Opening the first store in Istanbul
Vehbi Koç, who in Ankara had “left behind shopkeeping and joined the merchant class”, opened a shop in Galata in order to expand his business in Istanbul. The main function of the shop, run by İsrail Anastasyan, was to procure goods necessary for the firm in Ankara and send them there. In 1937, the Koçzade Ahmet Vehbi firm established its Istanbul Branch at Fermeneciler, Galata in the name of Vehbi Koç ve Ortakları Kollektif Şirketi (Vehbi Koç and Partners Collective Company). The other partners in the company were İsrail Anastasyan and Emin Güraç. Later İsak Altabev (Altabef) would join, bringing the company’s partners up to four. This outfit in Istanbul would be remembered by Vehbi Koç as “Our Galata Group”. In order to continue as an agent for Standard Oil, a concession first obtained in 1928, he also established the Vehbi Koç ve Ortağı Petrol İşleri Kollektif Şirketi (Vehbi Koç and Partners Petroleum Business Collective Company) in 1937.
Due to the diversification and development of the Koçzade Ahmet Vehbi firm’s business, Vehbi Koç decided to form a corporation. Koç Ticaret AŞ (Koç Trade Inc.) was established on June 29, 1938 with 300,000 lira of capital. In doing so, he chose corporatization to avoid the problems of sole proprietorship companies. The company had two stores, one dealing with construction and the other with automobiles, and Fazıl Öziş was made general director.
A private partnership named Koç ve Ortağı Kalorifer Havagazı İşleri (Koç and Partners Heating Gas Business) which was to deal with coal gas plants was established in 1940 in Ankara. In 1942, the Koç Ticaret Galata Branch opened in Istanbul and the affairs of the Vehbi Koç ve Ortakları Kollektif Şirketi were transferred to this branch. The Beyoğlu Branch opened in 1944. The same year, Bernar Nahum, who would work for Koç Group companies for around 40 years, began to work as the manager of the automobile branch of Koç Ticaret AŞ. In 1950, Hulki Alisbah, who would take on various roles at Koç Group until he passed away in 1975, was made general director of Koç Ticaret AŞ.
From trading to industry
Vehbi Koç continued various business relationships with a variety of German, British and American companies throughout World War II. On April 25, 1945, he established his first company abroad, the Ram Commercial Corporation in New York. Its aim was to sell goods and provide consulting services to official delegations who came to America to buy goods, but the company was closed down in 1954 when it failed to meet expectations. However, through this company, franchises were obtained from several companies, including General Electric, USA Rubber (today Uniroyal, Inc.), Oliver, Burroughs, York, and Sheaffer.
Vehbi Koç’s 52-day visit to the USA in 1946 marked the beginning of his move towards industry. Although he was able to persuade General Electric to establish a joint enterprise in Turkey, similar talks with US Rubber ended unsuccessfully. In 1947, as his first industrial enterprise, he established the Ankara Oksijen Fabrikası (Ankara Oxygen Factory), which continued operating until 1955. The General Electric TAO, which he established in 1948 together with General Electric to produce lightbulbs, was the first joint investment made in Turkey with a foreign company.
Vehbi Koç entered the council of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) in 1946 at the request of İsmet İnönü. The council was known as the Parliament of Forty. This duty, which he carried out for around two years, led him to become known as a CHP supporter, and in 1951 he fell out with the Democratic Party government and left his role as chair of Ankara Chamber of Commerce. In the same year, Vehbi Koç and his family moved to Istanbul. Arçelik AŞ, which he established in 1955 in order to produce steel office equipment, later entered into the production of durable consumer goods and white goods, particularly fridges and washing machines. He also established companies such as Türk Demir Döküm, Aygaz, Bozkurt Mensucat, and Türkay in this period. The group’s first investment in tourism, the Divan Hotel, opened in 1955.
At the start of 1956, Vehbi Koç went to the USA with Bernar Nahum and Kenan İnal to meet with Ford Company president Henry Ford II. However, when plans to establish a joint truck assembly factory in Turkey failed to get off the ground, Vehbi Koç established Otosan Otomobil Sanayii AŞ (Otosan Automobile Industry Inc.) in 1959. On November 20, 1963, with the establishment of Turkey’s first holding company, Koç Holding AŞ, the Koç Group reached a crucial point in its process of corporatization.
In 1964, at the initiative of the Koç Group, Uniroyal tires began production in Turkey. Türk Siemens, a partnership with the German firm Siemens, opened a Turkish cable factory in 1966. Also in 1966, Otosan began the production of Turkey’s first local automobile, the “Anadol”, made with fiberglass bodies using Ford technology. A longstanding canned goods and fruit juice production project came to fruition with the establishment of Tat Konserve Sanayii (Tat Canned Foods Industry) in 1967.
The Koç Group continued to grow throughout the 1970s. In 1970, Ram Foreign Trade Inc. was established as the first central exporting organization in Turkey. In 1971, the Tofaş factory, established after an agreement reached with the Italian Fiat company in 1968, was opened for production. It produced the automobile “Murat 124”, with sheet-metal bodies, which entered the Turkish market. In 1962, Aygaz went public, beginning with 10% of its shares being offered for purchase by company employees, and in 1973, 56% of the shares in Koç Yatırım ve Sanayi Mamulleri Pazarlama AŞ (Koç Investment and Industrial Goods Marketing Inc.) were sold to the public. In 1974, the holding company, which included numerous companies active in different areas, bought the control stock of Turkey’s first supermarket chain, Migros-Turk Ticaret AŞ (Migros-Turk Trade Inc.). The group’s third enterprise in the tourism sector after the Divan Hotel and the travel agency Setur (established in 1964) was the Divan Talya Hotel in Antalya, which opened in 1975.
