Self-made, successful and surviving in a man’s world: How three Turkish women entrepreneurs found triumph in the UK
The Turkish businesspersons' ECAA applications broke a record in 2021 with nearly 20,000 applicants before the Ankara Agreement's Brexit deadline.
Signed in 1963 between Turkey and the EU, the Ankara Agreement is a treaty through which Turkish nationals are able to apply for a Turkish businessperson visa that allows them to either establish a new business in the UK or continue to help run an established business in the UK.
"In a world designed for men, where only 19.7% of boardroom chairs are filled with women, and where in 2015, it was found that for every 7 women CEOs in the UK’s top companies, there were 2 men called John"
The New Arab sat down with three Turkish businesswomen to hear how these self-made women used the Turkish businessperson visa to find success in the UK.
To quote the late great soul legend, Aretha Franklin as she duetted with Eurythmics’ Annie Lennox: "These sisters are doing it for themselves".
Here’s what Behiye, Yesim, and Ozlem did to make it work in their favour:
Behiye Teymur, CEO of the Arnas Agro Agricultural and Trade Company
Behiye Teymur, the CEO of the Arnas Agro Agricultural and Trade Company, which trades mostly in foodstuffs, took a big risk moving to the UK and setting up shop. When she first made the move, Covid had just hit.
The UK was at the height of lockdown, and most of her meetings were hosted via Zoom or over the phone. Despite the initial difficulties, things seem to be going well.
“Now I'm in my third year, everything is going well, our food products are on the shelves in many parts of London, we opened our Amazon UK market and it is progressing very well. I think this is an achievement in itself,” she tells The New Arab.
Behiye decided to set up shop in the UK in 2019. It was just before Brexit when it had been difficult to break into the market, as any non-EU olive oil would be slapped with a 30 percent customs duty. “With the withdrawal of this from the agreements after Brexit, the UK has become a virgin market with high potential for us.”
Despite her risk paying off when she expanded her business to the UK, the move has not been without its difficulties. Recently, many Turkish businessperson visa holders have had problems renewing their visas, leaving them trapped in the UK for fear they will not be able to return.
"I like to integrate with the world, I believe that I have found a sufficient social environment for this in London"
“After my one-year residence permit expired, my visa extension process took 6-7 months. Those were the times when Covid was at its peak. I was stuck in England and if I left the country, I couldn't come back,” she explains.
“During this time, I was praying every day that no one in my family gets COVID-19. God forbid, how would I visit them if there was an illness?”
After months of exchanges with Greg Hands, MP for Chelsea and Fulham and other government ministers, Behiye said the officials have been helpful. “I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to them. Even getting answers to my letters was a relief for me.”
However, aside from the more expensive lifestyle and visa renewal issues, Behiye enjoys her life in London. “Being in the UK makes me feel like a citizen of the world. London is a very cosmopolitan place, where I find the opportunity to meet and socialise with people from many different nationalities,” she says.
“This makes me a more tolerant, more compassionate person. I like to integrate with the world, I believe that I have found a sufficient social environment for this in London.”
Yesim Engin, Business consultant and mentor
Yesim Engin had been a successful businesswoman for more than 20 years before she headed over to the UK. Having run a successful business in the UAE, she decided to bring her expertise to Britain and offer her insight and expertise.
For Yesim, operating in a world that favours men is enough success in itself.
"Having run a successful business in the UAE, she decided to bring her expertise to Britain and offer her insight and expertise"
“I believe that the definition of ‘success’ changes from person to person. For me, surviving in a man’s world is already a success,” she explains.
“To be able to be flexible and still work as a mother and home-carer, relocating countries where you literally know anyone, raising kids without support circle way from your parents and relatives… those are all success when we look from outside.”
Yesim, as a business coach and mentor, measures her success by the achievement of her clients. If she can change lives and walk hand in hand with her clients to success, then she considers it a job well done.
She began her business back in 2012, after realising that she had a passion for people. “I like connecting people and helping everyone to find better opportunities. After noticing that creating a positive impact on people is my passion, I decided to be a coach/mentor and got trained by top academies to be certified as a professional coach.”
"For me, surviving in a man’s world is already a success"
The UK was not necessarily Yesim’s first choice, but over time she became more optimistic by moving her business from Dubai to England.
“Our kids were already in British education, it is close to home country and I have experience working with British people so I said, why not?”
She also wanted her kids to get a good education and believes Britain will be good for them. “The UK is a future-promising country, a great hub to my coaching business and it offers a modest but stable life similar to what we are after.”
Ozlem Bacak, CEO of Luviland Ltd.
Ozlem was attracted to moving business to the UK just before Brexit. As Britain tries to find its way in a post-Brexit world, Ozlem says Turkey is in an advantageous position as opportunities previously closed off by the European Union have begun to open up.
“I chose England and established a company called Luviland Limited here,” she says. Luviland is a consultancy service for manufacturers based in London, which has partners in the Gulf states and Turkey.
"I want to be a bridge between two countries"
Despite COVID-19 hitting the global economy hard, her company has still managed to facilitate $5.2 million worth of trade combined of her clients.
“I want to be a bridge between two countries. Many manufacturers still do not know how to enter the UK market today, and many British companies have not been able to find out how to reach the manufacturers with whom they can cooperate correctly and for a long time,” she explains. “Here, with the right matching, I ensure that companies reach each other both here in England and in Turkey without wasting time and money.”
Despite London’s fast pace, Ozlem’s life in England has taught her to be patient: “England is trying to teach me to have some patience and to move slowly but surely. I just finished my first year and I'm trying to adapt.”
"Ozlem was the first in her family to embark down the road she has and the first young woman in her social circle to venture out into the world alone"
She does however love her new home and enjoys the cosmopolitan and multicultural city.
“People of all nationalities, races and cultures live together. As I am Turkish, I have never encountered any negative approach particularly.”
Ozlem was the first in her family to embark down the road she has. She graduated from Pamukkale University’s Food Process Engineering Department and was the first young woman in her social circle to venture out into the world alone.
After living in Egypt for a year, she returned to Istanbul to build her career in foreign trade. Armed with five languages (English, Arabic, Russian, Bulgarian and Turkish), she travels the world.
However, Ozlem is determined to share her success with others, and heads up a programme called ‘Future Destination Africa’, which aims to improve the employment opportunities for African students, and is something Ozlem considers one of her greatest successes.
“The aim of the project was to train young people who would be a bridge between the two countries so that African students doing their undergraduate or doctoral studies in Turkey would do internships with the relevant Turkish manufacturers in accordance with their departments,” she explains.
The students would then go on to become a partner or representatives of their assigned companies when they returned to their home countries. The project took off, and the government became interested in getting involved.
“Over time, the project spread like a wave and became a government-supported project of one of the official institutions of the state, so that more young students and graduates were reached,” she says.
In a world designed for men, where only 19.7 percent of boardroom chairs are filled with women, and where in 2015, it was found that for every seven women CEOs in the UK’s top companies, there were two men called John.
However, these driven and determined women have forged a way ahead.
It may be a man’s world, but, to quote the late great James Brown, it wouldn't be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl.
Amy Addison-Dunne is a freelance digital journalist with an interest in the Middle East and British politics. She has written for the Daily Mirror, Morning Star.
Follow her on Twitter: @redamylou
Marwa Koçak is a journalist and translator with an interest in politics and human rights in the Middle East. She speaks Arabic, English and Turkish. She has written for Middle East Eye, Al-Jazeera.
For this year’s International Women’s Day and the entire month of March, The New Arab will be amplifying and celebrating the voices of women throughout the MENA region and beyond. Click here to read more stories from the special series: