OUR GOAL IS TO PROVIDE DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION AT HEALTH INDUSTRY
Levent Erkan, Deputy General Manager in charge of Public Sector in Microsoft Turkey, is a manager trained in chemical engineering. After completing METU, he started his career in project management in the USA, where he initially decided to pursue a master’s degree, but then he focused on a project management career which he loved. Erkan says that it is very instructive to work with the team from different countries at project management. He has worked in the US from 1996 till 2003 in the area of Change Management and Project Management in St Louis, Ft. Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Charlotte and finally as Regional Manager of DeLeeuw from the Wall Street in the New York Region.
After these activities, Erkan came back to Ankara in 2003 and started to work as founder and managing partner of DeLeeuw International. After the quick success of the company, it gained the attention of local and global companies then the company was acquired by WYG Group UK. He started working as the Head of WYG Turkey, Erkan later served as Regional Director for the Balkans and Caucasus Region, then Regional Director for Turkey, Middle East and North Africa. During this mission, he led more than 85 projects.
The importance of hard working in success cannot be denied. Even when you ask people who are successful in business life to “what do you owe your success”, the answer is often “to work hard”. This is true, but in our pleasant conversation with Levent Erkan, he has described the ways that he has achieved long-lasting successes as; trust, desire, love to work and be free from the ego is the cornerstone of the success.
We have discussed with Erkan who is a certified PMP (Project Management Professional) for more than 10 years and accredited “Angel Investor”; about his US Adventure, milestones at his career, his leadership at the sector, Microsoft career and his future goals.
When and how did your adventure to the US begin?
I really wanted to go to the US to get some experience since my high school years. My dad bought me a car while I was a student. He did not object to my dream about the US and said “if you really want to go, sell your car and go”. The car was worth 5.000 dollars at that time. According to my calculation, I could spend one thousand dollars per month, and I could afford to stay in the States for five or six months. I was preparing for marriage at the same time. With this enthusiasm and excitement, we found ourselves at a hotel in the US with my wife after 10 days of our marriage. We were both 24-25 years old and nothing was clear there. We both wanted to get our master’s degree. For this reason we worked part-time jobs including being a waiter and waitresses. The first house we rented was 16 m2. But the money we earned was not enough to continue our education at any school and we had to find scholarships. Our grades in Turkey were not very good and we had difficulty finding scholarships. We were able to get scholarship after the 17th University interview that we had travelled to discuss face to face. The scholarships were conditional, and we had to have good GPA for our scholarship to continue, my wife finished her masters first and I was second.
How did you complete this hard process?
While, I was working as an Intern at Bank of America (BofA), I met with DeLeeuw Consulting Company and they offered me a job. And, I have started working at the project management and consulting sector which I have wanted. After that, it was relatively easy. I had a chance to meet and work with different people including who are leading at their positions as I have started working at multiple projects. You work with different managers, leaders and colleagues in the project world. Each person is different in certain areas of expertise and adds value. In this process, you get good feedback from different characters at each project. You observe them to shape yourself. So, I got a unique flavor from these experiences and I worked people from the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Asia and North Africa to shape myself better. I also love to delegate and give responsibility. The idea of everyone depending on my work is not me. I think you should be able to coach and delegate jobs to the right people. If you cannot delegate, you will be alone in the future; you will have to do most of the work yourself as you will keep thinking that you know the best. Then you cannot grow, you cannot grow others, you cannot start new areas.
You look like you do not have an ego
Yes, one of the experiences that I have understood is that ego is not good and would not result in beneficial results to anyone. So I think that I do not really have an ego. I am relaxed as I feel comfortable by myself. I also believe learning by listening from others. Let’s not forget that there are intelligent and smart people around us who are more educated than us. A leader can make better decisions after getting feedbacks from the right people. If you are able to act as a friend to your colleagues, work without ego, work together and feel teamwork decisions and results, you will get more ownership and happy team.
Did it scare you to move to a different sector with Microsoft?
