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Asli Erem shares her C-Suite Journey

Exclusive Interview of Asli Erem of Marmara Hotel Group. Edited by Powered Magazine

 

Asli Erem

Image: Asli Erem, Global CFO of the Marmara Group


Asli Erem is the Group CFO and Executive Committee Member at The Marmara Group and a Visiting Professor of Project Finance and Organizational Behavior. We reached out for an interview. Read more to find out how you can succeed as a woman in a finance role.

Tell us about yourself and your business

As a seasoned professional and scholar, my interests are in strategy, the future, and social effects. My educational background includes a Bachelor of Science, Master of Science, and Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior. I have acquired a variety of talents, including communication, leadership, negotiation, crisis management, and multitasking. I began working as a financial analyst in 1995 and moved back to Turkey in 1998. I was hired as Vice President of Strategic Planning at Koçbank and Deputy General Manager at Gama Power Systems. At The Marmara Group, I am a member of the executive committee and the group's CFO. I also teach organizational behavior and project finance as a visiting professor.

I have over 25 years of experience developing global corporations and have participated in initiatives across the world, understanding the laws, customs, and business practices of many nations.



Image: Handout

My major interests and concerns are social causes, such as reducing poverty, empowering women, gender equality, and other social issues. I have taken on important responsibilities as a mentor, leader, and activist, such as visiting lecturer and mentor at universities and colleges. I belong to the 30 Percent Club, consisting of 1,000 CEOs and board presidents from 20 nations. I take part in international initiatives to increase the proportion of women serving on boards of directors and executive positions inside corporations. I also serve on the Forbes Council. I'm also happy to be the mother of my twin girls.


How have you handled success and failure over the course of your career?


The most important details in this text are the strategies used by the C Level executives in charge of strategy and finance to manage success and failure. These strategies include celebrating successes with the team, recognizing individual and team contributions, and motivating and inspiring them to continue striving for excellence.


C-level executives should take responsibility for failures and work with their team to identify what went wrong and how to improve in the future. Failure is a natural part of business and should be viewed as an opportunity to grow.


A strong C-level executive should be able to bounce back from setbacks and stay resilient in the face of adversity. They should maintain a positive attitude and focus on finding solutions to problems. They should remain humble and work hard to achieve their goals.


Executives should seek advice and support from mentors, peers, and other trusted advisors and be open to feedback and learning from others' experiences. Being adaptable and able to pivot quickly is essential for businesses to stay competitive. Executives should foster a culture of continuous improvement to drive growth and success.

What strategies do you use to stay competitive in a changing market?


To stay competitive in a changing market, businesses should stay current with industry trends and innovations. They should monitor market developments and be ready to adjust their strategies as needed. Embracing new technologies, such as AI, automation, and big data analytics, is necessary to gain a competitive edge.


Develop a strong brand identity to differentiate a business from its competitors and attract customers. Companies should invest in it to reflect their values, mission, and unique selling proposition.

Companies that foster a culture of innovation and creativity are more likely to stay competitive. They should encourage employees to share ideas, experiment with new approaches, and take calculated risks. Providing excellent customer service can help build strong customer relationships and loyalty. Companies should prioritize customer satisfaction and invest in training and development for employees who interact with customers.

Strategic partnerships can help businesses expand their reach, access new markets, and leverage complementary strengths. Companies should consider partnerships with other businesses, universities, research institutions, and government agencies.


Companies should prioritize sustainability to gain a competitive edge and attract socially conscious customers. They should also reduce their environmental impact and operate socially responsibly.


What motivations drive you to keep pushing forward in the face of adversity?


There are several motivations that can drive me to keep pushing forward in the face of adversity:

  • Vision and purpose can serve as a driving force during challenging times. Resilience is a natural part of business and can help a leader persevere through difficult times.

  • Accountability motivates me to take action and find solutions to challenges.

  • I am motivated to support and guide my team and protect the company's culture and values.

  • I view adversity as an opportunity to learn and develop new skills that will help me lead my company through future challenges.

What advice would you give someone starting in their chosen field?


Financial and strategic management is essential for anyone starting out in the field. Having a strong foundation in financial and strategic management principles is important, such as understanding financial statements, accounting practices, and strategic planning.


To drive results, financial and strategic managers should focus on developing strategies and initiatives that align with the company's goals and objectives. They should be prepared to measure and report on the results of their initiatives and adjust their approach as necessary to achieve desired outcomes. They should also be open to new ideas, technologies, and approaches and be prepared to pivot their strategy as needed.



Image: Handout


Finally, they should build strong relationships with key stakeholders, including investors, customers, and employees, to understand their needs and perspectives and work collaboratively to achieve common goals.

