Kerem Kerimoğlu, CEO of Dem Global Brands
Interview: Kezban Belet
Kerem Kerimoğlu, who started his business life at an early age and now continues his business life as the CEO of DEM Global, asked many questions such as the trends in the entertainment and food and beverage industry, how the industry and DEM Global were affected by the pandemic, and how he defined the concept of new generation management. We had the opportunity to ask him, and a very nice conversation ensured.
Mr. Kerimoglu, can we get to know you a little bit?
I was born in 1972, Ankara. My education life started at TED Private High School, and after we moved to Izmir, I transferred to the 60.Yıl Izmir Anatolian High School. I got a start in my career as an Area Manager of Aegean Region at Philip Morris in 1993. After working there for 6 years, I took on a task as a Customer Service Agent of Aegean Region in the channel of Duty Free at Diageo.
In the time frame of three months, Diageo decided to transfer me to the central in Istanbul and then in six months, I became a Channel Manager. After being a Channel Manager for four years, Diageo has made me the head executive of On-Trade Department. I have transferred to Pernod Ricard as an On-Trade Manager with an offer during that period.
After working at Pernod Ricard for a long time; I moved to Kafe Pi Group as the General Manager for 3 years. I was 36 years old and this was my first senior management start. I continued to be involved in the industry and then returned to my job at Pernod Ricard after 3 years. Exactly 10 years ago, I got a job offer as a General Manager from Weitnauer Group and became the Chief Executive of DEM External Trade Corporation which belongs to Weitnauer Group. We have been doing really well for the last 10 years and we represent highly important brands in Turkey.
Could you briefly describe DEM GLOBAL, of which you are currently the CEO? Which brands are in your company?
DEM External Trade was established as a company which is the supplier of Duty-Free spots in 1992 by Serdar Tektaş. It began as a company which is the supplier of stores mostly known as “Duty-Free Shops” in Turkey. It has been the representative of many brands for years. Then, Weitnauer Group which noticed this high performance had decided to buy this company by noticing the potential in Turkey. When I came here, the portfolio of the company consisted of food and liquor. There were crucial food brands here at that time.
DEM External Trade is the official distributor of many famous brands in Turkey right now like Jagermeister, The Dalmore, Jura, Tamnavulin, Thomas Henry, The Dead Rabbit, The Dubliner, Keglevich, Opihr and Greenall’s. New premium brands joined our portfolio this year as well for instance Bottega Prosecco and Onegin Premium Vodka. Our portfolio and company continue to rise and grow. Since the end of 2018, the food department does not exist any longer since we aspired to invest more in soft drinks and liquor which we believed we are professionals about. Right now, we are a company which imports liquor only.
How has the pandemic affected the world of DEM GLOBAL and events? What are the advantages or disadvantages of this process for you?
During the pandemic, many places have been shut-down. Cafes which are really crucial for Turkey, bars, discos, beach clubs and hotels especially in Antalya… Regarding these, pandemic had a negative effect but consumerism has not spiralled down. Travellers and people who were going to beach clubs and loved their nightlife started to shop at markets, grocery stores and places which sell liquor.
In addition, we have seen that what gained strength and what lost their power. In this industry, there are two channels about sales, one of them is On-Trade and the other is Off-Trade. Our Off-Trade channel has improved a lot and we became stronger. During this process, we have worked from home full time with our teammates. Now, with On-Trade channel being opened we are developing fast without losing our Off-Trade power as well.
How do you define the concept of “new generation management”, which we have heard very often lately?
I can say that it is a world in which individuals with the sense of responsibility knowledge and vision are preferred. The difference between the administration we know of and our seniors know of is the technology. At the same time, you have to be more respectful and understanding towards the generation that we work with. Right now, everybody knows their grounds, sincerity and responsibilities and you do not even have to tell them something, the new employees are able to keep pace with the rising generation executives. In foreign countries, at crucial companies some positions of people with certain ages end and new generation rises. It is slowly beginning to look alike in Turkey as well.
