Women in Leadership: Q&A with Selnur Guzel, CEO of CPP Turkey

In recognition of International Women’s Day we spoke with Selnur Guzel, CEO of CPP Turkey. Selnur’s CPP career has spanned over 13 years during which time she has been named on Ekonomist magazine’s list of Turkey’s 50 Powerful Women CEO’s for eight consecutive years. Selnur has taken CPP Turkey from strength to strength and her tenacity and determination is inspiring for many of our colleagues. In this Q&A Selnur shares her career story, the challenges she’s overcome and the advice the thinks is integral to being a successful female leader. 

Tell us about your career journey and how you became the CEO of CPP Turkey?

I started my professional career in 1997, right after graduating from university. I spent the first ten years working for banking, insurance and telecom sectors mainly in finance and marketing roles. I joined CPP Group Turkey in March 2007 as Head of Finance during its start-up and market entry phase which gave me a great opportunity and advantage to learn which then led on to my promotion to a country manager role in 2012.

After developing a successful business development and growth strategy in my first years as a country manager, I was then promoted to Country CEO in 2017. Since then CPP Turkey has delivered growth both in terms of sales and profit figures in the Turkish market despite all the economic problems, political issues and recently the pandemic’s challenges.

Growing up, was it natural that you could enter a professional career or did you need to defy expectations of what women could achieve?

I grew up in a modern Turkish family. My father was a professor and an academic at a university and my mother retired from an insurance company after having two children and holding a business career at the same time. She was a great role model for me and always expected me to follow a similar route to her. I was never brought up thinking that a woman’s place is at home instead of being at work. I have two daughters aged 18 and 12 – becoming a mother helped me to gain more strength and power to survive and thrive in what I feel is a ‘man’s business world’.

Throughout your career, what challenges have you needed to overcome as a woman in business?

My biggest challenges were during my pregnancies when I chose to work until the last week before my due date and having a short maternity leave as I came back to the office when both of my daughters were around 14 weeks old. I had to juggle the priorities of motherhood and work which is a challenge that faces more women than men. The main reason why women are mistakenly sometimes seen as not dependable or unreliable is because they usually prefer to take long career breaks after having children as pregnant women in Turkey are only entitled to 16 weeks statutory maternity leave. This type of bias starts to change when you rise into leadership roles and you’ve proved that you have excellent time management skills and adaptability for managing motherhood and work commitments.

How do you think women can manage successful careers as well as raise a family?

I don’t think that women should be expected to make a choice between their careers and family life. But I do think women need to make sacrifices in some years of their life when they need to concentrate on one side more. I remember myself getting up early around 5.00am or re-starting after 10.00pm to catch up with work e-mails to balance my girls’ schedules with my work schedules. Having a supportive husband and parents helped to ease life as a working mother. Getting support from parents and living close to them is traditional in Turkish culture which is lucky and something I am grateful for.

What do you think makes a good leader?

Firstly, a good leader must be inspirational and different from the crowd so that others respect his or her ideas.

Secondly, a good leader should be a visionary transformer and always take the highest responsibility of success or failure when moving the business to next level or stage.

Lastly, but most importantly, the thing that makes a good leader is being humanistic. Being a human leader and considering the best interests of others makes a real difference for being a great, and respected leader.

Your eldest daughter is getting closer to entering the job market. What advice will you give to her?

I would advise her simply to be open to every opportunity given to her and always ask for more responsibility, new roles and to take initiative. In business life, you should always be proactive and ask for more, ask for the next step and the next path in your career journey. If you want to step up in your career, always ask for what you want, otherwise you may have to wait for years for the next opportunity given to you.

Which people in your life have helped you during your career journey?

My mother and mother-in-law helped me a lot when my children were young so that I could concentrate on my career. I am also very grateful to my professor Gülruh Gürbüz at Marmara University in Istanbul, who is also a very successful female academic in Turkey. She supported me like a great coach and mentor during all my academic studies. I successfully achieved my PhD degree and continued my professional career simultaneously looking to her as a great role model.

Do you feel particularly proud of your achievements as a Turkish woman?

Yes, absolutely. Nowadays, there are many Turkish women who are promoted from local roles to global leadership roles in Europe and the Middle East in multinational groups. They are also my role models for being brave and seeking out more challenges. I am also grateful to CPP because our group supports gender diversity and there is great support for female employees to ask for what they want, to be brave and to excel themselves. All employers need to put in place good leadership development and assessment programs that provide opportunities for female employees and encourage them to apply for leadership roles.

The theme of International Women’s Day in 2021 is ‘choose to challenge’, highlighting the need to call out gender bias or inequality. How important do you think that is and what advice do you have to others about how they can do that?

I think it is very important to eliminate gender bias and inequality in the workplace. There are lots of actions organisations can take to help this problem; educating your people on gender bias can be the first step, followed by closing the gender pay gaps across the organization and reviewing recruiting processes. Also, offering flexible work options and establishing mentoring programs for woman can be a powerful tool to overcome this big problem still existing today.

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