How have technological advances affected the way you conduct business/operate your venture?


Technology has revolutionized communication within organizations and between businesses, making it possible to communicate with colleagues and partners across the globe in real time. Automation and digitalization have made it possible to streamline many business processes, reducing the time and resources required to complete tasks. CRM systems and other tools have made it easier for companies to connect with customers and provide a more personalized experience.


Big data analytics tools have enabled companies to gain insights into their operations and customer behavior, allowing them to make more informed business decisions. E-commerce platforms and digital marketing tools have enabled businesses to sell their products and services to customers in other countries, creating new opportunities for growth and expansion. Technology has had a transformative impact on the way companies conduct business, making it more efficient, connected, and data-driven.



In what ways has customer feedback/response influenced how you prioritize goals/objectives for your business/venture?


Customer feedback and response have a significant impact on business priorities and objectives. By listening to customer complaints and suggestions, we can identify areas for improvement and shift our priorities. For example, if customers are complaining about the speed of the service, we may shift our focus to improving the speed of operations.


Customer feedback inspires us to develop new products and services to better meet their needs. We also listen to customer complaints and suggestions to make changes to our policies, processes, or procedures to make it easier for customers to do business with us. Customer feedback helps us stay ahead of the competition by identifying areas where we can differentiate ourselves and improve our offerings.


Customer feedback is essential for businesses to improve their performance, increase customer satisfaction, and stay ahead of the competition. Businesses can build strong relationships and achieve their goals by listening to customers and responding to their needs and concerns.



What trends do you see emerging in your industry that is likely to shape its future growth and development?


AI and machine learning are expected to improve automation, personalization, and decision-making in many sectors, impacting ethical considerations. As the use of AI increases, there will be a need for ethical guidelines and regulations to ensure it is used in a fair and responsible manner.


NLP is a rapidly growing field within AI that focuses on teaching machines to understand and process human language. It will play a significant role in analyzing and making sense of the increasing amount of data generated by humans.


Quantum Computing has the potential to revolutionize AI and related industries by enabling more powerful and efficient processing of complex data, leading to significant progress in machine learning, optimization, and cryptography.


Cybersecurity is becoming increasingly important as AI becomes more widespread, with the need for stronger security protocols to prevent data breaches and other security threats.


AI and related industries are likely to continue to evolve, leading to new trends and challenges. AI is becoming more widespread and accessible, and its adoption is likely to accelerate in the coming years. Many businesses are already using AI for tasks such as customer service, data analysis, and automation, but there is increasing concern about its impact on society and ethical considerations. Issues such as bias, transparency, and accountability are likely to become key considerations in developing and deploying AI systems.


Conversational AI, which allows for more natural and intuitive interaction with machines, is becoming increasingly important. With the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) and other connected devices, there is increasing demand for AI systems that can operate at the edge. Deep learning, a subset of machine learning that involves training artificial neural networks, has been a key driver of AI breakthroughs in recent years. Continued advances in this area, including the development of more efficient and effective training methods, are likely to further accelerate the growth of the industry.

Technological advancements, ethical considerations, and consumer and business demands will shape AI and natural language processing.


What have been the most rewarding and difficult aspects of your chosen career/business path?


The financial/strategic planning career/business path can be rewarding in many ways, but it also comes with its challenges. Here are some of the most rewarding and difficult aspects of this career path:


Most rewarding aspects:


Opportunity for High Earnings: Financial careers offer competitive salaries and bonuses, making them a great choice for many people.


Intellectual Stimulation: Finance can be a rewarding career path for those who enjoy intellectual stimulation and problem-solving. It is constantly evolving, and there is always something new to learn.

Impact: Individuals in finance significantly impact businesses, economies, and society. Investment bankers facilitate mergers and acquisitions, while financial analysts help companies make strategic decisions.


Influence and Impact: C-level executives have the power to shape the company's culture, strategy, and performance, leaving a lasting legacy and making a difference in the lives of employees and stakeholders.

Competitive Compensation: C-level executives receive competitive compensation packages, including salaries, bonuses, stock options, and other benefits.


Most difficult aspects:


Long Hours: Roles in finance require long hours and dedication, which can be difficult for those who value work-life balance.


High Pressure: Finance is a high-pressure environment with tight deadlines and intense competition, making it stressful for those who don't handle it well.


Ethical Considerations: Finance is a heavily regulated industry, and individuals must act with integrity and adhere to ethical standards. This can be challenging when there is pressure to meet targets.


A financial career/business path can be rewarding and challenging, offering high earnings, intellectual stimulation, and impact, but also requiring long hours, high pressure, and strict ethical considerations.

