The year is 1960. The speech Vehbi Koç delivers to the executives of the companies gathered in Divan Hotel ends with these words, no doubt to be remembered as his legacy in later years: "Do not forget! We exist as long as our state and our country exist!" And these words made all the difference between "I" and "We" to imply that we were all on the same boat. The Koç Group executives have always adhered to this principle and have turned the words of Vehbi Koç into a legacy.
Vehbi Koç was born in 1901 in Ankara's Çoraklık district. He never knew his exact birthday but his mother used to say he was born when "the grapes started to ripen.", Consequently, he and his children decided to celebrate his birthday on July 20th. Vehbi Koç attended the Ankara high school known as "Taş Mektep " located in what is now the Medical Faculty Specialist Hospital. He went into business after consulting with his father and grandfather opening a shop called "Koçzade Hacı Mustafa Rahmi" with 120 lira of capital.
In the first week of 1926, he married Sadberk Hanım. His father Koçzade Mustafa Rahmi Efendi handed over his company, Koçzade Mustafa Rahmi, to Vehbi Koç in the same year. Thus, the Koçzade Ahmet Vehbi Company was established. Their original shop was demolished as a result of road construction and in its place he built the Koç Han that still stands today. By then, he was Vice-President of the Ankara Chamber of Commerce and his first child Semahat Koç (Arsel) was born. At about the same time, he also became the Ankara representative of Ford and Standard Oil (Mobil) and went into the contracting business.
In 1937, he opened the first branch of his company in Istanbul. The Vehbi Koç and Partners Collective Company started with a capital of 100.000 Turkish Lira in Fermenciler. In 1938, he established the Koç Trade Joint Stock Company. By this time he had become one of the leading businessmen in Turkey. His son Rahmi Koç was born in 1930, followed by his daughter Sevgi Koç (Gönül) in 1938 and his daughter Suna Koç (Kıraç) in 1941..
After the war, he traveled to the U.S. for the first time and was impressed with all that he saw in the 52 days he spent there. During this visit he developed a relationship with Ford and convinced General Electric to set up a bulb company in Turkey. Upon his return home, he joined the newly established Party Council of the Republican People's Party at the insistence of President İsmet İnönü. In 1947, he embarked on his first industrial enterprise using his own capital. He established the Ankara Oxygen Industry Company. A year later, he founded the General Electric Bulb Factory.
In 1954, he set up Arçelik as an iron furniture business. He made an agreement with the Israeli company Amcor to buy compressors for use in refrigerator production. As the refrigerator business developed, Arçelik moved out of the iron furniture business and into electrical home appliances. Pursuant to an agreement with General Electric, the refrigerators produced by Arçelik were exported to the Near East under the General Electric brand. Subsequently, the Bozkurt Mensucat, Demirdöküm, Türkay, Aygaz, Gazal, Türk Elektrik Endüstrisi, and Siemens cable companies were established in different sectors and tractor production began under license from FIAT.
In 1956, Koç won a competition set up among the Ford agents in 34 Near East countries to become its Ankara agent. Because Ford was not in favor of a joint venture, Vehbi Koç, determined to succeed on his own, sought a loan from the Turkish Government to run the business. The new business and factory set up as a result of this agreement was called Otosan. To help the business succeed, Mr. Koç made car dealers partners in the factory, which began production on August 2, 1960.
In February 1966, following a 6-year effort to set up the manufacture of a locally branded automobile, the government gave its permission on the condition that production would yield results by the year-end and the vehicles would be sold for 26.800 Liras. Work proceeded rapidly thereafter. The name of the new Turkish brand-name car was "Anadol," chosen as the result of a survey of 100,000 people. It went on sale by the end of that year.
In 1967, he established Tat Konserve Sanayii (Tat Canned Foods). The following year, Vehbi Koç reached agreement with FIAT to set up a new car manufacturing facility. The first factory opened on February 12, 1971. The new car was named "Murat" ? the name chosen again as the result of a popular survey.
In 1972 Vehbi Koç set up Turkey's first foreign trade company, Ram Dış Ticaret. Koç Investment and Marketing started being publically traded that year. Migros, one of the first supermarkets in Turkey, became part of the Koç Group thereafter. Vehbi Koç established the first R&D unit in the Turkish private sector by establishing Koç AR-GE. In 1984, he transferred his duties as President of the Koç Holding Board of Directors to his son Rahmi Koç and retired from business life.
In 1987, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) elected him as "World Businessman of the Year". He received his award from then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. In 1994, he received the United Nations World Population Planning Award for his work at the Turkish Family Planning Foundation from then UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali .
Vehbi Koç was not only an example to others in business but also in philanthropy. He funded the Ankara University Vehbi Koç Student Dormitory in 1951. In 1960, he donated the building the Ankara Governorship was renting for use as a children's hospital to the Treasury for continued useas a children's hospital. The Ankara University Medical Faculty Vehbi Koç Eye Bank, Eskişehir Economic and Commercial Affairs Academy Vehbi Koç Library and Research Building, METU Vehbi Koç Student Dormitory, Istanbul University Cerrahpaşa Medical Faculty Institute of Cardiology, Admiral Bristol Vehbi Koç Cancer Pavilion and Taksim Atatürk Library are but a few examples of his philanthropic activities.
Rather than continue his philanthropic works on an ad hoc basis, Vehbi Koç decided to institutionalize them. In 1967, he led efforts to establish the Turkish Education Foundation in order to direct revenue from wreath donations (traditionally made at funerals in Turkey) to educational purposes. He established the Vehbi Koç Foundation in 1969 to support activities in education, health and culture.
Vehbi Koç understood Turkey's population and family health problems and in 1985 established the Turkish Family Health and Planning Foundation and served as its chairman until his death. He was also the one of the founders of TEMA, the Turkish Foundation To Fight Erosion.
The activities of the Vehbi Koç Foundation are grouped under three heading: Education, Health and Culture.
In the area of health; investments in this area include the American Hospital, Italian Hospital, MedAmerikan Polyclinic, Nurse Fund, Semahat Arsel Nurse Education and Research Center (SANERC), Koç University Higher Education for Health.
In the area of education; the Foundation supports many students and schools through donations and contributions. It also aims to contribute to better social standards through the creation of quality-conscious educational institutions. This led to the founding of the Koç Private Primary School, High School and University. The Foundation also built 13 primary schools around the country and transferred them to the Ministry of National Education. However, support for these schools continues because the Foundation's philosophy is to "build, transfer and own".
In the area of culture; Sadberk Hanım Museum, Suna-İnan Kıraç Mediterranean Research Institute AKMED, Kaleiçi Museum, Vehbi Koç and Ankara Research Center VEKAM. The Rahmi M. Koç Museum established by the Rahmi M. Koç Museum and Culture Foundation and supported by the Vehbi Koç Foundation is the first and only industry and technology museum in Turkey.
Vehbi Koç fitted a lot in to a successful life that spanned 95 years. He came to represent success for the Turkish people. With his work he in fact introduced Turkey to the concepts of "firsts" and "modern". He witnessed each and every phase in the development of his country. He represents an "Oak Tree for our Republic". one that was planted in its own country and, while putting down roots and spreading, helped its country to grow and develop. He was an oak tree that said "I exist so long as my State and country exist".