Why I Love My Job In Istanbul

by Ibrahim Akyunus


I was born in Turkey in simpler times. I grew up, had fun, went to school, ate great Turkish food, graduated and went into business for myself.

One day a witty Indian friend of mine told me: "Success without happiness is failure."

He was witty and wise.

Being a graduate of the School of Pharmaceutical Sciences in Istanbul, my primary goal in life at that time was to start a pharmacy. What disappointment  I felt, soon after I opened the doors when I learned it wasn't the challenge I expected.

"Give me an aspirin.

"OK, here..75 cents."

"What is your suggestion for a cough syrup?" 

"Start immediately by taking 3 of these laxative pills. I can assure you, you will stop coughing, within the next half hour." 

I don't want to remember the next 3 years I spent trying get rid of the pharmacy for a reasonably decent price. Financially I was doing pretty well but I was miserable. I hated what I was doing. My family, my friends could never understand why I felt so bad at a time when I was running a reasonably popular pharmacy. 

Then I joined a leading multi-national pharmaceutical manufacturer in Istanbul as a Product Manager of Psychotropic Drugs. Soon I was feeling much, much better, and it wasn't because I was ingesting the drugs. My decisions had impact. The more ideas I created, the more they were turning into solid sales which in turn gave me a sense of satisfaction. I started loving my job and, sure enough, it paid off. I, quickly became Director of the Scientific Bureau, then Production Manager and finally the "Responsible Pharmacist" at a very young age.

Then I moved to Los Angeles. I started working in a research facility as a R&D Chemist. We were doing R&D work for the " biggies" in the cosmetic industry. I loved that job, too. I was making formulas that nobody ever had before me: the first sprayable body lotion, the first incorporation of waxes into clear microemulsions, the first usage of suspended materials in pump hair sprays. What a feeling of accomplishment I had after the successful launch of my own formulas. People say they feel like they are walking on the clouds; well, I felt I was walking above the clouds.  Of course, success brought promotions, money and recognition. I became Research and Development Vice President to 3 midsize manufacturing companies.  What a blast. I was soaring. I was at the top of my game.

Then I developed cancer. I slumped into depression. My love life wasn't going well either. I had a relationship that I realized was very superficial. That realization made me even more miserable. I thought I should go back to Istanbul where I would get the human touch I needed most. So I went back.

In Istanbul, I already had a dormant hotel project. It had been started by my friends and had gone nowhere. The project was the family home in Sultanahmet district of Istanbul which is considered the Mecca of Turkish cultural tourism. It is a small area that holds many world class tourist gems like Topkapi Palace, the Archeology Museum, the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar, the 400-year-old Blue Mosque and the 1500-year-old Saint Sophia Church. So I decided to take over the moribund project and continue transforming the old family home into a small boutique hotel. Maybe I was nuts or inspired or desperate to find happiness. 

It took me a year to finish the project. During that time, I was constantly being bothered by thoughts like  "what if I don't find happiness as a hotelier?" "What if I buried close to 2 million dollars in a stupid project?"

Although I had stayed in many different hotels in my lifetime, I had no clue about how to run a hotel. I was operating by the seat of my Turkish-tailored pants. It was a big gamble and I had no idea what the outcome would be.

After 5 years of operation, the Zeynep Sultan Hotel is now considered in the top 10% of Istanbul hotels as far as customer satisfaction rating is concerned. It is not a great hotel by any standard measures. It is just a basic, comfortable, clean hotel that serves its purpose in a fabulous location. But I think what makes it a great hotel is the simple fact that there is a lot of "human touch" that turns it into a home away from home for guests. It is a win-win situation. I am happy and so are the guests. We connect, we enjoy each other, and we feel good. I give them an insider's view of Istanbul and an insight into Turkish Culture and in return they delight me with their appreciation. 

One one hand, I don't make a lot of money, but it's enough to fulfill my retirement expectations. On the other hand, which is much more important, I get the human touch I was craving.  By connecting with people, I focused on issues other than my health problems and luckily I now have no trace of depression or cancer. I work hard, but I love my job. 

Ibrahim Akyunus, known as Abe, is at his hotel whenever he is not honeymooning (over and over again) with his new wife. Learn more at www.ZeynepSultanHotel.com.

Opening photo by Geir Halvorsen




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