Life Story

Sabri Ülker, one of the first generation industrialists of the republic
and a pioneer entrepreneur of Turkey

Sabri Ülker was born in the Crimea in 1920. He grew up in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution and had a quite difficult childhood. The memory of these years was behind his famous words “We believe that no matter where in the world people live, they have the right to a happy childhood” when he founded Ülker.

 As it was no longer possible for his family to withstand the difficult conditions in their homeland, they immigrated to Istanbul in 1929. The traces of those memories were never erased from the mind of Ülker. When at the age of nine years old he registered at the Kadırga Elementary School in İstanbul and described those days as:

“We had very hard times, for days and months. How could we forget? All of our vineyards, gardens and fields were seized and we were told “All of these belong to the State, and they will be redistributed.” Our beautiful vineyards and gardens became unrecognizable. They exiled all educated, hardworking people who were not on the Government side to the Urals and Siberia and began mass executions. The scenes in the film Dr. Zhivago were repeated everywhere; hundreds of times. They placed my father and all of us in exile convoys numerous times.”

After graduating from elementary school, Sabri Ülker registered at the Istanbul Boys High School. While he was at the sixth grade, he passed the examination of the boarding school and continued his education at Bilecik High School. He went to middle school in Bilecik and high school in Kütahya. When he had registered at the Sultanahmet Economics and Commercial Sciences for his higher education, World War II had begun.

Ülker is founded

When Sabri Ülker graduated from the university, the World War II had also ended. He and his brother Asım Ülker were going to produce cookies for kids who had forgotten the taste of cookies during the war. The two brothers had worked in the Besler Factory during their childhood and young adulthood years. Also the family had operated a candy shop for a time. Relying on these experiences Sabri and Asım Ülker decided to establish their own workshop in order to produce their own cookies in the Nohutçu Han which is located in Eminönü. Sabri Ülker would later describe those days: “As you can imagine, in 1944 it was very difficult to find means of production in our young republic, which was experiencing the problems of World War II. In the fall of 1944, very early in the morning, I came to Nohutçu Han in Eminönü, which was the center of commerce at that time. I walked up to the third floor through a relatively low doorway. I examined every pot, ladle, cookie cutter, other tools and the stoves in the back one by one and said to myself, “I must succeed in this business.”

It was actually a miracle that the two brothers succeeded at this business. The owner of the workshop had sold it to other entrepreneurs formerly All of whom were unable to run the place  and sold the business back to the original owner at a loss. The owner of the workshop assumed that Mr. Asım and Mr. Sabri would be unsuccessful like their predecessors saying, “You’ll see, they will sell it back to me in a couple of months.” Of course, he knew something when he was making this comment because all of the machines were very old and were constantly breaking down. Since there were no spare parts, it was difficult to make them work again. Sabri Ülker learned how to repair these old machines. In this small workshop, 200 kilos of cookies were produced in the first year…

When we look at today, Ülker’s two week production is enough to provide a cookie to everyone in the world which is clear confirmation of how Sabri Ülker had succeeded at this business. Sabri Ülker left Yıldız Holding to future generations as a company mainly active in the area of food and beverages. As of 2012, Yıldız Holding has production facilities in 10 countries including Turkey; has 55 factories; 300 brands and exports over 80 countries, making an important contribution to the local and global economy.

The secret of Sabri Ülker’ success

Sabri Ülker had described the secret of his success with the following: “The first basic condition for success is working very hard tirelessly and persistently.  The second is honesty and the third is quality of your work. Every product you produce must respond to customer's needs; in other words, it should be worth the money they spend. The fourth element is to attach importance to promotion. This is a factor that I would really like to emphasize on... We placed significance on advertisement from the very first day, we still do and we will always continue to do this ...We have been advertising Ülker since 1950.When a  high quality product is advertised, the results are especially great."

“Daddy, don’t forget to bring Ülker in the evening”

During the years when the significance of advertising was still unknown in Turkey, the classic “Daddy, don’t forget to bring Ülker in the evening” was an expression which summed up everything that Sabri Ülker wanted for children, for Turkey and for Ülker – to be able to reach every household and every child with delicious, healthy, hygienic, high quality products.

Sabri Ülker had a characteristic that was known back then as “foresight” which is called as “vision” in these days. He had already discovered and applied the “good ideas” that Turkey was not familiar with until the 1990’s. He was a pioneer entrepreneur in Turkish industry and became a successful figure in the food sector as a result of this virtue.

With this tremendous foresight, he established the Ülker Research and Development department in 1974 in order to keep up with its competitors.  In 1980’s, Turkey opened up its market to global economy and the variety of products like Ülker has increased in the local market. Thus, Ülker passed an important test of competition against imported products.

Ülker also developed the idea of integrating with the world long before the globalization movement. The period that stretched between the 1980’s and the 2000’s was when Ülker became integrated with the world. Sabri Ülker described his pioneering approach in those days: “We are the first cookie company in Turkey to bring experts from abroad. We have worked with the best international experts. We have formed partnerships with many foreign companies and benefited from their expertise and former experiences. We have opened some of our companies to the public. Our priority has always been the health of our customers. That is why we were the first company to establish a hygiene department. We have followed all of the current global developments. We made investments in order to increase our capacity, established new factories and provided employment. This is how we started to produce new products that have won the hearts of our customers.”

A modest life

A happy and private life was also another element behind the success of Sabri Ülker’s professional life. He and his dear wife Güzide chose a modest life together. They also encouraged their children and their grandchildren to live modestly. The most painful event in the lives of Güzide and Sabri was the loss of their son, Ali Ülker, at a very early age. They made sure the memory of their lost child lived on in their grandson Ali Ülker, whom they named after him. Their other children Ahsen Özokur and Murat Ülker embraced both the family’s modest lifestyle and Sabri Ülker’s business ethics and values. 

Sabri Ülker was always by the family’s side until the last days of his life. In the year 2000 Sabri Ülker undertook the position of the Honorary President at Ülker Group of Companies. Murat Ülker took over management by becoming the Holding’s Chairman of the Board. Sabri Ülker continued to guide the Group with his ideas until his last days. 

In 2012 Sabri Ülker experienced the pain of losing his beloved partner in life,  Güzide Ülker. Sabri Ülker, who departed from among us on June 12, 2012, not only contributed to the economic development of Turkey but took on a leadership role on the subject of contributing to community development. He supported joint projects with the Ministry of Education in order to strengthen the educational infrastructure of Turkey. Sabri Ülker, frequently expressed his belief in the importance of working in cooperation with civil community organizations so we can leave a more livable Turkey and world to future generations, and was among the founders of the TEMA Foundation.