Turkish business mogul Şarık Tara dies at 88

Turkish business mogul Şarık Tara dies at 88

Şarık Tara, founder of ENKA Holding, passed away at the age of 88. Tara, who was born in Macedonia’s capital Skopje, migrated to Istanbul at the age of 12 and established a new life for himself in Turkey. In 1957, he founded ENKA with his brother-in-law Sadi Gülçelik. “I tried hard to make ENKA a global company and I succeeded,” Tara had said in an interview.

Tara, the honorary chairman of ENKA Holding, died of multiple organ failure. The origin of the family name, Tara, is the Mountain Tara and Tara River in Montenegro. He was born in Skopje in 1930. When he was 12, his family sent him to Istanbul with a Bulgarian passport to his uncle during World War II. He reunited with other family members two years later in Istanbul. Just like every migration, this one also had a price to pay. They had to sell their silk carpets and their mother’s jewelry in the Grand Bazaar to survive. “All of a sudden, I tumbled into poverty from affluence” he once recalled when he was talking about the scars this journey left on his soul.

After graduating from Şişli Terakki High School, he attended Istanbul Technical University (İTÜ) to make his engineering dreams come true. He both studied and worked at the same time and graduated from İTÜ in 1954. “İTÜ was going to change my entire life,” he recalled in his memoir, adding that “in 1957, I founded ENKA together with my classmate, a close friend and my brother-in-law Sadi Gülçelik. I tried hard to make ENKA a global company and I succeeded.”

Brother-in-laws

The company’s name, ENKA, is made up of the first syllable of two words, enişte and kayınbirader (brother-in-law). It became a global company and its success attracted the attention of politicians. Tara was asked by two İTÜ alumnus to enter politics. First, Süleyman Demirel told him to “come join our party.” But he politely declined Demirel’s proposal. Then, Turgut Özal offered him the foreign ministry position in his cabinet. He politely turned down the offer. Çiğdem Tüzün, who wrote Tara’s biography, said he later regretted turning down Özal’s offer.

Just like his close friend Özal, Tara had a pragmatic approach towards the country’s Kurdish problem. In an interview with İpek İzci from Hürriyet daily, he described his approach:

“It is said that 15 million Kurds live in Turkey. We have to learn how to live together. I have always believed that any problem can be resolved through dialogue. I have always defended peace. Education in mother tongue and equality are rights of all humans. All Alevis and Kurds should not be discriminated against and they must have those rights. Unfortunately, Turkey does not have a good track record on those issues.”

If ENKA has become a global company, Tara has contributed greatly to this. ENKA has undertaken its largest projects in Russia. Today, ENKA has its stamp on many government building across the Russian Federation and on avenues of Moscow.

Jobs for 200,000 people

ENKA has carried out around 500 projects in more than 30 countries including Russia, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Albania, Nepal, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Algeria, Libya, Tajikistan, Ukraine, and Oman. It has employed more than 200,000 people in the projects abroad. There is a saying that goes: There is no single construction company manager who has not worked at ENKA. For instance, one them is Erman Ilıcak, chairman of Rönesans Holding.

‘I believed in young people’

In 2014, Tara was the top tax payer with 37.6 million liras ($8.2 million) and he ranked third in Forbes Top 100 wealthiest people in Turkey list with his $2.4 billion fortune. When he turned 56, he handed over the company to his son Sinan Tara. When asked why he stepped down so early, he responded: “To pave the way for young people. I have always believed in young people and urged them to take initiative. ENKA has always had young managers. I founded the company when I was 27. Sinan became the general manager when he was 26. My grandson Mehmet assumed this position at the age of 29.”

jale özgentürk, ENKA, Turkish companies