C-level executive positions in the corporate world are among the most challenging and high-pressure roles in business.




Are there any skills or areas of expertise that you think are essential for success in your field?


Based on my knowledge, some of the essential skills and areas of expertise for success in the C-level executive finance field include:


Financial Analysis: The ability to analyze financial data and create financial models is crucial for any C-level executive in the finance field. They should be able to identify trends, opportunities, and potential risks.


Strategic Planning: C-level executives must have a clear vision for the future of the company and develop strategic plans that align with that vision. They should also be able to communicate this vision and plans effectively to stakeholders.


Risk Management: C-level executives should have a deep understanding of risk management and be able to develop and implement strategies to mitigate potential risks.


Leadership: Strong leadership skills are essential for C-level executives. They must be able to inspire and motivate their teams, make tough decisions, and lead by example.


Communication: Effective communication is critical for any C-level executive, especially in finance. They should be able to communicate financial information and strategies to stakeholders, including investors, board members, and employees.


Technical Expertise: C-level executives should deeply understand financial systems and technology. They should stay up-to-date on the latest technologies and trends to ensure the company remains competitive.


Business Acumen: C-level executives should have a broad understanding of the business as a whole, including operations, marketing, and sales, in addition to finance. They should be able to make informed decisions that benefit the company as a whole.


How has working remotely or online impacted your business/venture over the past year?


The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many businesses to adapt to working remotely or online over the past year. This sudden shift has had a significant impact on businesses in several ways, including:


Changes in Communication: Communication is a critical aspect of any business, and moving to remote work has changed how teams communicate. Businesses have had to adapt to virtual communication tools, such as video conferencing software, to ensure that employees can continue collaborating and communicating effectively.


Increased Flexibility: Remote work has increased the flexibility of employees, allowing them to work from anywhere with an internet connection. This has also enabled businesses to hire employees from anywhere in the world, expanding their talent pool.


Reduced Overhead Costs: With remote work, businesses can save on overhead costs such as office space, utilities, and other expenses associated with maintaining a physical workspace.


Challenges with Work-Life Balance: Remote work has also created challenges for some employees, including maintaining a healthy work-life balance, managing distractions at home, and finding ways to stay motivated.


Cybersecurity Risks: The shift to remote work has also increased cybersecurity risks for businesses, with employees working on potentially less secure networks and accessing company data from personal devices.



Image: Handout


Overall, working remotely or online has significantly impacted businesses over the past year, and it will likely continue to shape how businesses operate in the future.


What tips would you like to offer to others in a similar position but looking to take their careers or businesses further?


C-level executives should have a clear vision for the company's future and develop strategies that align with it. They should be able to communicate this vision to stakeholders and inspire their teams to work toward it. Strong relationships with stakeholders, including employees, customers, investors, and partners, are essential for a C-level executive's success. They should invest time and effort into building and maintaining these relationships.


C-level executives should stay up-to-date with the latest trends, technologies, and best practices to stay ahead of the competition. They should also encourage innovation and creativity by providing opportunities for employees to share ideas, experiment, and take calculated risks.


C-level executives should invest in recruiting and retaining top talent and provide opportunities for professional development and career growth. They should also be able to effectively communicate their vision, strategies, and decisions to stakeholders, such as employees, board members, and investors.

C-level executives should be willing to embrace change and take risks to drive innovation and growth. They should also stay up-to-date with the latest trends, regulations, and technologies in their field to make informed decisions and stay ahead of the competition.


A strong team is essential for success, and investing in their skills and knowledge is essential for success. They should be able to develop and implement financial strategies that align with the company's goals.


The most important details are that financial professionals should embrace technology to improve financial processes and decision-making, stay up-to-date on the latest financial software, automation tools, and AI technologies, and network with other professionals to gain insights into industry best practices, emerging trends, and potential challenges. Additionally, they should attend industry conferences, join professional organizations, and participate in online forums to connect with peers and learn from their experiences.


Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers that we haven’t already discussed?


The importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace has become increasingly clear. C-level executives should prioritize DEI efforts such as recruiting and retaining diverse talent, providing equal opportunities for career growth, and fostering an inclusive culture that values and respects all employees.

C-level executives should stay up-to-date on the latest technologies and consider how they can leverage them to drive innovation, efficiency, and growth. Technological advances, such as automation, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things, are transforming how we work and do business.

Sustainability is becoming increasingly important for businesses due to climate change and other environmental concerns. C-level executives should consider how their businesses can operate in a sustainable and responsible way, taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint, conserve resources, and contribute to a more sustainable future.


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