Philanthropist and gentleman - Rahmi M. Koç a creator of museums

HUB COVER STORY SEPTEMBER

They say that money, however helpful it may be, will never be enough to buy some things. On what these things are one can discuss at length but it’ s certain that among them there is good taste, an attitude that is becoming more and more rare. Someone who has no issues with money or good taste is the Turkish tycoon Rahmi M. Koç (the «ç» is pronounced as a «coach»).

Philanthropist and gentleman - Rahmi M. Koç a creator of museums

Philanthropist and gentleman - Rahmi M. Koç a creator of museums

Philanthropist and gentleman - Rahmi M. Koç a creator of museums
/ A passion for engines

Philanthropist and gentleman - Rahmi M. Koç a creator of museums

/ A passion for engines

Philanthropist and gentleman - Rahmi M. Koç a creator of museums

Philanthropist and gentleman - Rahmi M. Koç a creator of museums

Born in 1930 in the capital city Ankara, «Rahmi Bey» (as everyone calls him as a sign of respect) is famous throughout the world for his industrial empire, his commitment to philanthropy and his love of beauty, be it ancient or miniature cars, steam engines or rare carpets. This passion is revealed through his magnificent residences and the museums he founded and that he continues to keep alive through several foundations located in Istanbul, Ankara and Ayvalik, all places where attention to detail is meticulous: just as it is in the Divan hotels he owns, such as the Çukurhan, located inside a historical caravanserai in the citadel of Ankara. The office in which he welcomes us in Nakkaştepe is situated on a hill overlooking the Asian shore of the Bosphorus, where the Koç holding company has its headquarters, and provides the best «business card» for a man who yearns for beauty to surround him. Inside, we find artworks and artifacts everywhere, skillfully displayed and well blended, and never flaunted.

Philanthropist and gentleman - Rahmi M. Koç a creator of museums

Although Rahmi Bey is 90 years old and is now «simply» the honorary chairman of the holding company, he remains on the Board of directors. He comes to the office every day to have his say, as well as to attend to correspondence and to monitor the auction houses, which for him are an endless source of items to acquire in order to increase his collections. The Rahmi M. Koç Museum in Istanbul alone, which is dedicated to the history of industry and transport and is housed in an Ottoman-era shipyard, has a collection of more than sixteen thousand objects spread over an area equivalent to that of St. Peter’s Square in Rome. «I first started accumulating antiques and industrial objects in early adulthood - the tycoon tells us in his impeccable English, which he learned in college and perfected in the business world -, though my first piece was a Märklin electric train brought to me as a gift from Germany by my father Vehbi». In 1926, Vehbi Koç (1901-1996) founded the family business and handed it over to Rahmi, the only male of four children, in 1984, after a very long career abroad and with the holding company established in 1963. For over twenty years, until 2003, Rahmi Bey was at the helm of a group that employs more than one hundred thousand people, which in 2020 had a turnover of 26.2 billion dollars and controlled over one hundred companies, including Otosan and Tofas (producers of Ford and Fiat cars, the group’s core business), Beko and Arçelik, producers of durable goods, the Divan chain of pastry shops and hotels and the Yapi Kredi bank (formerly a partner of Unicredit).

Philanthropist and gentleman - Rahmi M. Koç a creator of museums

Many of the Group’s companies are publicly listed on the Istanbul Stock Exchange. From 1975 to 2008, the Koç group also owned Migros Ticaret A.Ș., a Turkish relative of the leading Swiss retailer Migros. The relationship between the Koç family and Switzerland, however, does not stop there. «My father Vehbi - said the tycoon - viewed Switzerland as a giant corporation nestled in a big green park. I personally loved going to Zurich for business reasons, partly because I enjoy speaking a little German. Also shopping in Geneva was a treat, whereas now the city seems to me to have changed a bit too much». While based in Turkey, Rahmi Koç spends several months abroad. When possible he travels to his properties in Provence, Lesbos and Miami, where he owns a historic shipyard. He enjoys the sea immensely and owns several boats, most notably a 52-meter ketch named Nazenin 5, which was built in the RMK Marine shipyard in Tuzla, whose acronym corresponds to the initials of the tycoon.

Rahmi M. Koç began collecting toys as a child. Toys that his father would bring him as gifts from his business trips. Growing up, he began to amass the most diverse items, including puppets, dolls and figurines which he recently decided to show to the public, with an exhibition that is set to open on Sept. 27 at the Rahmi M. Koçdi Istanbul Museum, the first of the three museums of the same name founded by the tycoon since 1994. At the time of «Hub» going to press, the count of dolls destined for the exhibition stands at 2,139, a number that is likely to increase before the grand opening.
Philanthropist and gentleman - Rahmi M. Koç a creator of museums

On board of an earlier boat, Nazenin 4, Rahmi Koç circumnavigated the globe with his crew during the early years of the Millennium, after passing the baton of the Group to his eldest son, but without ever losing sight of business and collecting. Rahmi Koç also loves winter sports. He practiced skiing into old age until an accident that was worse than the others, to his shoulder, prompted him to turn to safer activities. Needless to say, Switzerland was central in this regard. «Skiing in Zermatt and St. Moritz - he says with a touch of nostalgia - was mandatory. In St. Moritz I used to stay at the Badrutt’s Palace Hotel, which for me, before being a hotelier, represented a real way of being. The elegance, style, quality of life, food and luxuries they offered were unique. You dined in black tie one evening whilst watching a fashion show and the other nights you enjoyed fine dining in elegant attire. The service was flawless. Every simple hand-written message was carried by white-gloved bellboys on silver trays, and tipping was a must, of course.

Philanthropist and gentleman - Rahmi M. Koç a creator of museums

Andrea Badrutt would personally take care of me and the other guests. I recall a curious dispute over the manner in which the butter should be presented: Andrea wanted it served in curls on ice, whereas the family favored wrapped sticks of butter. Small curiosities that led you to appreciate the attention to detail». Other less pleasant recollections that come to Rahmi Koç’s mind are those concerning his son Mustafa, who passed away in 2016, at the age of 55, from a heart attack. It was to him, in 2003, that the tycoon had handed over the Group’s chairmanship, which was later picked up by his second son Omer, who remains in charge (a third son, Ali, is president of Fenerbahçe, one of Istanbul’s well-known soccer teams). «My eldest son, the late Mustafa, was an alumni at the Lyceum Alpinum in Zuoz, which, a bit like the Badrutt, extended beyond the hotel, was more than just a school: it provided the best education and at the same time prepared you in every way for your future life». Whatever the immediate future holds for Rahmi M. Koç goes without saying. Covid-19 may have slowed his activities - he was twice infected by and cured from the disease - but he nevertheless continues undeterred in his charitable mission: to accumulate new collectibles, if necessary restoring them in a philological sound manner. Fueled by the most exuberant of passion, the tycoon is heading towards his 91st birthday in October. But before that - restrictions permitting - he will find the time to open a long-awaited exhibition in Istanbul that will feature approximately 2.200 historical ceramic, wooden and rag dolls: all objects that he has largely accumulated himself over time. The date is for the end of September in a museum that, uncoincidentally, already bears his name.

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