Harvard turns Turkish Airlines success story into a business template

Harvard Business School is using one of Turkey’s fastest growing companies as a blueprint for commercial success. Called Turkish Airlines: Widen Your World  the case study charts the airline’s spectacular growth from a regional actor into a global powerhouse.

Turkey’s model blue chip corporation is currently ranked the 11th biggest airline in the world, and in 2015 it was voted Europe’s best airline for the fifth year running.

Since becoming privatised in 2006, the airline has grown six-fold, now flying to 287 destinations in 113 countries. One marker of its huge expansion can be seen in its flights to New York: previously it flew there just four times a week, now Turkish Airlines flies to New York three times a day.

The turning point came in 2004 when the airline, then publicly owned, made a strategic decision to position Istanbul as a travel hub for the region’s transit passengers. A natural gateway between Europe and Asia, Turkish Airlines started to fly to 24 new destinations across the Middle East and since then, transit passenger numbers have rocketed from 1 million to 14 million a year.

A record-breaking year for Turkish Airlines

In 2015, the company broke its own records, surpassing the billion dollar profit mark for the first time in its history, posting a net profit of $1.069 billion for the year. Its operating profits rose by more than 72%, while its sales revenue increased by 19%.

Although 2016 is expected to be a more challenging year given domestic and regional security issues, last week the airline’s chairman İlker Aycı told the press that he expected the company to continue to grow: “We have a plan B for all the difficulties we may encounter. We plan to overcome any problems that arise in 2016, just like we did in 2015.”

Batman, aka actor Henry Cavill poses with Turkish Airlines chairman Ilker Ayci at New York premiere of Batman vs Superman, 20 Mar. 2016
Superman aka actor Henry Cavill (left) poses with Turkish Airlines chairman Ilker Ayci at New York premiere of Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, 20 Mar. 2016


Harvard Business School (HBS) faculty member Prof. Juan Alcácer and Esel Çekin, the Executive Director for HBS’s Istanbul Research Center, capture Turkish Airlines’ bold plans in their case study:

“Forecasts for the [international aviation] sector predict approximately 7% passenger and capacity growth in 2016. Turkish Airlines plans to achieve 21% capacity and 18% passenger growth in 2016”.

The sky’s the limit

The case study authors also wrote: “Anticipated passenger traffic passing through Istanbul from Europe to the Middle East and Asia and from North America to the Middle East will triple in the next 20 years. Given this potential, Turkish Airlines expects to continue to grow over that period.”

Harvard’s case study on the airline is a first for a Turkish company. The business school, part of Harvard University, is regarded as one of the best in the world and means that in the future some of the brightest entrepreneurial minds on the planet will be able to develop their own businesses drawing on the experiences of Turkish Airlines.

In February, Turkish Airlines’ CEO Dr. Temel Kotil was invited to Boston to give a lecture to Harvard’s second year MBA students. Afterwards, he told the Anadolu News Agency :

“I’m truly honoured to have had the opportunity to share our success story, our journey with these brilliant, young minds at Harvard”.

Turkish Airlines CEO Temel Kotil gives lecture at Harvard Business School, Feb. 2016. Photo: havayolu101.com
Turkish Airlines CEO Temel Kotil gives lecture at Harvard Business School, Feb. 2016. Photo: havayolu101.com


However, the airline is not planning to rest on its laurels any time soon. Having conquered Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, the airline now turns its attention to America – both North and South. New flight destinations include, Atlanta, Bogata, Panama, Havana, Caracas and Mexico City.

Turkish Airlines is also keen to expand its market share in the USA. Two months ago, the company sponsored CBS’s pre-game show on the Super Bowl 50. It is also a sponsor of the newly-released blockbuster Batman v Superman. One of the film’s stars Ben Affleck appeared in a Turkish Airlines commercial that ran before and after the Super Bowl – annually, the most watched TV event in the USA.