Eren Ozmen was listed among the top 20 most successful self-made women in America for her work as President of Sierra Nevada Corporation, which she owns with her husband Fatih Ozmen. Even bigger news: the company is now designing a space shuttle for NASA and undertaking the Regional Aircraft Project in Turkey.
BY: NILGIN BALCI CAVDAR, BIROL BICER, KEMAL PEHLIVANOGLU
This is definitely a rightful source of pride. SNC’s owners, Eren and Fatih Ozmen, have been recognized in the past few years for the progress the company has made in the space vehicles industry. Even with only seven years in the industry, they are already competing with large companies like Boeing. While currently working with NASA to build a space shuttle to carry crew and cargo, the company is also undertaking Turkey’s Regional Aircraft Project. To do this, the company announced the creation of “TRJet” in Ankara last June.
There are many companies and many business areas under the SNC brand. Chairman Eren Ozmen shares that SNC’s work falls under six main areas: innovative and economic space vehicle development; reconnaissance and surveillance systems; integrated systems and solutions for communications security; electronic warfare/flight instrumentation; mobile air traffic control towers and many technologies for navigation and guidance including airfield lighting, air traffic monitoring and management, and solutions used for wide range air surveillance…
Support for the Dream Chaser space shuttle project for NASA, which will be used for human space travel has totaled $360 million to date. As NASA is preparing to pass on space travel to private companies, in addition to working with SNC, NASA is also working with California-based SpaceX and plane manufacturer Boeing. As the companies that have moved on to the next phase of the project, Boeing and SpaceX will receive a total of $6.4 billion in support from NASA… This amount signifies just how large of a project the Ozmens are a part of.
Even though the last test flights ended in some problems, SNC is close to being a part of the pie and the project is still proceeding. “Don’t forget that we have only been a part of the space industry for only seven years and even in this short time are already competing with large companies like Boeing. The amount of progress we have shown in such a short time encourages us for the next 10-15 years,” Eren Ozmen says. Dream Chaser will continue to receive support because of many unique capabilities including being able to land on strips that Boeing or Airbus 230-type planes can land on, is reusable, and offering a low G force for the crew that it carries. Dream Chaser also signed an agreement for continued research with the German Space Agency in April.
On the other hand, SNC announced the second version of Dream Chaser in 2015. They are currently working on the contract to supply and transport cargo to the International Space Station as part of the new contract with NASA and “Dream Chaser Cargo Systems”. As part of the first contract opened in 2008, NASA provided SpaceX with $1.6 billion for 12 cargo transfer expeditions and $1.9 billion to Orbital Sciences for eight cargo transfer expeditions. These expeditions will continue through 2016. This year, NASA will announce a second contract for expeditions from 2017-2024. With this cargo system, SNC is working to win one of these contracts. If successful, the company could easily double its annual profit.
The Ozmens deserve this attention as Eren Ozmen was recently listed as one of America’s most successful self-made women by FORBES USA. “We always evaluate our success on the difference we have made. This truly is what explains the company’s success,” Eren Ozmen says.
Though a cliché shared by many successful businessmen, it doesn’t sound quite right when the topic is the Ozmen’s. Other than the Ozmen’s, there are no other Turks “sending shuttles into space” and it’s hard to believe they came to this point without having much. “When we came to the U.S. from Turkey to continue our education, we had no resources or connections,” Eren Ozmen says. “In everything we have achieved, our motivation was to have an impact. When things got hard, the only thing we had to do was remember the times when we came the U.S. with nothing. When compared to that, nothing seemed very hard.” According to the Ozmen’s, they owe their current success to working hard, and being solution- and career-focused.
Eren Ozmen shares that, similar to her husband’s family structure and values, they both grew up in an environment where education was very important. Fatih Ozmen, son of a doctor, was raised in Ankara and completed his university studies in Ankara as well. Eren’s parents were health workers and she spent her childhood in Diyarbakir. Ozmen remembers those years fondly: “Diyarbakir was a very peaceful and wonderful place to grow up. It was a privilege for my siblings and me to grow up in an environment where education was very important to our parents. We never had a TV, so in a way we were isolated from everything else that was happening in the world. Books were the bridges that connected us to the outside world. We also had a loving and social environment comprised of close friends and family.” However, after losing her father in a car accident when she was a teenager, she was forced to work while continuing her education to help care for her family. “I had big dreams and I was prepared to work hard in order to make those a reality,” she says.
