Leading Through Adversity

The COVID-19 pandemic brought the construction market to a halt for Turner Construction in Turkey, but country director Mehmet S. Kilic (MPM ʼ00) and his executives helped their team recover and grow from the setback.

Turner Construction Company works on roughly 1,500 construction projects per year, but that pace slowed in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic brought much of the world to a halt. At work sites across the globe, construction projects were curbed, and everything about work changed right away. Without the luxury of time to plan or prepare, executives had to weigh what was best for the company in the long-term with the challenges of the short-term. 

Mehmet S. Kilic (MPM ʼ00) was one of those decision makers. After working in Turner's offices in Washington, DC; Belgrade, Serbia; Baku, Azerbaijan; and Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana), Kazakhstan, Kilic was appointed as Turner’s Country Director for Turkey. In this role, he oversees the business’s operations in that country and helps support the company’s work around Europe. He knew that when everything was changing, he needed to lead by putting a plan in place to assist those both on a work site and stuck at home.  

Kilic helped launch a crisis team made up of health, safety, and environment experts to focus on how Turner could better protect its employees in the field against the rapidly changing situations it faced and also reduce their stress. The team paid close attention as the situation evolved and new information became available so the company could adjust its plans and strategize accordingly. At the same time, Kilic was trying to learn as much as he could about the virus to figure out when his employees would be able to safely resume working.  

“In times of crisis, it can be difficult for companies to react fast to rapidly changing situations,” Kilic said. “We empowered calm, thoughtful people who paused and evaluated the situation quickly before acting emotionally, and who are prone to anticipate situations before they arise. The goal was to get most of our staff’s views taken into account.”

After a pause, Turner’s work in Turkey not only resumed in 2020, but grew. Under Kilic’s leadership, the number of employees working in the country almost tripled, from 54 last year to 150 today. The total business revenue for Turner within Turkey increased by more than 200 percent, globally leading to nearly $12 billion of work, all the while dealing with the challenges of COVID-19.

Kilic said it was vital to make employee safety and a commitment to the communities where work was being done the top priorities. Once the company determined ways to do that, business resumed. That meant providing aid packages to affected communities and acting quickly when issues did arise. There were also changes implemented, including new rules on sharing tools, limiting the amount of time employees could spend in common areas, and daily temperature checks for every worker.

“Our company is a strong and durable organization,” Kilic said of the way his team at Turner performed over the past year. “We constantly update our plans, even on a daily basis, using strategies to uncover new information and quickly review them as events unfold and new information emerges.

"We are leaders in our market and I am pleased to see that. But there is still a long way to go in Turkey. We will focus on that more in order to differentiate us.” 

Kilic credits his MPM education as a guide for helping him lead Turner’s work in Turkey during a challenging time. The five steps to project management — initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and close out — were ingrained in Kilic during his time at Northwestern, and he continues to rely on them in his work life. Because  Turner was constantly updating its plans, even on a daily basis, using these steps to uncover new information and quickly review it as events unfolded and new information emerged was vital. Trusting expert advisors and seeking different opinions were essential as well. These two attributes are essential for a project manager during times of crisis.  

“The MPM program showed me that the project management methodology increases the success of the project and reduces the costs resulting from errors,” Kilic said.

McCormick News Article