Ibrahim Ocak: “Globallisation Europeanized the Chinese and Chinesed the Europeans “
Mr. Ocak, please correct me if I am wrong, but 2011 will be your 9th year in this sector. If we look back at 2002 when you established your company, Turkey had just emerged from a major financial crisis. What made you invest in this field?
I returned to Turkey in 1983 after studying in Germany. At that time, I had hired a German company to do a sector analysis for Turkey—to determine which fields were ripe for investment. The report they prepared identified solar thermal collectors and photovoltaic panels as the two most promising avenues of for business. I took their advice. But it took me another 8 years before I became active in the PV sector.
In Germany, you studied Aerospace engineering. Did you not consider staying on and building a successful career on renewable energy there?
At that time I didn’t have the knowledge and experience to make that decision. The renewable energy sector was very new in Germany too. Frankly, I don’t know what would have happened if I had stayed there.
What was the first product you imported? Could you share with us the excitement you felt when that product arrived? Do you still carry those products?
I first imported a container-full of solar lights—various shapes and sizes. I still remember the excitement I felt when the products arrived at our warehouse. We still sell some of those products. Others have been replaced by comparable products.
In terms of your employees, how different is the Ekosolar of 2011 from the Ekosolar of 2002?
In 2002 we had a staff of 3 people; all of them inexperienced. We now have a group of 6 people, all very experienced. Our crew is the most experienced in Turkey.
What was your worst experience in the last 9 years?
Generalizing, I can say that an uneducated consumer who expects high-quality products at cheap prices; problems related to cash collection; and a lack of legislation are the worst parts of this sector.
What about the most interesting or fun experience?
The thrill you see in the eyes of a person who sees his/her PV system or solar pumping system running for the first time.
You also staff an installation crew. What are the difficulties that this crew faces?
Generally, installations in rural areas tend to be problematic. They have trouble finding cranes, ladders, tools, and day-laborers that they may need.
What are your after-sales service commitments? What about the sector in general?
In terms of spare parts, tools and qualified personnel, we have a perfect inventory. We leave no case unresolved. But the same cannot be said of the sector in general.
How many suppliers are you working with currently? Apart from China, which countries are these located in.
We have over 30 suppliers. And we import all of our products. Apart from China, we work with suppliers in Taiwan, Germany, USA, Italy, Spain and Slovenia.
In terms of conducting business, how different are your Chinese suppliers from other Asian suppliers? How do they compare with their European counterparts?
There isn’t much of a difference between the Chinese and the Taiwanese. In truth, every country has its fair share of top notch, professional suppliers, as well as the not-so-professional suppliers. As an importer, your task is to identify the best suppliers. But that is easier said than done. In some cases, it may take years. In our trade with Germany, we have not had the slightest problem so far. In terms of price, delivery, and timely shipment, they are always on the mark.
As a side note, there are interesting trends in terms of global trade. With increasing global integration, you have Asians who adopt European business standards. At the same time, some European suppliers lose professionalism and become more like the Chinese!
You have been in this sector for 9 years, but have not developed any products of your own. Why? Is it, as is claimed, the effect of an artificially high Turkish Lira that promotes imports?
When we first started the business, we did consider producing PV panels. But that required millions of dollars of investment, and you would still be fully dependent upon foreign suppliers—the solar cells would come from abroad, etc. And since the local market at that time was minute, you would have to export most of your supply and compete in the global arena. All the while, you would get no incentives from your government. In addition, you have no trained personnel, and have no one you can consult.
These are the reasons why we have remained importers and not producers.
What are your short- and mid-term goals? And for the solar sector in general, what should companies’ mid- and long-term goals be?
In a nutshell, the most important thing is to stay solvent in this sector. That is what most players have trouble with. Secondly, they must grow their product and service range, and adopt a professional marketing strategy. They should aim not only for the Turkish market, but also that of our neighbors.
As for the sector in general, I strongly suggest the establishment of a Chamber of Solar Energy Firms. Also of utmost vitality is education in the sector.
Your business is ISO and TSE certified? Why did you seek such certification?
Both for self-audit purposes, and also to boost our image in the customer’s eye. Customers feel more confident in doing business with a certified company.
Apart from money, how did Ekosolar profit you? If you view the PV sector as an investment, does the return on your investment—both financially, and in terms of job satisfaction—measure up?
The fact that we are being interviewed by you means that we have at least created the image of a successful company. We believe we are an indispensable part of this sector in Turkey. We have helped developed this sector in Turkey, and that provides great satisfaction. We have trained many crew members, established numerous dealerships, and have countless, happy customers. Those are our greatest gains.
Financially, however, we have still not recouped our investment.
During the time you were in business, you saw many new companies coming, and many of them leaving the field. How are you different? How come Ekosolar is still in the field after all these years?
A very classical answer: Professionalism, education, perseverance, and goodwill.
Does your company have an active social media profile? Can we find you on Twitter or Facebook?
Unfortunately not. We have an EkoSolar group on Facebook, but the page is not very active.
What would your recommendations be to Alternatifenerji.com? What are the shortcomings of media channels in this sector? How can AE better help the renewable energy field?
You need to be objective; avoid hyperbole, have patience and integrity.
What would your recommendations be to newcomer companies?
They should be ready for a year of profitless operation. Perhaps even losses in the first year. They should employ qualified personnel, be well capitalized, and should micro-manage their companies
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