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GE’s Arman Köklü: “They Told Me It Was Impossible And I Did It Anyway”

One thing I learned over time is that it is far better to stay astute like an apprentice versus to strive to master a profession. In fact, it requires much more wisdom and strength to be an apprentice. By maintaining a lifelong sense of exploration and turning to science as a guiding light, you will — as Atatürk once said — have a better chance of being a source of light to those around you.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Arman Köklü

Arman Köklü joined GE from Siemens in 2013 through the GE PMDP, Project Management Leadership Program, taking on various roles in GE Power& Water, Power Services and Renewables businesses based in New York, US and Salzbergen, Germany. Following the program Arman joined GE Gas Power Systems as a Project Manager in Europe, Africa & Middle East region based in Istanbul, gaining extensive project delivery experience in various GE technologies in Energy and Power Generation Landscape.

Before the age of 30, he had managed multiple projects in North America, Europe, Middle East and Africa- putting in total more than 100 Wind, Gas and Steam Turbines into operation in multiple countries like US, Canada, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Ghana.

Arman holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Yeditepe University, Istanbul and Master of Science in Power Engineering from Brandenburgische Technische Universität, Cottbus. He is currently based in Baden, Switzerland as a Senior Project Manager working in GE Gas Power Europe & Africa Regions managing a portfolio of Projects worth over USD 500 Million.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit better. Can you tell us your ‘backstory’?

I was born in a small Mediterranean Village in Southern Turkey. I left my hometown at the age of 18 for college and never stopped moving after that. Since then, I have worked and lived across 3 continents, 6 countries and 10 cities. I hold a B.Sc. in Mechanical Engineering from Yeditepe University in Istanbul and M.Sc. in Power Engineering from Brandenburg University of Technology in Cottbus Germany.

As a Senior Project Manager at GE, my responsibilities include project delivery, profit and loss accountability, and customer satisfaction through the management of project-related activities and resources on various Power Generation projects through the EMEA region. Recently, I was named to Project Management Institute’s Future 50 list for my work in helping deliver energy to communities around the world. The Future 50 list recognizes 50 individuals that are part of the next generation helping to create, build and transform The Project Economy — where work increasingly centers around executing projects both large and small — and make ideas reality.

I currently live in Zurich, Switzerland with my wife.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am working on multiple exciting projects in energy landscape as a Project Director for GE Gas Power. One particular project that keeps me busy these days: Working to build the world’s largest liquid petroleum gas (LPG)-fired, combined cycle power plant in Africa. We believe that gas is a big part of the solution to Africa’s energy challenges and the scale, access, and dependability of gas is a great catalyst to support renewable sources. Sub-Saharan Africa today might represent less than 20 percent of the world’s population, but it also represents almost 50 percent of the world’s population who does not have access to consistent-reliable power. So, this project would make a substantial and immediate impact on the African people

This is a perfect example of our purpose — engineering cleaner, more accessible energy that people depend on; powering growth and prosperity everywhere; and doing our best during this time of continuous global chaos and enormous wave of geopolitical, societal, and technological change which is reshaping the world.

In your opinion, what do you think makes your company or organization stand out from the crowd?

We rise to the challenge of building a world that works. Several companies and organizations might have similar purpose statements, but few have the installed base, customer base, and technology that GE has to fulfill this promise. The work we do at GE has been and will be fundamental to a world that works (be it energy, healthcare or aviation).

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us? What was your idea? What was the reaction of the naysayers? And how did you overcome that?

I acknowledged the fact that there will always be people telling me that something is impossible. But I use this as a source of motivation. When we were asked to relocate an existing power plant in 14 days to another state during a National holiday in Saudi Arabia, it was easier to resist and push back.

But instead, we rose to the challenge. We quantified the risks associated with the project and communicated this information clearly to all stakeholders.

And the result? The project was completed in less than two weeks — beating all worldwide records for a project of this size and scale. But even more importantly, we earned the unconditional trust of our customer, which led to more projects and further cooperation in the Middle East.

In the end, how were all the naysayers proven wrong?

