Biography of Vehbi Koç

Vehbi Koç was born in year 1901, at a orchard house at Ankara’s Çoraklık neighborhood. His father is Koçzade Hacı Mustafa Efendi, and his mother is Fatma Hanım, the daughter of Kütükçüzate Hacı Rıfat Efendi. His family tree runs for three centuries on his father’s side, and makes it possible to trace his roots on his mother’s side, back to Hacı Bayram-ı Veli who lived six centuries ago. Vehbi Koç’s education began at “Topal Hoca’s School” located next to Hacı Bayram Mosque. Later on, upon graduating as the valedictorian of the neighborhood school, in year 1914, he enrolled in Ankara High School, known as the Taş Mektep. However, in 1916, he dropped out, and began work on a full time basis. Vehbi Koç’s life in trade began at his father Koçzade Hacı Mustafa Efendi’s stores at the At Pazarı buying wheat and barley from villagers, and selling it to Christian merchants. Vehbi Koç realized that this is not a particularly complex task, but not a very profitable one as well. Later on, at his request, his father sends him to his brother-in-law, Aktarzade Sadullah Efendi’s trading house at Çengel Han, where he would engage in the trade of dry goods. Vehbi Koç worked there for approximately five months. It is often said that Vehbi Koç enjoyed that trade, but cannot proceed with it, due to substantial capital requirements.

He and his father opens a little store under their home on Karaoğlan Avenue, investing a capital of 120 liras. The establishment thus founded in 1917 was titled “Koçzade Hacı Mustafa Rahmi”. The store sold shoe rubber, sugar, cheddar, olives, and pasta. In time, they began to gain expertise in the market, and introduce a wider variety of higher quality goods. In 1918, Vehbi Koç expanded the business further and opened a “herbalist” shop, representing his first venture into hardware trade. That store, in turn, sold all kinds of fibers, pasta, spices, cups, glasses, dishes, various mirrors, and beads. Upon the proclamation of Republic, Vehbi Koç, feeling the enthusiasm of the day in his heart, submitted a petition to Recep Peker, then the Secretary General of the Grand National Assembly of Türkiye, asking for an appointment at the Parliament. In the summer of 1920, he began his work as an assistant proofreader.

In 1920-1921, as the parliament staff was also conscripted, Vehbi Koç joined in the army, and served for one year. With his hardworking and determined character, Vehbi Koç made a name for himself, and began to generate substantial earnings, while earning the trust of his father. In 1926, Hacı Mustafa Rahmi Efendi transferred the ownership of the firm “Koçzade Mustafa Rahmi” they had founded back in 1917, to his son, Vehbi Koç. This event marked the foundation of the firm “Koçzade Ahmet Vehbi”. One year later, Vehbi Koç was elected as the President of the Executive Board of Ankara Chamber of Commerce (ATO). Once Ankara became the capital of the nation, building and infrastructure works gained pace. In those days, Vehbi Koç expanded his business based on grocery, shoe leather, and hardware, to cover building materials as well. One of the first such materials he introduced to the market was Marseilles tiles. In those days, a huge storm had inflicted substantial damage on the roof tiles of the Parliament. Vehbi Koç facilitates the repairs using Marsellies tiles. As their store on Karaoğlan Avenue was demolished due to road expansion, Vehbi Koç had Koç Han built on Ulus Square, and moved the store to that building. Koç Han’s plans were designed by Austrian architect Ernst Egli. Vehbi Koç began engaging in large scale works with one of the leading contractors of the era, Nafiz Kotan Bey; hence a venture into building and contracting works, in addition to the sale of construction materials. In 1932, a tender was held for various pieces of work on Ankara Numune Hospital. The tender was then awarded to Vehbi Koç, who cooperated with a German firm (Yehliski Tekilman) upon the request of Refik Saydam. After a period of hard work, Koç made good on his promise and completed the works on Numune Hospital in time for the 10th anniversary celebrations of the Republic. Ever venturing into new fields of business, and making the firm “Koçzade Ahmet Vehbi” larger and larger, Vehbi Koç observed that sole proprietorships were not always the most lasting of enterprises, and decided to found a joint stock corporation. Once the preparations were completed, “Koç Ticaret Türk Anonim Şirketi” was founded in 29 June, 1938, with a capital of 300,000 liras.

Vehbi Koç also made a point of engaging in charity work, in addition to his commercial enterprises. Ankara University Vehbi Koç Dormitory he opened on 30 April, 1951 marked one of his earlier contributions, followed by numerous others. After Ankara became the capital of the Republic, the construction works on the institutions of the new state gained steam. German and Hungarian workers were employed in the heating installation works on such buildings. During the construction of Numune Hospital, Vehbi Koç worked with a German firm to procure the heating radiators. With a view to meeting that demand, Vehbi Koç went to Germany in 1956 and signed a technical agreement, followed by the beginning of the construction of the Demir Döküm factory in 1958. Always noting the importance of tourism for the development of the country, Vehbi Koç emphasized the significance of investments in that business, and opened Divan Hotel in 1956. In order to provide a more institutionalized and sustained perspective on charity, Vehbi Koç Foundation was established in 1969.

In 1984, Vehbi Koç left the reins of business to his son, Rahmi Koç. His career spanning 76 years saw more than 108 companies set up within the framework of Koç Group, operating in a wide range of business including food, retail, finance, energy, automotive, tourism, and technology operations. Such achievements were crowned in 1987 by the awarding of Vehbi Koç with the Businessman of the Year Award offered by World Trade Organization, and extended personally by Rajiv Gandhi in India. Vehbi Koç passed away in 1996, in Antalya.