The newly established National Coalition of Turkish American Women PAC (NC- TAW PAC) expresses its gratitude and congratulations to Cem Hacioglu, a Turkish American executive who is President and CEO of West Africa LNG Group, for not only being its first donor but contributing the maximum annual amount allowed by law. In this interview, Mr. Hacioglu discussed with NC-TAW PAC President/Treasurer Tuba Firincioglu-Apaydin why he felt it was important for him to support NC-TAW PAC and its mission, and his hope that this contribution would encourage Turkish Americans to be politically engaged.
Tuba Firincioglu-Apaydin – Mr. Hacioglu, first of all, thank you for being the first donor to our newly established organization. On behalf of NC-TAW PAC, I want to thank you for your support and generosity.
Cem Hacioglu: Thank you very much for this opportunity to speak with you; it is truly a privilege!
Tuba Firincioglu-Apaydin: Before we get into why you have decided to donate to NC-TAW PAC, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Cem Hacioglu: Sure! I was born and raised in Turkey through high school. My father worked as an engineer in the Department of Forestry and my mother was a primary school teacher. After high school, I was lucky enough to get a scholarship to attend the US Military Academy at West Point as one of ten international students admitted to the Academy each year. Following my graduation from West Point, I returned to Turkey as a Second Lieutenant and took command of a mechanized infantry platoon in Bingol, a small city in eastern Turkey. After I left the Army, I returned to the United States and joined the World Bank as a junior economist in Washington D.C. After a few wonderful years at the World Bank, I was accepted to the Sloan School of Management at MIT. Upon completing my studies at Sloan as a newly minted MBA, I went into finance and started my banking career at Merrill Lynch assisting small entrepreneurial companies raise funds. My next stop was a multi-strategy investment fund where I led the firm’s investments in the energy sector. It was during this time, I came across a financially strapped and operationally challenged liquefied natural gas (LNG) company, Applied LNG, that needed fresh leadership. When its top executive position was offered to me, I decided to take off my finance hat and joined the organization as its President and CEO. My new role required our family to move from New York to Dallas and subsequently to Los Angeles where we have been living since 2010. Following the sale of Applied LNG, I joined an exciting start up, West Africa LNG Group, which is in the business of building an LNG Terminal in the West African country of Guinea to support its economic development and help lift millions of Guineans out of poverty. I currently serve as West Africa LNG’s President & CEO.
Tuba Firincioglu-Apaydin: What an interesting background! Thank you for sharing it with us. Obviously, you have had a successful career in finance and energy fields and, undoubtedly, have a very busy life. How did you become aware of NC-TAW PAC and what motivated you to contribute to it as its first donor?
Cem Hacioglu: Well, success is in the eye of the beholder, right? While I worked diligently to achieve my professional goals, I have been very lucky to have incredible role models in my life both as a child as well as an adult. While all contributed to my life in positive ways, the most influential ones have been women. Early on in my life, I have realized the importance of women and their impact on our lives individually and as a society. Unfortunately, I have also come to realize that women are not valued nearly as much as they deserve. This is not only unfortunate but also extremely detrimental to our success or even survival as a species! When a dear friend and mentor, Mr. Lincoln McCurdy, mentioned that he is advising an amazing group of politically active women who are trying to establish an organization to support Turkish-American women to run for public office and to address women’s issues, I knew immediately that I wanted to help. Further, I believe that we need to see Turkish Americans in political life, and I hope that my contribution to NC-TAW PAC would inspire to follow my example.
Tuba Firincioglu-Apaydin: That’s great! We sure appreciate your support! Who are some of these wonderful women role models that shaped your life in such drastic ways?
Cem Hacioglu: My mother is my first and biggest hero! In addition to courageously performing the traditional motherly duties like giving life, feeding, clothing and caring for me and my sister under very difficult circumstances following my father as he moved from city to city every few years as part of his job, my mother has also been my true North Star, moral compass and an unwavering source of strength, positivity and “can-do”ism. She has always been the first one to stand beside me whenever I was faced with challenges whether in my personal life or at work and has been my most dependable sounding board and biggest cheerleader.
Tuba Firincioglu-Apaydin: That reminds me of my mother and I am sure many of our readers feel the same way about theirs. Mothers are truly special, aren’t they?
Cem Hacioglu: Yes, indeed! As creators of life, I consider mothers, and women in general whether they have had children or not, as the closest representation of God on Earth!
Tuba Firincioglu-Apaydin: Besides your mother, are there any other women that have had a strong influence on your life?
Cem Hacioglu: Of course! The next woman that I have to mention is Keija Yun, a friend and a colleague from the World Bank. Keija and I worked in the same department where our offices were adjacent to one another. After receiving the wonderful news of my acceptance to MIT, I had informed my supervisors that I would be leaving the Bank at the end of the summer and started to work on the onboarding process which included securing financing for MIT’s not so affordable tuition! All along the application process, I was under the impression that I could get a student loan to fund my education at this world-renown institution. I have soon discovered, however, that the loan programs required citizenship or permanent residency neither of which I had. The day before the deadline for the incoming students to confirm their attendance, I received a phone call from the MIT admissions office wondering whether I would join them in the Fall as I was one of the last invitees they have not heard from. Feeling hopeless and exasperated, I explained to the admissions officer that I did not have the funds to pay for the tuition and the loan option was not available to me. Unless a miracle happened over the next 24 hours, I would not be able to attend this amazing school I had been dreaming about for years. I was truly devastated! Where would I get this much money in such a short period of time? I really needed a miracle! No sooner than I hung up the phone, Keija walked into my room. In her usual understated way and a little embarrassed to have heard my conversation with the admissions office, Keija uttered the words that changed my life. She said she would be honored to co-sign my loans if MIT would be amenable to it! To this day, I do not remember what I said to her in response. The only recollection I have of that moment was that I was hugging her very tightly while trying to hold back tears!