In addition, I see that some people who had worked with traditional executives in the past are surprised when they come to work with us because everything is crystal clear here and individuals are valued. I value that people get the worth they deserve. We oblige that they will be on more vacations rather than saying they will work more. We try to create a space where people would want to come to work. I believe the one of the most crucial differences is that you spend time with every employee regardless of their positions. The most appropriate example of that is employees saying “Kerem is here” rather than saying that the boss is here and to be able to spend time with everyone equally.
Do you agree with the idea that the usual management norms should be changed for the Z generation who has just started working life?
I believe that the conventional form needs a change because Generation Z is really creative. We need to adapt to them. It is not the same generation anymore about which we said that the more we push them the more they improve themselves before. The term “mobbing” was perceived as “He is a good executive, he pushes our limits” in our time, but Generation Z is not the generation which you could do that to. It is not possible to dominate a Generation Z employee who has goals for the future and vision to do a work assignment because when you try to dominate that employee, he/she would lose all his/her creativity. This shows that you need to change the customs of your traditional administration, to be more clearly, to let them speak their minds, to encourage them and make them know that you support them.
How do you think the understanding of entertainment, consumption habits and the hospitality industry change over generations?
When I first started this sector, I used to go somewhere in the evening, then eat in a place suitable for classical Turkish When I got a start in this industry, you would go somewhere afternoon, then you would eat dinner at a place which is accustomed to classical Turkish traditions, and then you would eventually go to a club and have fun. This situation started to change slowly. Now, people can stay the whole night at the first place they went to. You would visit four different places when you thought of entertainment after work before, but now you can have fun at one place. Liquor preferences have changed as well. Thus, when you go to a restaurant the first thing you notice is the bar. I believe that the reason behind this change in the preference is women. Women had a great part in this situation, and they actually brought the quality. By courtesy of them, the liquor knowledge of men improved. We kept pace with the quality which they brought. We learnt which drink would go with which type of food from women. One of the biggest changes is about the industry. In restaurants a harmonisation of nice food and nice drink began in industry especially.
Digitalization is now everywhere in our lives so, what kind of a connection would you think there is between entertainment and digitalization for the new generation? Would you say that a new generation which improves and changes with technology is rising?
This situation is in direct proportion to keeping up with the technology. In the past, we would call each other from home telephones or when mobile phones first came out, we would text each other asking where we would meet tonight. Now, we have the chance to do research about hundreds of places, to see their points and reviews, to know about which place opened recently where and when, before going out.
We are “experiencing” from their statements to menus, from websites to their Instagram pages. Right now, we are in an era in which we can look at the menus with QR codes. I use an app with this digitalization age as well and I mark every single restaurant I went to until this day, I save and upload what I liked among what I ate from the menus. People who go there and who use this application can see these. This is not the convenience which only the new generation uses, it is also the convenience we use as well. Especially it is liked a lot abroad. Thus, this situation is changing and will change more and more. Entertainment and digitalization are linked directly to each other.
Finally, what trends are waiting for us in the field of food, beverage and entertainment in 2022 in the world and in Turkey?
It does not take a long time before the trends in the world to be introduced in Turkey. Beverage trends which are popular abroad lately are slowly being introduced in our country as well. We are now in the process of which brands prefer differentiation rather than the traditional. I believe that beverage preferences of our time will change in the upcoming seasons. Trends in the world will take places of the beverages once were so popular. Turkey is the place in which many brands make their most sales because this is a country which can adapt very fast.
In the upcoming seasons, the trends of cocktails which go along with foods will be effective. In addition, all of the chefs are supported by companies like us for co-operation. Chefs are doing their preparations according to which beverages would go along with what type of food. The trend evolves into the harmony of qualified food and qualified drink. We will see the reflection of this harmony in Turkey as well soon. Addition to this, we see collaboration with different disciplines like fashion, music, art and so on. We will continue to see this kind of corporations as well.