Kevin K. Kraemer studied management at European Business School in Oestrich-Winkel, Germany and at Koç Graduate School of Business in Istanbul, Turkey. He spent his undergraduate studies at Freie Universität Berlin and at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.
From the beginning of his academic career he gained work experience in different fields, mainly in management consulting. Here he worked for several companies but also as an independent consultant across various industries in both Germany and Turkey – a country he also has personal roots in.
After first opting for the „classic“ career path in a large management consultancy he decided to return to Turkey once again in order to refocus. Declining opportunities in the private equity industry he willingly put himself in a challenging position to follow his interests and discover his full potential.
QX: Kevin, obviously after you came back from your MBA exchange in Istanbul in 2012/13 your fascination for Turkey remained undiminished. Where does it come from?
Kevin: Turkey has always been a part of my roots and my early environment here definitely fascinated me as a child. Later on, during my time at Koç University, I for the first time understood that having different “roots” actually means something in terms of your personality and the way your mind works. I found out that as a German citizen who has been raised in Germany and spent the greater part of his life there I fundamentally work and think differently in another place on this planet. When I say this I am not talking about the “holiday effect” as I call it, a temporary change of attitude towards certain topics during a trip abroad. It really is a second culture that gives me a reassuring comfort of “home” even though I am not a citizen and do not fully speak the language until now. I also found out that the high-pitch life in a city like Istanbul changes my approach to everyday tasks and problems. It challenges me to employ a different way of thinking that I could only learn outside the structures that I previously surrounded myself with in Germany.
QX: In 2013 we met you during the QX-Leadership Expedition to Istanbul where we discussed with local leaders, entrepreneurs and investors about the Turkish economy. From your perspective, what are the peculiarities of doing business in Turkey?
Kevin: People often refer to the importance of personal contacts and networking, emphasizing a more relationship driven or more “social” approach of doing business in Turkey. This is definitely the case. However, you have to keep in mind that within the country the significance of these factors greatly varies according to the industry and the geographic area you are active in. What makes it fascinating for me in a city like Istanbul is that it is about the mix, about the different influences that are reflected in people’s mindsets and thus in the way they do business. At the end of the day it is a megacity with a phenomenal history located on two continents. You will encounter culture and tradition as much as you will be facing a highly international and fast moving business environment. You definitely need to keep up with the tempo, a fact that makes not only business life here both challenging and lively.
QX: Instead of pursuing a classical management consulting career in Switzerland you decided to combine your fascination for Turkey and your passion for fine arts with your gained expertise in the business sector. What exactly are you doing right now?
Kevin: The first time we talked about this topic was in Fall 2015. Back then I threw myself at everything related to art: paintings, drawings, sculptures and installations. I was observing, consuming, soaking in information. That was directly after I left my job. I had decided that I needed some counter-balance to the very monotonous path I had followed until then.
The very first “commercial” experience I made in this field was with jewelry back in Switzerland. Zurich has a great scene of auction houses and boutique jewelers. After I spent some time investigating price developments and designers I made an initial (small!) purchase myself and put it up for auction – a great experience. My idea was to do “something like that” in Turkey, getting involved in the art scene, trading, making sales. Very naïve at the time and without a serious attempt when I articulated the idea – but something I definitely wanted to try out. Subsequently my approach became a little bit more refined. I understood that I received excellent training during my education and that I gained valuable experience during internships, independent projects and positions. The question of how to apply my existing knowledge to a new topic, in this case art, became all-consuming. Over the winter I also went through a very intense period of concentrating on my strengths and weaknesses by utilizing approaches taught to me by QX members, which were of great help.
During this process art became kind of a gateway to my creative side. It is visual, easy to approach and for me it has always been fun to interact with. Starting out from a random point in my research and thought process I actually went “down the rabbit hole”. Being forced to think about ways to combine my existing skills with a new topic my guiding question itself ultimately changed to “how can I apply myself to something differently”. I then had discovered a more creative approach to problem solving and responding to challenges in general.
Apart from art I also investigated other areas of interest. I for instance realized that during my previous work I excelled most at solving “people based” problems like motivational issues or barriers of communication, which affect organizational culture and, ultimately, efficiency. I took the time to speak to experts in this field, thinking about whether this was something that I could see myself doing fulltime as a consultant. During the very personal development process I described before I had experienced the importance of constructive input from others. I believe that in an organizational context this is where true teamwork and the interplay of different characters come into place. They can enable a group to successfully create something new or to overcome a challenge together. I know now that actively shaping such processes in a business environment has to be a part of my role – may it be from within a company or as an external advisor.
Continuously searching for ways to combine my areas of interest with these personal skills I now had the chance to initiate talks regarding a consulting project in the hospitality industry. In this case the client also sees art on the property as a potential for competitive differentiation.
QX: Can you describe the influence of the recent events in Turkey on your everyday life and work?
Kevin: In terms of everyday life you indeed see a change in the city these days. It definitely is less crowded than usual and many people are more cautious. To a certain extent this current state of mind is also reflected in business through a more waiting, observing and cautious approach. Unfortunately, industries like tourism and hospitality are directly affected by recent media reports and the decrease in customers and guests is visible. As far as I am concerned it is important to understand challenging situations like the present one as chances for innovation, to utilize pressure as a driver of creativity and to take a focused approach towards the development of adapted strategies and their implementation.
QX: How does your typical weekend in Istanbul look like?
Kevin: I always try to keep a balance between visiting the amazing cultural spots of the city, enjoying Istanbul’s nightlife and spending time in nature. Istanbul has great outskirts reaching all the way to the black sea, offering amazing possibilities for outdoor activities. These days you can probably find me going for a walk in Belgrade Forest or enjoying the fresh and salty air close to the sea in Kilyos.
QX: Your Vanity?
Kevin: It really is art. Reading about it and visiting galleries or museums is something I hardly get tired of.