Friday, April 11, 2014

EME Turkey/Greece: Exploring the Power of Economic Progress

By Nick Fitzgerald, First-year MBA, Finance and Management

From left to right: Leila, Me, Andrea in Athens 
Like many Kelley students, I spent my first spring break in the MBA program abroad. A variety of destinations were up for grabs on both the GLOBASE and the Emerging Market Experience (EME) side, but the EME trip to Turkey and Greece in particular caught my eye. After a lightning-quick, seven-week class on the countries and their business environments, I found myself on a Turkish Airways flight to visit Istanbul and Athens for a two-week look at the macroeconomic conditions in each country. 

Prior to taking the EME course, I was aware of Greece’s current economic hardships. While that awareness was limited to general newspaper articles and by a lack of deeper macroeconomic understanding, it was still apparent to me that the country had fallen on very difficult times as a result of the Great Recession.

Greece is currently suffering from a massive unemployment problem: 28% unemployment overall, and 60% youth unemployment. These figures have more than just economic implications, however. For example, walking through the streets of Athens, I was legitimately taken aback by the wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling graffiti that covers what seemed like nearly all of the city’s buildings.

Kelley at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul
In contrast, Turkey’s economic success was completely unknown to me prior to taking this course. And when we visited, the difference between it and Greece could not have been starker: Turkey presented a brighter, thoroughly different picture of growth and prosperity. So, why the difference?

The answer is simple. Turkey has done so much that Greece has not: namely, create an environment where entrepreneurs and business-owners feel comfortable engaging with the economy. The fact that we visited with a company that was purchased by eBay is just one small example of the kind of environment Turkey has established for its economy: a place where laws are clear and well-established, where businesses are relatively free to operate and conduct matters internally and externally without hindrance, and where the tax liability is reasonable.

What’s more, Turkey has positioned itself as a place for innovation. When we met with Turkcell (the AT&T of Turkey, and ostensibly the Turkish people’s favorite brand), we were told that Steve Wozniak (of Apple) had recently visited Turkey and met with just two individuals: the Turkish prime minister and the CEO of Turkcell. When (American) titans of industry and well-known innovators and entrepreneurs are visiting a country, and the big companies within that country, something right is happening. When that country is classified still as an “emerging economy,” the impact becomes even more impressive.

In a way, however, it’s fitting. Historically – as we learned from the various sights, exhibits, and cultural high-points throughout Turkey – the country has always, since antiquity, been a crossroads of cultural and economic exchange that connected East and West. In a way, this entrepreneurial spirit and this openness to different methods of achieving progress is central to the country’s history and its people, which makes it easy to understand why they have been able to embrace the changes necessary to keep their country at the top of the emerging economic heap in the past several years.

Acropolis of Athens 
Overall, both the EME course and the trip were absolutely invaluable to me. I enjoyed the subject-matter immensely and would highly recommend such a trip to others in the future. Further, Greece and Turkey presented excellent studies in contrast and were particularly relevant to the broader business education I’m receiving here at Kelley.

I can say with certainty that I plan to revisit Turkey as a direct result of this trip. It was an experience that I will remember fondly when I think back to my two action-packed years at Kelley.

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