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Ali Babacan '92, minister of foreign affairs for the Republic of Turkey, spoke to Kellogg students, faculty and staff at the Donald P. Jacobs Center on Sept. 20.

Global leader Ali Babacan ’92 returns to Kellogg

Kellogg graduate and foreign minister key player in moving Turkey toward E. U. membership

By Matt Golosinski

9/21/2007 - “Kellogg was crucial in my career and life,” said Ali Babacan ’92, minister of foreign affairs for the Republic of Turkey, during a Sept. 20 visit to the Kellogg School in which he was honored with a distinguished alumnus award.

Speaking to an audience of Kellogg faculty, staff and students, Babacan recounted the strengths of his Kellogg management education before addressing political and economic issues related to Turkey’s push to join the European Union, a process he described as complex and challenging but important in advancing the country’s internal reforms and encouraging stability that has invited growing foreign direct investment in recent years.

“In Turkey today, we are proving more and more that Islam, secularism and democracy can co-exist,” he said.

During his hour-long informal discussion, Babacan answered questions related to Turkey’s position in the international community. He also reflected on his career in business and government, notably his role as co-founder in 2002 of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and appointment as state minister in economics at a time of “deep crisis,” with the nation’s GDP shrinking by nearly 10 percent, he said. In 2005, the Kellogg graduate was made chief negotiator for accession talks related to Turkey’s E.U. membership bid. He retains that role in addition to his new title as foreign minister, a position analogous to secretary of state in the U.S.

Babacan said that his Kellogg education served him well in both business and as he ascended the political ranks.

“Management is a global concept … for any situation and setting,” he said, noting how he benefited from the perspectives of the diverse student body at Kellogg and from the school’s team-oriented philosophy that helped him “learn how to work with other people and get good results.”

He also said that government is an arena where MBAs can have impact. “Knowledge we learn at Kellogg is applicable to many, many different fields … [this education offers] many tools that open many doors.”

Babacan described the complexity of negotiations surrounding Turkey’s E.U. push. At root, he said it was important to understand that Turkey, with 70 million people, would hold considerable sway in the Union, a prospect not universally embraced by its 27 current member states. Making matters more difficult, those states each have various political parties, often with different wings within the parties, all holding views about Turkey. Plus, there are internal Turkish challenges in convincing the country’s own population of the merits of E.U. membership, said Babacan.

These negotiations have little parallel in the business world, he said. “There are lots of continuous communications … It starts with convincing people on the streets, talking about the benefits … of having Turkey in the E.U.”

Raising this domestic support can be as tough as gaining international support, he said, but “as the government we are going to push this process very hard for membership.”

When questions arose about Turkey’s role in regional geopolitics, including Iraq, Babacan noted the conflict’s complexity, a situation that finds some Turkish citizens with family on both sides of the border. “Turkey is trying to involve all neighboring countries all around the [negotiating] table,” said the Kellogg alum. “We are trying to enhance dialogue … for a better and more stable Iraq,” a country he said that Turkey wishes to see remain unified, rather than partitioned along sectarian lines.

Yet Babacan stated Turkey’s continuing alignment with the U.S. and other European states with respect to fighting terrorism. “We believe that terror is terror. Terrorism has no nationality, no religion,” he said.

Underlining the global stakes associated with Turkey’s E.U. bid, Babacan said that the reforms his nation already has made are “sending a lot of inspiration to many countries,” including some as far away as Australia.

“From Morocco to Indonesia, there are a lot of intellectuals and reform-minded people who are looking to the Turkish example … [that] proves actual reforms can happen,” said Babacan, before receiving a distinguished alumnus award from the Kellogg School, presented by Mark Finn.

Finn, clinical professor of accounting information and management and director of the school’s popular and long-running Global Initiatives in Management Program (GIM), thanked Babacan for his support of the students on the 2007 inaugural GIM trip to Turkey earlier this year.

“We realized a long-term dream,” said Finn of the field research visit, which he called “fabulously successful” because of the “incredible support we get from Kellogg alumni around the world, including Minister Babacan.”

Dean Dipak C. Jain in his introductory remarks noted that Babacan, a former student of his, sets a fine example of the heights to which Kellogg School graduates can ascend in all areas of leadership.

“The happiest day for a dean is when you get to welcome back a student, when you see your students become leaders and the highest order of excellence,” said Jain. “That’s the day of pride for the dean, the school and the university.”