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Kıraç, Suna

Kıraç, Suna (b. June 3, 1941, Ankara - d. September 15, 2020, Istanbul), née KOÇ, a businesswoman and philanthropist. In addition to her other roles, she has served as Koç Holding Board of Directors vice chair, Vehbi Koç Foundation (VKV) Executive Committee chair and Board of Directors member, Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation founding member and chair of the board of directors, member of Koç University (KU), Turkish Education Foundation and Robert College Board of Trustees, chair of the executive board of the Koç School, a founding member and honorary president of TEGV, and a member of the board of trustees of the Turkish Family Health and Planning Foundation.

As the fourth and youngest child of Vehbi Koç and Sadberk Koç after Semahat Arsel, Rahmi M. Koç and Sevgi Gönül, she was born in the family’s Ankara orchard house in Keçiören (today’s VEKAM[*] operational center). She completed her elementary schooling at the Turkish Education Association (TED) Elementary School. In 1952, she entered the Istanbul Arnavutköy American College for Girls (see Robert College). During her last year at the college she decided to go to the USA to study business and finance and was accepted at Pennsylvania University Wharton School of Finance. However, her father Vehbi Koç said “My shop counter is the best university. I’ll train you,” and she stayed in Istanbul. Not wanting to solely go to “Vehbi Koç University”, she registered to study banking and finance at the undergraduate department of Robert College (today’s Boğaziçi University). She chose her lessons for the benefit of her business experience, focusing on topics such as business administration, balance sheets and financial statements.

In October 1960, she began working alongside her father at the Istanbul branch of Koç Ticaret AŞ in the Beyoğlu Merkez Han. Her first duty was to look after the documents coming in and out. She joined her father at the administrative meetings of the Koç companies, did internships at different departments, and came to know the group and Vehbi Koç’s working style intimately.

Suna Kıraç, in the words of Can Kıraç

Vehbi Koç’s working relationship with Suna Kıraç began in the 1960s, and after Sadberk Koç passed away in 1973 they became much closer. They both had much in common: their talent for taking responsibility was similar and their working styles were very compatible. Their determination to get to the bottom of issues and problems, and their habits of keeping notes were the same. They both had the same feelings of suspicion or trust for the same people. Even in their thoughts on finance they had completely parallel thinking.

What is true is that being both Vehbi Koç’s child and his colleague was one of the rare opportunities a person gets in life. At the same time, it was a “tough” kind of life! It was an opportunity, because there are very few true “fathers” left in present day Turkey from the Vehbi Koç school and with his experience. The tough part was living with it, because as long as Mr. Koç was around, there was no question of his children living independent lives and being their own selves. This situation resembled a champion sportsman being always under his coach’s control to keep him in shape.
Can Kıraç, Anılarımla Patronum Vehbi Koç (Memories of My Boss, Vehbi Koç), Milliyet Yayınları, Istanbul, 1995, pp. 378-79

In 1963, after Koç Holding was founded, she was one of the first five members of the board of directors of the holding along with Vehbi Koç, Rahmi M. Koç, Bernar Nahum and Hulki Alisbah. In 1965, she was made the general secretary of the holding company and fulfilled the role for five years. In December 1967, she married İnan Kıraç the general manager of Otoyol, a Koç Holding company and in 1970 was appointed to the Koç Holding Executive Committee alongside İsak de Eskinazis, Bernar Nahum and Ziya Bengü under Rahmi M. Koç’s presidency. Also in 1970, she took on the role of assistant director of the Koç Holding Personnel and Administrative Affairs Department. In 1974, after becoming the holding company’s director responsible for human resources, she focused on promotion and competence standards throughout the group’s companies and on strengthening the group’s corporate identity.

Vehbi Koç’s “right hand”

Suna Kıraç began to shine after the management of Koç Holding moved to Fındıklı. For years, many predictions were made about who Vehbi Koç’s “right hand” was. Even if Mr. Koç had many very close colleagues, none of them had entirely earned the label of “right hand”, because Vehbi Koç was by nature his own “right hand man”! However, if we insist on finding a “right hand” for him, only Suna Kıraç could be given this title, because she had taken on the role of communicating between her siblings and her father.
Bernar Nahum, Koç’ta 44 Yılım (My 44 Years at Koç), Milliyet Yayınları, Istanbul, 1988, pp. 98-99

 Kıraç was made vice chair of the Koç Holding Board of Directors in 1980 and signed off some important decisions in the transition of the company from assembly to main manufacturing. In 1994, she became the chair of the Arçelik AŞ Board of Directors, one of Koç Holding’s leading companies. The technological investments, capacity increases and work on improving quality carried out under her direction prepared the groundwork for the Koç Holding brands Arçelik and Beko to become producers on a global scale.

During the 40 years of active working life in which Suna Kıraç worked to develop, grow, and especially globalize and perpetuate Koç Holding, she also carried out some important developments in the areas of education, culture, art and healthcare. Arguing that the philanthropic enterprises and investments made by Vehbi Koç and VKV should be directly looked after by VKV, she worked to establish a “management foundation” approach. This policy adopted by VKV came to fruition in 1988 with the founding of the Koç Private High School (see Koç School) and in 1993 with Koç University. Kıraç played a vital role in the determining and shaping of the vision of both educational establishments.