It was scary but exciting at the same time. I did not have the idea of working for Microsoft. But I was targeting to go abroad and experience “new international business models” at the Silicon Valley or a similar place after 45 years of age. I was always known as the person who uses the latest technology. Even the IT experts always used me as a Beta User at their tests, and they said, “if we can satisfy you, we can satisfy almost everyone at this new product. I always wanted to use the latest technologies where I can improve the efficiency of business, I think this is the right way. I like to deliver projects with the technology companies while the technology companies continue to improve so much. In this context, my desire was to go to the Silicon Valley and even spoke with my family and looking for executive schools to start with. That’s exactly when Microsoft communicated me with an offer. Microsoft is a good company. Yes, it is a different sector, but I like to learn and experience under the lifelong learning concept. I am working closely with people who works for Microsoft, the last 15-20 years. I take advantage of their experiences and they may be utilizing my different style. In fact, they were looking for a new character with new style. They had a desire to transform my unit, and they had been looking for a new leader to transform this unit in a sustainable way. I contribute here and there. I enjoy making small but long-term differences. It is like a transformation project for me. It is important for the project to be completed, and become operational and increase the maturity level of the sustainability. At companies like Microsoft, your short-term goals might be more important at the beginning, but you also need to realize that you have to increase the maturity of your processes to have a sustainable success. My goal is to complete the first phase in 2018, and turn this into a sustainable success. Then, my goal is to establish the Team who is going to deliver this success in a sustainable way, establish the processes and then hand the flag to the Team who will successfully continue this process and model with me and continue improving them.
How do you prepare a project and develop solutions?
The important starting point is to listen to the needs of the customers. And then to educate them and support their visions by informing the global developments in their fields. Besides listening and asking their needs, it is good to inform the changes globally and plan what they can adapt and customize to their institutions. All the Ministries, Universities, Hospitals, they all know that using technology efficiently will make their institutions much better. What is important here is to be able to do a job that can be currently done in 50 hours and to transform it into a job that can be done in maybe 5 hours and provide a better service environment overall. In fact, this is what I am doing, with the technological support we want them to transform digitally to improve the working processes of these institutions. I wish to support the delivery of this changes in the best way. This is how we select and deliver projects currently which match their strategy and improvement.
Do you have any projects that would improve the health industry in Turkey?
Yes, there are. We were part of the good projects and started to use new beneficial technologies. We have started to deliver our solutions to ensure that employees, patients, and operations to operate and manage more efficiently. Whether it is at the Ministry level or Public Private Partnership Hospitals, Private Health Institutions or similar, we are doing good projects with our business partner. From our new project online to productive solutions or to very efficient data analytics and reporting tools, our customers have increasingly started to benefit from our technological solutions and digital transformation projects in Turkey and globally, I am even thinking that this will continue to increase dramatically in this competitive market to be successful. There is a serious digitalization transformation at every industry in the world. We are always brainstorming how this can be rapidly adapted and customized in Turkey in the most effective way solution with these good solutions.
There are many issues that need to be improved at the health sector and these need to be implemented with good projects and solutions There are already some good feasibility studies and these studies will need to continue and must be delivered in a smooth way. On the other hand, one of the most competitive advantages of Microsoft is that Health is one of the most important sectors for research and investment at Microsoft as a core industry. Microsoft sees this industry as a priority and invests for research and development at a great pace in order to be the industry leader with its solutions. We want to transfer this knowledge and experience to Turkey. There is an interesting information for you that the Microsoft’s Founder’s, Bill Gates is leading an NGO – Gates Foundation is focused on the projects in the health sector; so this might imply that it can also influence the direction of Microsoft at Health sector as well, Microsoft would continue to reduce health issues, better service to the patients, predictive analysis and develop best technologies to improve health solutions.
You have work related to refugees. What are you doing for them?
The biggest problem for refugees is the integration in all aspects to their new places where the numbers are estimated to be more than 3 million in Turkey. One of the best solutions is to enable them to adapt and employ them in all sectors and improve them at economic and social impacts in the community. If we cannot do that, they will remain a community where they need support all the time. In order to improve as a country, we have to improve the social and economics of all people in Turkey. For this, we provide coding classes to our refugee friends to develop themselves in the field of technology, so that they can be in the technology sector in their communities. In other words, we are involved in the direction of their future with the capacity building programs at technology. We believe that this process will allow refugees to better adapt and contribute to Turkey.
Levent Erkan who graduated from Ankara College and METU Chemistry Engineering department, completed his master’s degree at SIU in the US at economy receiving the second best degree. He is the founder of WYG Turkey (formerly known as DeLeeuw International) which became the sector leader at the project management consultancy and International Development Projects, Erkan was also chosen as the “Best Project Management Consultant” of the Year. Erkan received the title of “The Best Leader” at the WYG Group (UK) where he worked with two thousand five hundred people, headquartered in the UK. He has also led the company that was awarded the “Best consultancy company in Turkey” in the category of “Customer Services” by European Business Awards.
Now, Erkan is leading the Microsoft Turkey at the Public Sector to improve the institutions capacity by technology solutions and projects and is working on digital transformation projects that would serve the benefits of the society with his new role.
A short interview in Turkish.