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Meet The Man Taking Turkey's Business School Industry By Storm

41 North is a new business school in Istanbul, and dean Deniz Saral envisions it as a refreshing change from other institutions in the country

By  Abigail Lister

Wed Jan 16 2019

2018 was a tumultuous year in Turkey. While the two-year state of emergency declared after the failed military coup in 2016 was lifted in July, in that time more than 120,000 people in government, media, and academia were dismissed from their jobs and even detained.

In that time, however, one education professional has taken on the task of founding a new business school. Deniz Sara founded 41 North in April 2017, a school that aims to improve business education in the country.

41 North’s key differentiating factor is total independence from Turkey’s traditional style of teaching—Deniz tells me that undergraduate business programs in the country are popular with students, and this impacts how well they’re taught.

“The quality of instruction is not good,” asserts Deniz. “You put 40-to-60 people into a classroom and have a professor come in and speak his mind with PowerPoint slides.”

Instead, 41 North—housed in the centre of cosmopolitan Istanbul, next to a large startup incubator—endeavors to do things differently, taking in only the best students on their programs, which include a DBA (Doctor of Business Administration), EMBA, and certificate programs in subjects including leadership and digitization.

To aid the school in its mission to bring the best graduate business education to Turkey, top European business institutions Grenoble École de Management and ESMT Berlin are partnering with 41 North to bring the best in business education to a country that is need of it—and the hope is to start admitting students in June 2019.

 “There are no other private business schools in Turkey not attached to a university and with no support from governmental institutions. We are the very first pioneering one.”

A new school with seasoned faculty

Deniz previously worked as the program director of the DBA program at Grenoble École de Management (GEM). After deciding to return to Turkey with his wife in 2013, a chance request marked the beginning of 41 North.

“The then director of Grenoble École de Management asked me if I would spin my wheels to establish a hub in Istanbul at an appropriate Turkish university so we could offer GEM's Executive MBA and DBA programs not only to Turkish citizens but to people across the Middle East," Deniz explains.

When Deniz found both private and state universities in the country unreceptive to the idea of partnering with a European institution—“one private university told me there’s no money in offering doctoral degrees and that they only offer it if the return is substantial,” he recalls—he decided to go it alone, and create a business school that would.

Despite the situation in Turkey, Deniz still managed to find investors in the country who welcomed the idea of a new educational institution, and with the capital invested, “one thing led to another,” and 41 North was born—a school that aims to “not be anything like the other Turkish schools out there,” asserts Deniz.

But while 41 North’s foundation is based on a not-for-profit philosophy, there’s a catch-22 in this institutional freedom. In order to avoid the traditional curriculum of many other business schools in the country, the school has had to register as a private, for-profit, institution.

Consequently, tuition fees for programs at 41 North are much higher than those at comparable Turkish state universities. For example, the EMBA at Boğaziçi University, also located in Istanbul, costs $12,000, while tuition for the joint EMBA program administered by 41 North and Grenoble École de Management totals almost $30,000.

Additionally, Turkey’s economic problems—which culminated in the collapse of the Turkish lira in August 2018—pose a challenge to the school’s vision to be a hub for Turkish professionals. “It has become even more difficult to recruit students from Turkey,” Deniz admits.

To get past this, the school is using Istanbul’s position as a global travel hub to look further afield for graduate business students—the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Eastern Europe. “This gives us a tremendous advantage,” Deniz says. “Many of these countries also don’t need a visa to come to Turkey.” 

Revolutionary in more ways than one

It seems fitting that in its bid to be as independent and revolutionary as possible, the school has also unwittingly left traditional gender stereotypes aside.

“I’m the only male in my team with 10 women, and it just turned out to be like that by coincidence!” Deniz says. “That attracts attention as well. People say, ‘where are the men?’”

One notable female member of Deniz’s team at 41 North is his fellow co-founder and executive director, Yeliz Kum Ezercan, who has already founded three training programs of her own in Turkey, despite only graduating from her undergraduate program in economics in 2005.

With such a revolutionary makeup, what does Deniz think is the future for 41 North? “Our vision is that in five years we want to be compared to institutions like IMD, IÉSEG, London Business School—stand-alone schools who give their own diplomas,” Deniz says.

“There are no other private business schools in Turkey not attached to a university and with no support from governmental institutions. We are the very first pioneering one.”

Deniz also optimistically predicts that other academics in Turkey will attempt to replicate 41 North’s revolutionary approach to business education in the future—but there’s one edge he claims 41 North has that other schools won’t.

“If they find other Deniz Saral’s, it will make their life easier!” he quips.

Though undeniably optimistic about 41 North’s future, Deniz also understands the battle he faces in growing the school in Turkey in the current climate. “It will be an uphill fight,” he admits. And changing the educational face of a country that has gone through such turmoil in just a few years “is a long term problem,” Deniz adds.

But with its revolutionary nature, and with some help from friends in Europe, 41 North may be a name that you see more often in the business school world in the future.