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Building a New Empire: Germany’s Turkish Entrepreneurs

CNBC Business Magazine, Sept 1, 2011

Half a century after the first ‘guest workers’ arrived, entrepreneurs in the Turkish community are playing a vital role in Germany’s economic success

When Mehmet Aygün arrived in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district in the 1970s he worked in a fast-food restaurant and dreamed of setting up his own business. Now he’s in charge of an empire, running both the Hasir restaurant chain in Berlin and Titanic Resorts and Hotels, which has properties in Turkey and Germany.

With the 50th anniversary of Germany’s guest worker agreement with Turkey approaching, most headlines focus on the challenges of integration. Yet there are also numerous success stories, such as Aygün’s, that point to a thriving Turkish-German entrepreneurial culture.

Some 650,000 Turks came to West Germany in the decade or more that followed the labour recruitment agreement signed in October 1961. And while the influx of low-skilled workers required for the country’s booming post-war industry was halted in 1973 by the recession that followed the oil crisis, the so-called ‘guest workers’ had already started bringing family members over.

While most had initially planned to stay for just a few years, the majority eventually began to settle down and put down roots. The community is now thought to be around 3.5 million strong, the largest ethnic minority in the country.

According to Andreas Goldberg, director of the Centre for Turkish Studies (ZfT) at the University of Duisburg-Essen, those with Turkish roots are more likely than ethnic Germans to be self-employed. Indeed, the ZfT estimates there are more than 80,000 Turkish-German businesses, employing at least 300,000 people, and with an average annual turnover of around €450,000. Continue reading

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