In 1984, Vehbi Koç passed over his role as chair of the Koç Holding Board of Directors to his son Rahmi M. Koç, but continued working as the holding’s honorary president. He subsequently spent a large proportion of his time involved in the foundation and philanthropic work. On February 25, 1996, he died of a heart attack suffered at the Divan Talya Hotel in Antalya.
Social contributions and charitable work
Vehbi Koç began his social contributions and charitable work in culture, education and health with the construction of the Ankara University Vehbi Koç Student Dormitory, which opened in 1951. This type of work gained pace in the 1960s, and among his other philanthropic activities in this era were: Ankara University School of Medicine Vehbi Koç Eye Bank (1963, today the Ankara University School of Medicine Vehbi Koç Eye Hospital[*]), Istanbul University School of Medicine Cardiology Institute (1964), Admiral Bristol Hospital Vehbi Koç Cancer Pavilion (1967), the Eskişehir Academy of Economic and Commercial Sciences Vehbi Koç Library and Research Building (1968) and the Middle East Technical University Vehbi Koç Student Dormitory (1968).
The VKV, which was established in 1969, marked a significant step in the direction of corporatizing this social contribution and charitable work. The Turkish Education Foundation was established in 1967 by 205 philanthropists under Vehbi Koç’s leadership and made a major contribution to education through sponsoring schools and giving scholarships. The Atatürk Library was constructed in Taksim, Istanbul, for the 50th anniversary of the Republic; it was completed in 1976 and donated to the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality.
This philanthropic work also continued after 1980. The Sadberk Hanım Museum in Istanbul was established to fulfil the last wishes of Vehbi Koç’s wife Sadberk and when it opened in 1980 it was Turkey’s first private museum. The Haydarpaşa Numune Hospital Vehbi Koç Foundation Traffic Accidents and Primary Care Treatment Facility (today the Haydarpaşa Numune Education and Research Hospital Vehbi Koç Emergency Medical Center[*]) was a VKV initiative which opened in 1985. TUGEV (1984; the Tourism Development and Education Foundation) and the Turkish Family Health and Planning Foundation (1985) were established under Vehbi Koç’s leadership in the same era.
One important development in the educational field was the establishment of the Koç Private High School (see Koç School) in 1988. This was followed in 1993 with the establishment of the Koç University. In the cultural arena, in 1994 the Vehbi Koç Ankara Studies Research Center (see VEKAM) was founded in the orchard house belonging to the family in Keçiören, Ankara.
Awards and medals
The most important accolade received by Vehbi Koç throughout his lifetime came when he was chosen as “Businessperson of the Year” by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in 1987. He received the award from Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in a large ceremony held in New Delhi, India.
Vehbi Koç received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the US Population Institute in 2001 in recognition for his work in the Turkish Family Health and Planning Foundation (TAPV): he led the way for its foundation and served as president until 1996. In 1994, the United Nations granted their World Population Award, given for initiatives to prevent world population growth, to Vehbi Koç in recognition of the TAPV.
Some of the other awards and medals given to Vehbi Koç include the Federal German Republic Medal of Merit (1974), The Italian Grande Ufficiale Medal of Merit (1975), the Gold Mercury International Award (1983), an honorary doctorate from Anadolu University (1984) and an honorary doctorate from Middle East Technical University (1991).
Books written by and about him
Vehbi Koç wrote two books: Hayat Hikâyem (1973; My Life Story: The Autobiography of a Turkish Businessman, 1977) and Hatıralarım Görüşlerim Öğütlerim (1987; Recollections, Observations, Counsel, 1973-1987; 1991). An anthology based on these books, titled Vehbi Koç Anlatıyor - Bir Derleme (Vehbi Koç Tells - A Compilation), was published in 2018. The most significant books written about him are: Bernar Nahum’s Koç’ta 44 Yılım: Bir Otomotiv Sanayii Kuruluyor (My 44 Years at Koç: Establishment of an Automotive Industry; 1988), Can Kıraç’s Anılarımla Patronum Vehbi Koç (Memories of My Boss, Vehbi Koç; 1995), Salih Sayar’s Bir Bayilik Öyküsü: Vehbi Koç ile 40 Yıl (A Story of a Dealership: 40 Years with Vehbi Koç; 1999), Fazlı Ayverdi’s Vehbi Koç ile 30 Yıl (30 Years with Vehbi Koç; 2001), Can Dündar’s Özel Arşivinden Belgeler ve Anılarıyla Vehbi Koç (Vehbi Koç through Documents and Memories from his Private Archive; 2006) and Özel Arşivinden Belgeler ve Anılarıyla Vehbi Koç, 1961-76 (Vehbi Koç through Documents and Memories from his Private Archive, 1961-76; 2008). The catalog of an exhibition held in 2012 by VEKAM to commemorate the 16th anniversary of Vehbi Koç’s death was also published with the title A Son and the Pioneer of the Republic... Vehbi Koç (1901-1996).