Aslıhan Aydemir: Could you please introduce yourself?
Vennas Akyol Haznedar: I was born in 1965 in Samsun. I married young and have a daughter. I was divorced when I was 30, and then the role that would have been assigned to me by default was an all-too-common one; I was supposed to live off my parents’ money and raise my child. But I had to stand on my own feet and try walking on my own path without leaving my future in the hands of anyone else. Therefore, I started searching for what I could do to move forward instead of desperately waiting for something to happen. By coincidence, I had heard that the businesses at Samsun Airport were going to go out for a tender and inquired about the dates and places and immediately took action to prepare a proposal.
Still, there was an obstacle that I faced. I had to own a company to be able to bid. Instead of giving up at the emergence of this first obstacle, I visited a family friend who happened to be an accountant. I told him that I had no money and asked for his advice on what to do. He helped me to establish the company and promised me that he would not mention anything about this to my family. I was going to pay back the money that I borrowed from him right after I started the business, just as soon as I won the tender.
We prepared proposals for all the tenders. We were rejected as we did not own a five-star hotel business for the restaurant and cafe of the airport. I needed a customs certificate to qualify to join the free shop tender and of course, I did not have that either. So, I participated in the kiosk tender, the requirements of which were applicable to my company. The application I made for this kiosk tender jumpstarted my business life. Even though a small one, I had become an operator of a kiosk in the airport.
For instance, when I won my first tender, a giant uncertainty confronted me: I didn’t have any money and I did not know how I was supposed to equip the kiosk without the support of my family and now I was challenged with the task of decorating the kiosk. Above all, I needed to obtain a letter of guaranty from a bank. My dear friend from childhood Recep Hun came to my rescue at that moment. Upon his advice, we visited a friend of ours who was the Black Sea distributor of the company Ülker and as a result I maintained an income by having ‘Ülker Shop’ written over the kiosk and had the decoration done with this money. With the help of Recep Hun, I was able to include off-license products in the kiosk and I was also able to deal with the letter of guaranty issue with the money that I borrowed from him.
In 2001, when the criteria of owning a five-star hotel was excluded from the specifications stipulated for the cafe business at Samsun Airport, I won the tender for this business and started to operate the airport’s cafe. This was followed by the car-park business in 2002. Monitoring my regular payments, the Directorate General especially asked me to participate in the tender. Winning this tender seemed to be a reward for my honest execution of business. From then on, I was able to proceed with firm steps. I learned to make up a balance sheet and got my first check book. I was progressing confidently in my business life with the assurance of Garanti Bank.
Aslıhan Aydemir: Could you tell us about your enterprise?
Vennas Akyol Haznedar: Well, have I ever suffered from inexperience throughout this process? Of course, I have…
For instance, I could never forget the first tender negotiation that I attended. My inexperience was certainly apparent during the negotiation. As we entered the tender process, a friend of mine advised me, “No matter what they say, offer them half of the amount they put forth.” When the tender committee announced the opening price as €440 for the kiosk, I rushed in and said “€220.” The members of the committee looked at each other and laughed. When they asked me, “Is this your first time attending a tender process?” They figured out that I was not very experienced as I faltered and failed to even answer properly. They ordered a coffee for me and calmed me down. I was so scared that, I hope his ears are burning now, our then Department Head Naci Işık said, “My dear, you always offer a higher amount at the tender process, not a lower one.” I was welcomed with hearty laughter as I went on ashamed telling them that “My friend had told me to offer half of the price.” At that moment, I once again understood that being sincere and kind would always help one win in life.
Aslıhan Aydemir: Could you tell us about how you became involved in the aviation industry?
Vennas Akyol Haznedar: 2006 is the year that I was rewarded for my patience and perseverance in my business life; it is the year that I reached the point where my aspirations had lead me since the first day I stepped into this business, obtaining an aircraft catering certificate and serving in that area had always been on my mind. Though women were active in many lines of business, no female entrepreneur had dared to provide services in this comprehensive business area. Therefore, on the day I received the aircraft catering certificate, I was as excited as the day I won the tender - the first tender I won - for that kiosk and I was walking on air. I needed new equipment and devices to start aircraft catering and I needed a substantial amount of money for this investment. At that point, Garanti Bank provided me with the lending requirements that I needed to get my new area of business off the ground. With the loan they granted, I was able to cover the requirements, develop my business and launched the aircraft catering services that I had always dreamed of.
Presently, I am the founder and owner of “Venn” brand which is among the three companies running aircraft catering across our country. It ls truly a source of pride for me to be the only female entrepreneur in charge of catering services not only in Turkey but also in airports across the world. Another achievement that I am proud of is that all the staff from the administration of our catering company to kitchen personnel and even the accountant of our company is composed of women. Altogether, we provide catering for all the airports in the Black Sea and Central Anatolia and fulfill the stationary requirements. In addition to the airplanes of THY, Pegasus, Atlasjet, Onur Air and charter flights, our company uninterruptedly and proudly serves the aircraft fleet of the Presidency, including our President’s aircraft TC-ANA.
Moreover, our brand owns an elegant restaurant within ISO 22000 Food Safety standards, a restaurant where taste and hygiene are served as one in an understanding of VIP services at Samsun Airport. We managed to create an area of service that raises the bar, it is well above quality standards, providing a business venue where our entrepreneurs arriving in Samsun can conduct meetings and presentations, and where foreign guests can be accommodated. We opened Samsun’s first boutique hotel in Atakum, located in an area which is one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in our city. This hotel was granted a certificate of investment from the Ministry of Tourism and as we launched services in tourism, we then started to serve our guests with the restaurant inside the hotel. Promoting the employment of women has been a subject that is particularly close to my heart.
Today, when I look back, I can see that providing employment opportunities to hundreds of women, touching their lives and the lives of their families, contributing to the success of inexperienced young people early in their careers and being a role model to my daughter are my actual achievements.
Aslıhan Aydemir: What are the difficulties of being a female entrepreneur and what are some of your secret tips to overcome them?
Vennas Akyol Haznedar: Being a woman in any job entails difficulties and I have gone through many challenges as a woman, but I never gave up. The expressions claiming that success would be hard to achieve for a woman in any line of business have never put me off. Besides, I have always been one of the believers that there is nothing a woman cannot achieve in the case she is afforded equal opportunity. Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls is a basic human right and at this point the utmost importance should be placed on education. The acknowledgement of and the support of female leadership will benefit all of society and its contribution to economic growth and development in all areas should not be ignored.
Aslıhan Aydemir: What are your comments on efforts exerted toward developing gender balance in aviation and entrepreneurship?
Vennas Akyol Haznedar: The world has been changing; and we see it now as we are going through times that we sense that nothing will be the same as the old days. Altogether we witness women playing active roles in politics, in non-governmental organizations, trade, arts, sports and in almost all aspects of society.
Aslıhan Aydemir: Thank you for your time for this pleasant chat