group. As they embrace us, we want to be with them. I am proud to work with Şişecam, Polisan and our other customers. Being a part of that team, being a stakeholder in those groups gives me incredible pleasure.
Did you dream of these days when you started your business?
They always ask me this question. Of course I did because everything starts with dreaming and I was aware of my potential. None of this seemed like an unattainable dream to me. You must already have a dream and you have to work day and night to turn that dream into reality. It is not easy at all, but when you give yourself to that job both mentally and physically, you are not likely to fail. As long as you don't give up on your ego and do some bullshit. Think about it, we are currently working as 104 people on this road that I started alone.
What happened to other companies while the project continued?
During this busy period, we continued to work with companies that we are machining manufacturers and still do. We are sub-suppliers of 2 foreign companies that we work with, especially in the automotive sector. We work with very large companies and I take great pleasure in my work.
When will the Balıkesir project be finished?
It's the end of July, but I don't know what time will show us because when we started this business, we entered it as 3 projects, we are doing the 7th project. As a result, a new factory may result in many missing or new additional investments. We are there as long as we are needed.
MY ENERGY IS TOO HIGH
We understand that you are not satisfied with the present, are there any new projects on the horizon?
We have signed projects for 2020, we will move two more factories. There is a large foreign project in our 5-year strategic plan. For this, we have a few meetings that we are at the very beginning of the road. First I dream, then I take a concrete step. If I am convinced and see that the other person is also convinced, I plan my next step. I want to be a global company, but I definitely do not want to do this business for many years. After reaching a certain age, I dream of a quieter life.
You love to work. So, how do you balance your work life and private life?
I am a very high energy person. I don't give up on my family or my work life. I dedicate Saturdays and Sundays completely to my family. On weekdays, I unplug and get back to my family. I pay great attention to this. I also love to spend time with my friends. Even though I was in Balıkesir, I never broke my ties with my friends. They came as a family, we visited Assos, Ayvalık, Cunda, we had a very enjoyable time.
In the industry, you set out with a single workbench and what is the secret of your success at the point you have reached?
No matter how confident you are, you will need someone to do a job. There were people who supported me in this process, although their number is not exceeding the fingers of a hand… They opened a door. It is entirely up to you whether you will be successful or not by passing through that door. I attribute my success to my determination and being a fighter. Also, my team consists of people who know and do their job very well. Normally, the general opinion is that perfectionism is a bad thing, but I think the opposite.
MY HUSBAND, MY BIGGEST SUPPORTER
Has your spouse ever said 'Enough is enough' while you are working hard?
No, it never happened. My wife believed in me from the beginning. He knew how worn out I was in the company I worked for for 10 years, and he never objected when I said 'I will start a business', 'I will buy a bench', 'I will sell my car'. 'These are things to do when you're young. I see your energy, I believe you will do it' he said. He has always supported me financially and morally.
What do you do outside of work?
Apart from my family, I love spending time with my friends. I have friends for many years. We throw small parties at home. We eat, drink and chat together. I am interested in interior architecture and decoration. I love checking out these kind of magazines and apps. I think my visual memory is good, I never forget what I saw, and I even practice it at home as much as I can.
Ms. Çiğdem, what does 'being a woman in the industry' mean to you?
It is difficult to be a woman in the world, it is twice as difficult in Turkey. Despite this, I can say that I have not experienced the disadvantage of being a woman in my own industry, among my customers, sub-suppliers and employees. Just 'Can he do this job?' Sometimes there is a prejudice. A man does not have to prove himself in this sector, but we can. I'm already someone who can get along better with men in terms of structure. They like to see me in such an industry. They are surprised when they see it in production, and even when they learn that I am the owner of a company, they seriously appreciate it and put it on the field.
What does success mean to you?
Success is something that feeds me. It's one of my lifelines.
If you had asked this question 10 years ago, my answer would have been very different. Failure would destroy me, I would say 'it will affect my life badly' but now I also enjoy failure because failure gives me experience. It is not always possible to be successful and cannot be expected. There were times when I failed, but it is necessary to know how to stand up again. Again though, I can start from scratch again.
My family and health. I lost my mother on Mother's Day last year. My mother was healthy but died at the age of 60 after a sudden heart attack. After my mother passed away, my priorities changed. If I'm healthy, if I started the day well and my loved ones are with me, that's enough for me. The work is done somehow, the money is found somehow.
Do you have an example?
I can't say that I take a role model, but there are people whose style, attitude and stance I am influenced by. For example, I love Leyla Alaton's style and attitude. I liken her strong, feminist, secular style to myself. I love the one and only Suden for her unique style. I also follow certain people on social media, there is no one I follow.
HAVE YOUR DREAM AND GOAL
Lasly, what do you want to say?
The life he lives is not presented to anyone on a gold platter. Struggle exists in all areas of life. Even life itself. The lives that seem perfect from the outside are not like that on the inside. Everyone has their pain, their bullshit, their ugliness. Make a path for yourself. Be ethical on the path you draw and do not deviate from that path. Take care to be fair. Have a dream and a goal. Work by combining your night with your day to reach that goal. Stay away from people who spread negative energy. Whatever energy you send into the universe, it will come back to you.
I believe in it and try to live my life that way. There are very serious differences between Çiğdem before the age of 30 and after the age of 30. My values that made me me have not changed, but I have rasped myself. I saw how empty the things that I used to wear myself unbelievably were, I went through a metamorphosis. I am at a time when I feel very good. Of course, there were times when I felt unhappy, maybe in the future, but as the Great Leader Mustafa Kemal Atatürk said, I will never lose hope. Finally, I would like to say: I am grateful to our father. Thanks to her, I have the pleasure of being a working woman, producing and providing employment. I have a little one who takes me as a role model, I like being an example to him like that.
Interview: Serpil Colak
Photos: İsmail Hakkı Timuçin
News Source: Kocaeli Life Magazine
Web tasarım: Murat IŞTIN +905307600735