Tuba Firincioglu-Apaydin: Wow! What an amazing woman and an incredible act of generosity!
Cem Hacioglu: I still get goose bumps thinking about what she did! It truly changed my life not only professionally but also personally! Keija was not a rich person at all. If I failed to pay the more than $300,000 of student loans for whatever reason, she would be financially ruined. After being the recipient of such a selfless act, I wowed to be worthy of Keija’s trust in me and do everything I can to pay it forward. That feeling of gratitude never left me and I don’t think it ever will!
Tuba Firincioglu-Apaydin: It is a very touching story! Is your involvement in our organization a part of that decision to pay it forward?
Cem Hacioglu: Very much so! In addition to my mother and Keija, there are countless other women that affected my life in very positive ways but I doubt that we have the time and the space to include them all in this conversation. Suffice it to say that I am a big fan of women and I am pained by the fact that the world does not give women their due; not even close!
Tuba Firincioglu-Apaydin: What do you mean? Can you expand on that a bit more?
Cem Hacioglu: Absolutely! Unfortunately, despite all the progress made in the last few decades, the world is still very much a male dominated place! This includes even the developed countries like the United States. And it is such a shame because I do not know an organization, a sector, a function or a country that would not benefit from greater involvement of women. I would even go so far as to say that women should be disproportionately represented in the senior management positions – as in higher percentage than their percentage of general population – in all segments of life from business to politics!
Tuba Firincioglu-Apaydin: That is a very interesting point of view that you don’t hear very often! What made you feel that way?
Cem Hacioglu: What I said might sound a little out of the left field at first glance but I really believe it from the bottom of my heart. For example, I really think women make better leaders and managers as a result of their natural characteristics. All the women I worked for or with have been exceptional and certainly better than their male counterparts. Women are better decision makers because they are more practical and not driven by their egos. Consequently, they get better results. Another very important implication of this ego-less behavior is that women tend to be more collaborative and cooperative. Rather than only their own point of view, they tend to involve others in the decision making process and thus optimizing the intellectual resources of the entire group.
Tuba Firincioglu-Apaydin: It is really refreshing to hear this from a man who by all accounts looks to be a Type A personality!
Cem Hacioglu: It is funny you say that! I do not think Type A personality and my views on women are in contradiction to one another at all. Quite the contrary, the real Type A leader knows how best to get the optimal results from their organizations and I strongly believe that one of the best ways to achieve that is to place strong women in top decision making positions.
Tuba Firincioglu-Apaydin: Do you think the same concepts apply to politics as well?
Cem Hacioglu: Probably more so than in any other area! Politics is really all about compromise and making the most optimal deal for all parties involved. Because of their ability to more effectively collaborate and compromise, women get better and quicker results than men! Politics is the means to an end which is making policies in the best interest of the society at large. By their nature, women are better suited to consider all viewpoints, not just their own. Political discourse, not only in the US but throughout the world, would benefit tremendously from more women actively participating in it. I have no doubt about that!
Tuba Firincioglu-Apaydin: This is music to my ears! What are some of the specific benefits do you think our political system would get from women politicians?
Cem Hacioglu: For starters, there will be far fewer wars if more world leaders were women! Again, women are not nearly as motivated to satisfy their egos as their male counterparts so they are more willing to use diplomacy rather than military force in addressing bilateral and multilateral problems. Women are more empathetic so they are more willing to see the problems from all angles and not just through their own lenses. They are also more compassionate which make them a lot more reticent to make decisions that would result in loss of life. Someone who can give life is much more careful about taking it.
Tuba Firincioglu-Apaydin: In addition to being more compassionate, practical and collaborative, what other characteristics do you think make women better politicians and policy makers?
Cem Hacioglu: I don’t want to give the impression that women are great because they have those “softer” attributes that men don’t have. While these are absolutely wonderful traits, I also believe that women generally work harder than their male colleagues. Unfortunately, it is partly because they have been expected to work harder to get the same recognition or compensation for years so they are somewhat conditioned to it. I have had many lazy male colleagues or employees throughout my career but I do not recall any lazy female coworkers. Finally, it is a known fact that women have a much higher pain tolerance than men! Men are much more prone to complain and create problems in challenging situations. Women, on the other hand, can stay much calmer and carry out their responsibilities with much greater efficiency even under highly stressful situations. This makes them undoubtedly better leaders.
Tuba Firincioglu-Apaydin: It does sound like you are indeed a fan of strong women which is great. I wish more men felt like you! As we wrap up, do you have any recommendations to other male business leaders regarding the increased role of women in business, politics or any other segment of life?
Cem Hacioglu: I believe supporting women is not only the right and moral thing to do but also simply makes good business sense. If you want to create a more efficient, just, compassionate and harmonious organization that can maximize output for all stakeholders, it would be behoove of you to hire, develop, promote as many women as you can. You will never regret it! In fact, you will wonder why you have not done so a long time ago!
Tuba Firincioglu-Apaydin: This has been a very interesting and uplifting conversation. Again, thank you very much for your time and contribution to NC-TAW PAC. It is very encouraging to hear your views but we need a lot more business and political leaders who share your philosophy and passion for more women in all aspects of life, and especially, in politics which is so important in harnessing the true potential of any society. We at NC-TAW PAC will work tirelessly to increase the role women play in American political life as we believe it will lead to a better world for everyone.
Cem Hacioglu: Thank you for the opportunity and wish you much success in your very worthy effort!