Flight Plan

From Turkey, with love: How Celebi Aviation landed in India

Ashwini Phadnis | Updated on May 15, 2018 Published on May 15, 2018

Canan Celebioglu   -  The Hindu

Canan Celebioglu, who was inspired by Gandhiji, found the India call irresistible

It is rare to find people shaping their careers out of their interests and hobbies. Even rarer are those who do it successfully. Canan Celebioglu, Board Member of the Turkish ground handling company Celebi Aviation Holding Inc, is one such person.

As a child, she was fascinated by what Herman Hesse wrote about Asia. She was equally fascinated by Mahatma Gandhi’s writings. “He fought for the freedom of the country based on his belief. I am also stubborn just as he was. If I believe in something I like to push to make it happen. If there is something that you believe in, then it is easy to convince others also about it,” she tells BusinessLine.

Not that it was easy for Celebioglu to convince her company to look at business interests in India. Celebi was started by her father in 1958. He passed away in 1982 when she was 16 and her brother was 19. The siblings took over the company.

When Celebi, which today provides ground handling services in Turkey, India, Austria and Hungary and also cargo and warehouse facilities in Turkey, Hungary, India and Germany, started looking at expansion, it had eyes on India, China and Brazil as it felt that they were going to develop and be important world economies. Brazil was very far from Turkey, so that was not such a viable option.

Celebioglu was keen on India but others in Celebi were not. “Most of the company members said ‘we do not want to go to India as it is too risky, too crowded and too dirty.’ I said that is your choice; if you do not go, you leave the company,” she laughs.

Celebioglu was persistent and she did manage to convince the others. However, success didn’t exactly come knocking. Celebi was approached by an American construction company keen to participate in the privatisation of Hyderabad airport but they lost the bid.

‘India, biggest opportunity’

Success in India came in 2008 when Celebi got its first business in India at Mumbai airport and then the whole level of management started to come around. In India, Celebi provides ground handling services in Delhi, Mumbai, Kochi and Ahmedabad. It will start services in Kannur from July this year. It also provides cargo warehousing services at Delhi airport.

“Now I think everybody is thanking me for insisting on India because everyone knows that right now it is our biggest opportunity because, in ground handling, it is generally either you grow through bidding or buy a company. There are many airports here. If you go to Holland, it has only one airport, some countries have five to six airports but in India there are 40-50,” she says.

Celebioglu is happy about the success of her India venture for another reason — being part of the business environment in India gives Celebioglu a chance to visit the country even more often than she did earlier. She was recently in Delhi with her mother to celebrate 10 years of doing business in India. She has also been able to convince her friends to visit India and recently a group of her 10 women friends spent several days in the country.

English edge, colourfulness

There are many things that the 52-year-old Celebioglu likes about India. On top of the list is the fact that the people here understand English, making it easier to tap the market potential that India offers.

“We can communicate with people. In Hungary, which was our first global footprint, we saw that educated people spoke English, but the workers did not but in India even the workers understand English at some level. In Hungary, it took a very long time to explain ourselves or be able to connect with the people,” says Celebioglu.

The second special thing about India, she says, is that it is a very colourful country. “I like colour as a person… India is so bright and cheerful, even its music is cheerful,” she says, adding, “India gave me the impression that it had a positive approach so whenever I arrived in India I did not see people begging and dirty. Instead I could smell a very natural fragrance of spice.”

Celebioglu is here every two months because of her business. She has also been thrice on a holiday as “otherwise I would not have been able to see Rajasthan.”

And her love for the country is contagious. While Celebioglu first visited India as an adult, her two children have taken to India at a young age and now travel here alone to spend their vacations.

Published on May 15, 2018
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