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The Brain Gain 9 mai 2012

Posted by Acturca in Economy / Economie, Immigration, Turkey / Turquie.
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The Wall Street Journal Europe (USA) May 9, 2012, p. 22                    Türkçe
The Journal Report: Turkey

By Joe Parkinson, Istanbul

Many well-educated Turks used to look abroad for their career opportunities, but now many think the best opportunities lie at home.

Zeynep Dagli never expected to come home so soon. A graduate of elite universities in the U.K., she worked for four years as a high-flying investment banker in London until 2009, profiting at the height of a boom that made the U.K. capital the center of world finance. Three years later, the 28-year-old Ms. Dagli is making waves back home in Turkey, two years after founding start-up gift-box company Momento, which is forecast to post a turnover of up to 3 million lira ($1.7 million) — a 230% rise — this year.

« In the U.K. or the U.S. I couldn’t have had this success and certainly not this quickly. I also couldn’t have had this network — it just wouldn’t have worked, » Ms. Dagli says, explaining the year-and-a-half journey to build the company from scratch after returning from London. « The trend of young Turks returning home to seek opportunities here is going to grow as people now believe that they can make a sustainable fortune here away from the political and financial instability they were used to in the past. If you’re a young Turk and you’re not going to make it here, where are you going to make it? » she says.

It is not just technology that is acting as a magnet sucking educated Turks back to their ancestral homeland. Professionals from other sectors are also rushing home to ride the boom.

With a rapidly expanding corporate client list of household names including PricewaterhouseCoopers, Unilever and Visa, Ms. Dagli is one of a new breed of educated young Turks whom experts say are returning to their ancestral homeland to cash in on its economic boom as opportunities in developed markets dwindle. For decades, much of Turkey’s top talent emigrated to Europe and the U.S., graduating from Ivy League schools and securing senior jobs in some of the world’s most influential companies.

But as developed markets struggle to maintain growth, Turkey’s star is rising, luring many of the country’s top professionals back to the motherland.

Turkish Allure

Turkey’s government doesn’t publish timely data on the number of Turks returning from working abroad, but economic numbers underline the country’s growing allure. As the U.S. and Europe have struggled to overcome the financial crisis and return to solid growth, last year Turkey’s $735 billion economy grew faster than any other leading economy except China, posting an 8.5% expansion. And that was on top of 9.0% growth in 2011.

Half of Turkey’s 75 million population are under 30, standing in stark contrast to ageing Europe and underscoring the dynamism of the economy.

« This is a real trend and it’s accelerating. It’s a new era in Turkey, » says Professor Murat Erdogan, from the Population Studies Center at Haciteppe University in Ankara. « We’re richer than before and people want to capitalize. Many educated people can have better opportunities here than in developed markets and their skills make them more likely to succeed, » he says.

Turkey’s experience speaks to a wider global trend. For generations, the world’s less-developed countries suffered so-called brain drain — the flight of many of their best and brightest to the West. That hasn’t stopped, but now a reverse ‘brain gain’ has begun, particularly to fast-growing countries such as China, India, and, to a lesser extent, Brazil and Turkey.

One corner of Turkey’s economy attracting a glut of repatriates is the technology sector, which has seen explosive growth centered around Istanbul — emerging as a regional hub for e-commerce. According to the Interbank Card Center, which monitors transactions, Turkish e-commerce business increased 57% in 2011 from the previous year to 22 billion lira. In a country with the world’s 13th largest internet market, according to Comscore, this growth surge has given rise to scores of new internet startups since the beginning of the year.

Ari Bencuya, a 28-year-old born and raised to Turkish parents in California’s Silicon Valley, moved to Turkey in 2010 to work in the tech sector after working in corporate startups in the U.S.

His venture-capital firm, Inventures, is currently invested in seven technology startups in Istanbul, having already exited several deals successfully this year. « I wanted to make the leap into a fast-growing market and make it in a way that would make a great impact, » Mr. Bencuya says. « We’re seeing exponential growth in terms of the number and the quality of companies in Turkey. In the next couple of years we’ll see a Turkish internet company really make a big impact on the international market. It’s only a matter of time. »

Surging Demand

But it isn’t just technology that is acting as a magnet sucking educated Turks back to their ancestral homeland. Professionals from other sectors are also rushing home to ride the boom. Okan Demirkan returned to Turkey to set up a law firm after stints living in the Netherlands, Israel, London and New York. The Istanbul-based practice, Kulcuoglu Demirkan Attorneys at Law, has swelled to 20 fee-earners within three years, servicing blue-chip clients across Turkey’s booming economy. « It’s not that we want to be a big fish in a small pond; there is surging demand and we want to supply it, » says the 32-year-old Mr. Demirkan, speaking in the new boardroom of his firm’s headquarters, on the edge of Istanbul’s business district.