Even though their birth places are the same, the couple grew up in different cities, and first met each other in their early 20s when they were college students in Ankara. Exactly three days before Fatih Ozmen was leaving for the U.S. to pursue a master’s degree in electrical engineering… Eren was studying journalism at the time.
Eren Ozmen completed her MBA at the University of Nevada in 1984, the same university where her husband pursued his graduate education. Ozmen shares that when they ran into each other again in Nevada, they were first close friends and this strong relationship turned into more over time, and concludes the story of how they met with: “We got married in 1988 and have two children.” The couple has one daughter and one son around university-age.
The Ozmen couple purchased SNC in the sixth year of their marriage (in 1994). They are not the founders of SNC. The company was founded by John Chisholm, a respected name in the American aerospace industry, in 1963. “When Fatih started working in 1981, he was an engineering intern. Around the time we got married, he started working full time. I had joined the company as a financial consultant. At that time, the company had about 20 employees and was having financial hardships,” shares Eren Ozmen of their journey to purchase the company.
The term “management buyout” is used when the owner or founder wishes to retire, or the company encounters financial hardships and is turned over existing employees who can help the company realize its potential. This is how the Ozmen couple purchased SNC. “We quickly realized we could not continue if we did not start to do things differently. That’s when we started purchasing (other companies),” says Eren Ozmen. They started to grow and diversify by purchasing and integrating a new technology company into their existing structure almost every year. Ozmen shares they have purchased 12 companies to date and shares that these “purchases had a lever-like effect for us. Within the next 5-10 years, we reached the billion dollar mark.”
But the real tipping point was in 2009. It was SNC’s ability to grow quickly that made it successful. But as the scale grew, the growth of the company started to slow down. Eren Ozmen describes this time as a challenge to reconfigure Sierra Nevada according to customer needs and rebuild it according to a business model that thinks bigger. This adaptation process took a few years and during this time they acquired one-to-two company in the space technology industry. At the time Ozmen describes the company as experiencing a slight slowing in growth, SNC was recognized by Inc. magazine in 2010 as “One of the 10 Fastest Growing Companies in the U.S.” In 2011, the International Women Presidents Organization recognized the company as one of the two “fastest growing women owned companies” in North America.
This growth is evident when you look at the contracts awarded by the American defense industry. Leading with the Department of Defense and the American Air Force, the total contracts increased from $452.6 million in 2008 to $799.2 million in 2009. That same number increased to $856.6 million in 2011. SNC also carries the distinction of being the largest female-owned contractor in the U.S. and a large portion of their contracts (up to 80 percent in some years) are a result of work awarded without bid. Is it possible for such a young company to be this successful is such a short time?
There are many companies that have grown due to increased spending in defense after 9/11. It should not be overlooked that the amount of contracts awarded to Sierra Nevada is much smaller compared to that of big companies in the industry like Lockheed Martin and Boeing. For example, in 2011 alone, contracts totaled $536.8 billion to all contractors. Of that, the total awarded to those listed as one of the “Largest 100 Contractors,” of which Sierra Nevada is listed, was $296.6 billion. In comparison to the $856.8 million awarded to Sierra Nevada, that same year, $41.5 billion was awarded to Lockheed Martin, listed as No. 1 on the list, and $22 billion awarded to Boeing, the second company in the list.
The success the company has received in such a short time is indisputable, and awarding contracts for projects and products that offer the desired technical qualities and meet critical innovative technologies without a bid is not uncommon. Eren Ozmen shares that the largest leap the company made after it was purchased in 1994 was when they started doing work for the U.S. Air Force. “We started to be involved in very important flight programs and started to create our own reputation in this industry.”
More than just mention of their name, the Ozmens don’t prefer to be in the public eye. Eren Ozmen shares that there is not much time left for socialization. “We love to travel. For this reason, we don’t separate business and personal travel. At the same time, we visit some exciting places and know that when we put aside our computers, we can spend time together. Fatih and I both enjoy exercising; this is a big part of our lives. Wherever we may go, we love to explore the environment, run and do things outdoors. This is our entertainment. The time we spend with our kids, the business and physical activity doesn’t leave much room for socialization.”