Kıraç also took on social responsibility in the educational arena, which she saw as the country’s biggest structural problem. In 1995, she laid the groundwork for TEGV, which would become one of Turkey’s most important civil society organizations working in this area. She contributed both her money and time to the development of the foundation. VKV set up the Suna-İnan Kıraç Educational Facilities Support Fund which sponsored the TEGV education park in Kepez, Antalya. It was established in 2001 and named the Suna-İnan Kıraç Education Park.

Suna Kıraç’s vision for education

I want to re-emphasize this, that education means broad horizons, vision, self-confidence, efficiency and quality. So, keeping up or catching up with the times can only be achieved with well-educated clear heads. A modern national education policy, which is well laid-out and where every precaution has been taken is, necessary. It is the only way that Turkey’s young generations can be raised well, and that Atatürk’s principles and reforms can be maintained.

It is said that America will have three important sectors in the twenty-first century: education, health, and communication and the media. If we look at it from this perspective, both the state and the private sector must set aside funds for education. Expecting education from the state is not the right approach. Within the education policy drawn up by the state, education must be privatized as far as possible and become monetized. It is impossible for serious educational institutions to be for-profit. Education and health are systems that develop every moment, and like an endless well they swallow up every penny in order to keep up with the times. The cost of education is very high: I believe—and I cannot think otherwise—that this cost should be taken from those who can afford it and those who cannot should be given scholarships for the opportunity of a quality education.
Suna Kıraç, Ömrümden Uzun İdeallerim Var (My Ideals, Longer Than My Lifetime), Suna ve İnan Kıraç Vakfı Yayınları, Istanbul, 2006, p. 203

Kıraç also carried out many personal art and culture projects. Together with her husband İnan Kıraç, she pioneered the VKV’s establishment of AKMED in Kaleiçi, Antalya in 1996, and of the Kaleiçi Museum in 2000. In 2003, she established the Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation, together with her husband İnan Kıraç and her daughter İpek Kıraç. As chair of the foundation’s board of directors, she continued to contribute to art and culture with the opening of the Pera Museum in Tepebaşı, Istanbul in 2005 and the Istanbul Research Institute in 2007. Within the foundation’s healthcare work, she led the opening of the Neurodegeneration Research Laboratory (NDAL) as part of the Boğaziçi University Molecular Biology and Genetics Department.

In addition to her active business life, Suna Kıraç was recognized for her contribution to society in the fields of education, health and social services, receiving the State Outstanding Service Medal, awarded by the Turkish cabinet on October 23, 1997. In 1995, she received the Galatasaray Educational Foundation Medal of Honor for her contribution to the Galatasaray University Suna Kıraç Library. In 1999, she was given an honorary fellowship from the London Business School for her exceptional governorship and leadership skills, and her contribution to Koç Holding, the business world and to the education of Turkish children. In 2001, she received the Foundation Associates Honorary Award in the individual category from the General Directorate of Foundations and the Millennium Volunteers’ Exceptional Service Award from the Voluntary Organizations National Women’s Health Commission (KASAKOM) for her contribution to education. In the same year, she was chosen as Woman of the Year by the Antalya Branch of the University-Educated Turkish Women’s Association for her contribution to the establishment of AKMED and TEGV’s education park in Kepez, Antalya. Kıraç, who was awarded the title of honorary doctor by the Boğaziçi University Senate in 2008, won the Skalite Award in 2008, together with İnan Kıraç, for their contribution to protecting cultural assets. They received the Istanbul Tourism Honorary Award in 2009 for their contribution to Istanbul by opening the Pera Museum and the Istanbul Research Institute. In the same year they also received the Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University Special Academy Award for establishing the Pera Museum.

Suna Kıraç from the perspective of Talat Halman

Her most attractive side was her ability to make fun of herself and the world. On the one hand, she watched closely and knew well the worlds of economics, finance and commerce. On the other, she was interested in arts and culture. She had a great interest in theater. She used to watch plays. She had close relationships and friendships with thespians. She knew world theater very well, and whenever she went to New York she would go to the theatre regularly. She would go to the plays and cabarets and analyze them all very well.
Suna Kıraç, Ömrümden Uzun İdeallerim Var, p. 228

Several facilities to which VKV made significant contributions were named after her: a modern performance arts space (see Suna Kıraç Hall) established at Robert College in 1989, a library opened at Galatasaray University in 1993 for which she oversaw the founding, equipping and financing (see Galatasaray University Suna Kıraç Library) and a library at Koç University that opened in the same year (see Koç University Suna Kıraç Library). In 2008, the Suna Kıraç Inter-School Short Story Competition was established by the Koç Private High School (see Koç School).

Suna Kıraç, who has fought with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) since the year 2000, sold over 100,000 copies of her autobiographical book named Ömrümden Uzun İdeallerim Var (My Ideals, Longer Than My Lifetime). Published by the Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation, it became one of the year’s best-selling books and all income was donated to TEGV. In her book, she aimed to tell the story of “an Ankara family” as well as herself, detailing the mission she believes she has in life and the meaning of this mission for her country and her country’s youth. She describes the fight with illness of a mother, wife and first-generation leading businesswoman who chose to live. The book went to a second edition in 2016, and a book aimed as a sequel to the first, İdealler Gerçekleşirken… Suna Kıraç’ın İzinde 10 Yılın Öyküsü (Bringing About the Ideals... 10 Years on Suna Kıraç’s Path), was published by the Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation in 2017.

Abadan Unat, Nermin

Political scientist who received the Vehbi Koç Award for education in 2012.