« It’s my belief that repatriates will increasingly be a driving force in Turkish society in the years ahead; I’m glad I got in early, » he says.

Many economists and ratings agencies have raised concerns that the country’s booming growth is unbalanced.

To be sure, business in Turkey offers risk as well as reward. Many economists and ratings agencies have raised concerns that the country’s booming growth is unbalanced, with surging domestic demand fuelling a bloated current account deficit of 10% of gross domestic product that leaves the economy vulnerable to external shocks. Many businesses say taxation is uncompetitive and regulation more onerous than in developed markets.

But for a growing number of returning Turks like Zeynep Dagli, developed markets can’t compete with Turkey’s rapid growth, rising confidence and sense of possibility. « My friends would have said a couple of years ago that I’d never come back, but Turkey is where I am. It’s where I’ll stay, » she says.

« When I was growing up I thought only girls who wanted to get married come home after getting a job abroad . . . But things have changed. »

Flow of Returning Turkish Expats Vital for Growth

There may be a rising tide of younger Turks heading back to the motherland, but one of Turkey’s most seasoned tycoons stresses that the fast-growing country also needs to lure home older talent if it is to maximize its growth spurt.

In his cavernous office overlooking Istanbul’s Bosphorus Strait, 84-year-old Ishak Alaton, chairman of Alarko Holding, one of Turkey’s biggest conglomerates, says the country’s economic resurgence has begun to attract highly skilled professionals and academics back; a prospect that could offer Turkish firms a much-needed innovation boost to help them compete on a global level.

Mr. Alaton — who along with U.S. and Scandinavian partners, has set up a Alvimedica, a Turkey-based healthcare company designing top-end catheters and stents sold across the world — is positioning himself as a spokesman for a business community seeking to attract some of Turkey’s most experienced expatriates back home.

« Let’s be frank, Turkey is not the finished article, but the economy is undeniably more solid, and people who’ve reached top-level positions abroad are thinking about coming back; they know they can live very well here, and many people who’ve made their name abroad would like to give something back to their homeland, » says Mr. Alaton, who himself briefly left Turkey to work in Sweden in the 1950s before returning to set up Alarko. « The fact is that we need them if we’re to turn this growth spurt into something more sustainable. »

Turkey’s economy has been underpinned by a tightly regulated banking sector offering record-low interest rates and surging domestic consumption. But analysts say the economy’s success as a mid-level manufacturing and product assembly hub won’t sustain the current levels of growth and rising expectations of a youthful population. In short: it needs top talent to boost innovation.

Through Alvimedica, Mr. Alaton is at the forefront of that drive. The company is located in a sprawling « techno-park » complex less than two hours from central Istanbul, which hosts research and development and manufacturing facilities.

Since its foundation in 2006, Alvimedica has attracted scores of expatriate professionals back from developed economies and is targeting a billion dollars in sales worldwide over the medium term. Almost 20% of Alvimedica’s 200 white-collar employees have returned to Turkey after education or professional experience abroad.

Mr. Alaton’s pitch is compelling, but thus far, Alvimedica’s experience remains the exception rather than the norm.

Lingering problems frustrate efforts to lure top talent back home. In most cases, highly qualified Turks have to settle for lower salaries and the prospect of a burdensome bureaucracy that can hamper business. Mr. Alaton bemoans the fact that the government hasn’t offered incentives to tempt top talent to repatriate.

« The government has made great strides to improve our economy, but many of our successes have been despite their actions, rather than because of their help, » he says.

Alvimedica’s chief executive, Cem Boskurt, who himself returned to Turkey after a successful career as a surgeon in Germany, concedes that the firm’s experience is atypical, but stresses that it serves an example for other firms looking to attract top talent.

« We’ve worked with international partners to build a research and development center that can produce globally competitive products designed and manufactured here in Turkey, » Mr. Bozkurt said in an interview. « If we’re really going to make our mark, we need to innovate, not just assemble designs coined elsewhere. »

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