Drinks with anise oil are popular across Mediterranean countries. In Greece, we have ouzo; in Italy, it’s Sambuca; and in Turkey, the drink is called raki. Turks will sit for hours at their raki table ritual, drinking glasses of raki while nibbling at meze, a collection of small dishes of hot and cold food. The idea is to take your time and move slowly from cold to hot dishes while sipping your raki, rejoicing in the slowness of the ritual and the time with good friends. The temple of raki culture is the meyhane, and when a long conversation happens in a meyhane around a table with raki, that conversation is called muhabbet.
It is a bit ironic that the major supplier of raki in Turkey is Mey Içki, an extraordinarily successful company known for its speed of decision making. The story of Mey is well known. For about 60 years, the Turkish government ran a state monopoly that manufactured and distributed all raki. When the government decided to privatize the industry in 2004, a set of construction entrepreneurs bought what would become Mey and set to work. They didn’t know much about consumer goods, but knew enough to recruit Galip Yorgancioglu as their first employee. He remains the CEO of Mey today.
The entrepreneurs bought the company in 2004 for roughly $292 million and sold it to TPG for about $810 million two years later. In 2011, TPG sold it to Diageo for about $2.1 billion. That’s a 10 times increase in value in about 10 years—not a bad value-creation story.
I had the privilege of meeting with CEO Yorgancioglu and his sales and marketing directors recently in Istanbul. The CEO’s office is filled with bottles—the “before” and “after” of most of their key brands—that show how they transformed each of the monopoly products they inherited. I also was able to enjoy the raki ritual with the sales team at a small bar on the shores of the Bosphorus. The team was passionate as they described the company’s transformation from monopoly to fast-moving consumer goods leader.
After privatization, Mey leaders had to build many functions from scratch, including sales and distribution capabilities and a first-class marketing department. To do this, the CEO initially set out to recruit the best talent from the best fast-moving consumer goods players. These new hires were very often the “outliers” of their previous employers; as one executive noted, “We learned the skills from these great companies, but we were ‘black sheep’—too impatient and rebellious to work within big-company routines.” When I asked each of the executives what defined the culture of Mey and what drove its success, they all came back with the same two answers: a shared sense of accountability for the yearly targets, and a passion for fast decision making.
Each executive had a favorite story of fast decision making, from pricing decisions to brand launches to new ad campaigns. Each executive also had a favorite symbol of fast decision making. The most commonly cited one was the cultural norm that all emails should be answered within 15 minutes. “It is about respect for your partners,” a second executive said. “It is demonstrating that you are there for them, and determined to give them quick answers or support. It says that each of our jobs is important enough to get a fast response.”
The team’s commitment to fast decision making is also evident in the weekly Monday meetings with the CEO and all direct reports. The culture demands that they raise major issues, present and debate opposing opinions, and then make decisions. Put simply, the culture demands conflict and then conflict resolution. “Our commitment is to not let things fester for more than a week,” said another executive. “We might save it for a Monday, but never beyond a Monday. And our people know that.”
This commitment from leaders to meet once a week and resolve outstanding issues is something we see this over and over again at companies with a Founder’s MentalitySM. It’s also one of the first things to go as a company grows.
The Mey company is charged with protecting raki and the slow rituals of a raki table. The leaders of this company protect slow rituals; they celebrate muhabbet by celebrating speed. It was fun to join them!