The success of this project, together with others, has led to a streamlined process, service, and technology of a Mobile Power Plant solution that can deliver power to thousands of homes in less than 2 days. All those naysayers were proven wrong thanks to our team in Hungary who showed that it’s possible to break down, transport, rebuild, and power up a power plant capable of supplying 9,000 homes in less than 48 hours. This is a lightning-fast accomplishment in an industry where speed and reliability is usually measured in months.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

It would have been impossible for me to accomplish anything without our GE and FieldCore colleagues, and all the wisdom, mentorship, and support I’ve received every single step of my life. It is almost impossible to choose one particular person as I was extremely fortunate to be surrounded by great minds from an early age.

However, there is one particular historical person I have always looked up to — Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. This year marks the 81st anniversary of his passing, but his impact on people from non-developed and developing countries is still felt to this day. He was truly a great leader who brought Turkey into the modern world. His focus on science was always inspiring to me telling those that: “If one day, my words are against science, choose science.”

It must not have been easy to ignore all the naysayers. Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share the story with us?

I was exposed to extremely different cultures while growing up, which has contributed to me building a diverse sense of resiliency. There will always be people who tell you why you shouldn’t pursue your goals or take them a step further. I decided to use these naysayers as fuel versus a hinderance, and turned this energy into a great strength: resilience and grit. I have leveraged this resiliency and grit to navigate the cultures of every place I have lived — from a disciplined Central European culture to a more friendly Mediterranean way of life to a result-oriented American way of living.

Based on your experience, can you share 5 strategies that people can use to harness the sense of tenacity and do what naysayers think is impossible? (Please share a story or an example for each)

There are several strategies I recommend:

  1. Embrace a culture of respect, one that values inclusive teams and diverse perspectives. Treating everyone with respect and fairness, and holding others accountable to do the same will enable a culture that promotes healthy debates, encourages differing viewpoints, and creates a safe space for exchanging and incubating new ideas. By leveraging diverse perspectives, teams can more effectively weigh their options and reach more informed, dynamic decisions. I try to identify individuals with diverse backgrounds and experience when collaborating and building teams. This is one of the lessons I learned from a 200-MW wind farm project in Canada. By bringing together a team with diverse backgrounds and experiences, we were able to more nimbly make decisions while building a 120-meter wind turbine — and even in a work environment with temperatures at -20 ºC, a windchill at -35 ºC.
  2. Foster transparency and honesty on your teams. I am working every day to better embrace candor, saying what I think, not what people want to hear. In my experience, this creates an environment founded on trust, and protects and inspires transparency. By encouraging an open dialogue — even when it’s uncomfortable — and seeking to explore different viewpoints while communicating clearly, honestly, and constructively, I have broken down silos and created more effective discourse across teams and functions. Of course, this should come without losing sight of confidentiality.
  3. Try to actively listen to internal and external sources. This includes staying informed on the latest industry trends and leading practices and promoting these internally to help stretch and challenge current thinking/approaches and deliver value to your stakeholders. Listening and then asking clarifying questions will also help establish a mutual understanding before arriving at a decision or outcome. And by seeking and accepting constructive feedback, and incorporating others’ ideas into your work, you will likely produce a better outcome overall.
  4. Take time to self-reflect. I always try to learn from my shortcomings as much as I celebrate my wins. You should always look for development opportunities and shouldn’t be afraid to openly share your own developmental areas. It creates a culture of accountability and continuous learning when you acknowledge that there is always room to improve.
  5. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Benjamin Franklin once said that by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. While I try to keep that in the back of my mind at all times, I to show persistence to “try and see” without seeking perfection. Being prepared means also being ready to pivot when necessary versus being stuck in your ways. You should consistently be in search of new and better ways to deliver value from your projects.

What is your favorite quote or personal philosophy that relates to the concept of resilience?

There is no force as powerful as an idea that you truly believe will help you and those around you become better than the day before. Because at the end of the day, people are your key ingredient to success. As Charles de Gaulle said, “Nothing great will ever be achieved without great men, and men are great only if they are determined to be so.”

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

One thing I learned over time is that it is far better to stay astute like an apprentice versus to strive to master a profession. In fact, it requires much more wisdom and strength to be an apprentice. By maintaining a lifelong sense of exploration and turning to science as a guiding light, you will — as Atatürk once said — have a better chance of being a source of light to those around you.

A mindset that embraces flexibility and adaptability every single day is a must-have skill to succeed in life. Only if you are willing to continually learn and are not paralyzed by new knowledge, can you deliver value in today’s world where even the best laid plans can often shift dramatically.

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.