Ozmen shares that they visit Turkey often and one of their favorite activities is to have breakfast with tea and simit at Grandma’s summer home. With the Regional Aircraft Project, these trips will increase. Their goal is to create Turkey’s first regional aircraft by modernizing the German-based Dornier 328 jet, for which they have purchased the rights. In the first phase, the plan is an initial production of 50. “Both Fatih and I are proud to be part of such an important piece of Turkey’s history with this project,” says Eren Ozmen.
Another industry she believes in is space tourism. She believes this it has great potential for the future. “When you look at how much technology has changed, even though space tourism may seem expensive now, it will be much more achievable in the future,” says Eren. SNC is going beyond simply believing in it to actually investing in it. Take for example the recent acquisition of Orbitec, which is developing technology to grow vegetables in space. “Don’t look at what it is today, but what it can be tomorrow,” says Ozmen. A good recommendation when you consider the fortune they have obtained.
Letter to the Editor: The World's Top Turkish Female Entrepreneur
Two prominent Turkish businessmen were honored at the last year's ceremony of Ellis Island awards which are granted to those who have contributed into development of the USA. One of them was Ahmet Calik who was awarded for the international category of these annual awards granted by National Ethnical Coalition of Associations (NECO), and the other was Fatih Ozmen, the founder and CEO of Sierra Nevada Corporation, a US-based aircraft and spacecraft manufacturer.
And who is Mr. Fatih Ozmen? He is the husband and business partner of Eren Ozmen, the beautiful businesswomen you see on our cover photo this month. I know the sentence I made above is quite surprising in a culture where we are accustomed to identifying women by their husbands' names and titles generally such as "Mrs. Someone, wife of Mr. Someone". Contrary to this conventional way of introduction which is commonly used in many places around the world, we introduce Eren Ozmen, the Chairman of Sierra Nevada, as a successful entrepreneur who has undertaken manufacturing agreements worth billions of U.S. Dollars for the U.S. Military and the U.S. Department of Defense as well as a spacecraft project for NASA and a project for development of a regional aircraft for the Republic of Turkey.
Last month, FORBES U.S. ranked Mrs. Eren Ozmen among the top 20 self-made women in America. Her rank in this list naturally makes Eren Ozmen "The Richest Self-Made Turkish Woman." I would like to emphasize the importance of this position and title: Considering that so far there is not one single woman who made their own fortune in "The 100 Richest Turks" list, I cannot help underlining how important Eren Ozmen's success is and - let alone her projects with the USA and Turkey – how valuable and unique her global position is as a business person. Of course, Sierra Nevada is like a third child to the Ozmen couple and like their baby. However, Mrs. Ozmen is not one of those women who made her fortune by holding shares without actually getting involved in her husband's business. On the contrary, she is a business person who has always worked, fought, sweat and shed tears for their business side by side at every step with her husband and contributed to creation of their company almost from scratch.
How do I know this? I was in the group of reporters that accompanied Ahmet Calik last year at the award ceremony where two Turkish businessmen were awarded and of course, we were very curious about the other Turk, Mr. Fatih Ozmen. I contacted corporate relations department of the company before I went to New York and arranged an appointment with Fatih Ozmen and his wife Eren Ozmen at the venue of the ceremony to introduce them to Ahmet Calik and my other colleagues; the Ozmen couple gave a very friendly response to our communications which started remotely and was followed by a face to face meeting, and so we got together at Ellis Island where the ceremony was held. We had a pleasant conversation during the night, listening to the stories of the company and their family as a couple with two kids. And the most striking aspect of this story was to witness the equal effort put by Mrs. Ozmen into management of the company and family even though Mr. Ozmen was the one that received the award that night.
The next year has seen Eren Ozmen rank in the lists of FORBES US and become the cover story of FORBES Turkey. If the Ozmen couple can manage to duly fulfill the roles they have undertaken for NASA and Turkey in the coming period, it seems that we will continue to follow their climb in the lists and fortune figures...
This article is redacted from the original copy for length.Posted with permission