Project Description

Hakan Kodal

Chairman, KREA

After graduating from university, he worked in consulting in Paris with a plan to come back to his home country Turkey. He eventually set up his own real estate investment firm KREA in 2006 in Istanbul and is active as chairman of several industry associations. 

  • What was your initial plan when you graduated? Where are you today?

Before my studies at ESCP in Paris I had studied engineering in electronics in Istanbul where I’m from. When I graduated from ESCP in 1991 I wanted to enter a consultancy in Paris first. With a plan to come back to Turkey afterwards and set up an investment company where I could search for opportunities in the Turkish market. So this was my plan all along. Of course there have been some slight changes in the plan but the overall career was almost as I wanted.

In 2006, my dream came true and I set up my own investment vehicle in Istanbul called KREA. I’m doing my own investments and real estate projects now. Though I never thought that I would be an investor in the field of real estate.

“You need to understand how the future would be and should be; and you take a position today”
  • What were the major milestones that lead you to this?

Right after graduation I joined Coopers & Lybrand Consulting. I worked there in the corporate finance team and did M&A, structuring and strategy advisory. I worked with them for four years in the Paris office.

During the last year I decided together with two partners to set up a venture capital fund for Turkey. But then came the 1994 crisis in Turkey, a very, very deep crisis. The investor didn’t want to continue and so I settled with going back to Turkey to join a Turkish investment bank. Within this bank I had a similar target: setting up an investment vehicle – though it wasn’t my own.

The owner of the investment bank was one of the richest guys in Turkey but still, after two years with this bank my project didn’t take off. It was very difficult to invest in Turkish companies at that time; it was too early.

So I made other plans and almost joined UBS. I was about to sign the contract, when a headhunter called me and offered me a job as general manager of a newly established real estate investment vehicle. I hadn’t really worked with real estate so I made some research – it turned out to be extremely interesting. I joined them in 1997. At the end of the day it was an investment vehicle: not investing in companies but investing in real estate. Though it meant a slight change in my initial plan.

After 9 years with this company, I founded my own real estate investment firm in partnership with Merrill Lynch. It was great – until the crisis came in 2008. On Black Monday, I was in an investor’s meeting with Merrill Lynch teams in New York for raising a second round. But it was a disaster. Our partnership with Merrill Lynch wasn’t as good afterwards.

In 2013, we bought out Merrill Lynch and since then we own 100% of the business independently. So after a long, long career my dream finally came true. Today, I’m an investment manager and a developer of real estate projects.

“So I had to work twice as much as everyone else”
  • Let’s go back to your career start. What did you learn during university and your first years on the job?

The environment I experienced in Paris was very close to business. I did two internships (Bouygues and L’Oréal) and at the same time I was living and studying with international students. I came from a 100% Turkish university, you know.

ESCP encouraged us to set up student associations and so I became president of the “Association Internationale”. Its aim was the integration of international students in Paris. We organized trips and arranged meetings.

I think it’s really important to integrate your social life and learn social skills. It helps you a lot during your career. During my studies in Istanbul I was also working as a tourist guide and got to improve my English and French. I learnt how to communicate and talk to strangers. It has given me a lot of confidence later to just knock on someone’s door and start talking to them.

When I joined the consulting firm after graduation, I was again the only Turkish. Frankly, it wasn’t an advantage to be a Turkish in France at that time. We were considered workers, you know, with a “moustache”. On top I had to work in two foreign languages, French and English.

So I had to work twice as much as everybody else to prove myself. I was working like crazy until 3 or 4am and went back to work at 9am again. It was tough but I was used to work under pressure from university. I worked with different international companies; travelled to the US, Kazakhstan, Russia, Abu Dhabi, Italy etc. It helped me a lot.


  • How were your 9 years as CEO of Yapı Kredi Koray, the Turkish real estate investment vehicle?

I was the first employee of the company and grew it from 1 to 60 people. I started from zero: set up the company, team, portfolio, information systems, finance, development and marketing department. We also went public and got listed on the Istanbul stock exchange. I didn’t know anything in most of these subjects.

I learnt the capability to dive into any topic that comes up. It’s not important to know everything but to be able to get the right information from the right people. And I also learnt how to manage people. How to motivate them.

This is finally the key to success: if you can manage information and people, that’s already 50% of the success. The rest is hard work.

After 9 years of experience in this company I think one thing that helped me a lot was what I had learnt during university: I set up and became chairman of four different industry associations.

“It was a very good start for the company”
  • How important are networking activities in your sector?

I think in any sector it is important that you become active in associations. First of all it teaches you. You meet all these industry leaders, you talk to them, you have ideas and compare them, etc. I think this association life, which I started at school, became a big asset for me later on.

As chairman of these associations I gather all the industry people, assign industry research, set up databases and share the information. But at the same time I’m at the centre of the learning curve of that industry, which helps me to meet people.

I was in the press, I was chairing conferences, I was everywhere. And that’s how I met Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers and all of these international investors. If there was a real estate subject at any conference about Turkey, I was the guy who was asked to talk.


  • How was the founding process of KREA?

In 2005, I met many international investors at a big European conference on real estate. I was the only Turkish speaker and the investors said to me: “Look Hakan, we want to invest in the Turkish real estate market and are looking for partners.” My first proposal for them was to buy the shares of one of our partners from my company Yapı Kredi Koray. We started negotiations with Morgan Stanley but the transaction didn’t happen because the shareholders didn’t want to sell in the end.

Morgan Stanley said: “Look Hakan, what we are looking for is a team. Set up your own company, we have the money.” This idea was the opportunity for me to finally set up my own business. But instead of partnering with Morgan Stanley I negotiated with Lehman Brothers… and eventually signed with Merrill Lynch at the last minute.

So imagine, in my life all these large international investors were interested in doing business with me. It was a very good start for the company. Especially in terms of reputation.

I left Yapı Kredi Koray and took 10 employees with me. For them it was also a good chance to start something new and become partner. Together we set up KREA.

“It feels like magic that you live in a city of three different civilizations”
  • Let’s talk about Istanbul as a business location for investments and setting up a company.

Turkey is an emerging market of course. It’s growing. 85 million inhabitants. That opens up a lot of opportunities. It’s easier to set up your own business here than in France or Germany where every corner is taken, you know. But it’s not an easy market. There are ups and downs at the same time.

Personally, I encourage people to set up their own business in markets where you still have opportunities. Turkey is such a market but you need a local partner as a foreigner. We have very good Turkish business men and entrepreneurs, very young and talented people. It shouldn’t be too difficult to find a Turkish partner. So I encourage everyone to take that Turkish adventure.


  • And how’s life here?

About the Turkish life, I think Istanbul is a fantastic city! I have lived in San Francisco for a year, six years in Paris, went often to New York, London, and many other big cities. And I think you can find anything you are looking for in Istanbul. It’s very cosmopolitan and you can find very oriental and very European life.

At the same time it feels like magic that you live in a city of three different civilizations, you know. This city has more than 2000 years of history.

The historical and touristic part combined with business, fashion, new restaurants opening, retail, art, entertainment, concerts,… it’s becoming more of a global city than a Turkish city.

And this is a very general, global trend if you think in terms of real estate. Big cities will become bigger and international, global hubs. That’s also part of our business premise. I would never put my money in a secondary city like Ankara. We only invest in Istanbul.

We invest in places, which will be the places for an international clientele in the next 10 years. So we believe in Istanbul’s features. And I am sure it will become one of the best cities to live in and to visit in the future.


  • Thanks for sharing your story.