Vehbi Koç (20 July 1901, Çoraklı, Ankara, Ottoman Empire – 25 February 1996) was a Turkish entrepreneur and philanthropist. He founded the Koç Group, one of Turkey’s largest groups of companies. During his lifetime he came to be one of Turkey's wealthiest citizens.
Vehbi Koç was born in 1901 in Çorakalı, a predominately Muslim neighborhood in Ankara. Vehbi Koç then lived in a vineyard estate located in the Keçiören district near Ankara. Purchased by his father in 1923, the property, which was left vacant after the Kasapyan family escaped the Armenian Genocide, was later acquired by Koç and became the Vehbi Koç museum in 1944 after a thorough renovation.
Koç began his working career in 1917 at the small grocery store his father opened in Ankara for him. The first firm he established was "Koçzade Ahmet Vehbi" and was registered in 1926 at the Ankara Chamber of Commerce. While dealing with commerce, he became the local representative of Ford Motor Company and Standard Oil (presently Mobil) in 1928. When Ankara became the capital of young Turkish Republic, construction activities increased and Vehbi Koç began trading in construction materials, building supplies and hardware. Following establishment of branch offices in Istanbul and Eskişehir in 1938, Koç gathered its enterprises under the company Koç Ticaret A.Ş.
In 1942, Vehbi Koç, who had not played any role in the Varlik Vergisi, saw the opportunities it afforded him as a businessman and took over many collapsed or confiscated companies. One such acquisition by Koç was a building in Istanbul owned by an Armenian named Margarios Ohanyan, who had sold the property worth 1.5-2 million liras through public auction at a price significantly below value, in the owner's attempt to avoid paying the tax-hike. Koç, nevertheless, hired many of the former owners and treated them with fairness and without racial prejudice.
Having convinced General Electric, he signed an agreement in 1948 to build a light bulb factory, which opened in 1952. Koç took important steps in industry in the 1950s and manufactured automobiles, household appliances, radiators, electronic devices, textiles and matches. Factories like Bozkurt Mensucat, Arçelik (1955), Demir Dokum (1954), Turkay, Aygaz (1962), Gazal, Turk Elektrik Endustrisi and a joint cable factory with Siemens were founded. In addition tractor production started under the Fiat license.
The first initiative by Koç in the automotive sector turned eventually to a full-scale industry. Following an agreement with Ford Motor Company in 1959 to assemble trucks, today's prominent automotive company Otosan came to life. Following the production of the first domestic mass-production car Anadol in 1966 and in line with improving economic activities in Turkey, Vehbi Koç collaborated with the Italian company FIAT to establish Tofaş in 1968 resulting in the production of the second domestic car Murat in 1971.
Vehbi Koç consolidated all of the companies bearing his name under the same roof in 1963 and founded Koç Holding A.Ş. The holdings era in Turkey started with this step by Vehbi Koç and a great number of businessmen followed him. The group also has international partnerships with well-known companies such as Fiat, Ford Motor Co., Yamaha and Allianz. During his 76-year career, he created an immense organization with more than 108 companies in the Koç Group, all of which are specialized in different sectors such as food, retailing, finance, energy, automotives, tourism and technology. The Koç Group has 80,000 employees, ca.$40 billion turnover, $900 million of exports and $500–600 million of investment annually. Today, it is one of the world's 200 largest enterprises. Koç retired in 1984 to devote more time to social activities. His son Rahmi took over the leadership of the Koç Group companies.
Vehbi Koç founded an Eye Bank at the Faculty of Medicine of Ankara University, a Cardiology Institute at the Faculty of Medicine of Istanbul University, the Turkish Education Foundation (Türk Eğitim Vakfı), and the Vehbi Koç Student Dorm at ODTÜ (METU).
He established the Vehbi Koç Foundation on 17 January 1969 to promote activities in the fields of education, health and culture. Vehbi Koç donated the Atatürk Library in Taksim, Istanbul to the Municipality of Istanbul in 1976 and in 1980 opened Turkey's first private museum, the Sadberk Hanim Museum in memory of his late wife, Sadberk.
Koç was honorary chairman of Gençlerbirliği S.K. in Ankara.
Koç School opened in 1988, and Koç University opened its classroom doors in 1993. He also established the Türkiye Aile Sağlığı ve Planlaması Vakfı (The Turkish Family Health and Planning Foundation) and functioned as the president of the foundation until his death.
Vehbi Koç died from heart failure on 25 February 1996 in a hotel in Antalya, where he was with his daughter Sevgi and son-in-law celebrating the Ramazan Bayrami holiday. His corpse was transported the same evening to Istanbul by the Koç Holding's business jet. On 27 February 1996, following funeral service held at the holding's headquarter and later in Fatih Mosque, he was laid to rest at the Zincirlikuyu Cemetery. He was succeeded by his son Rahmi Koç (b. 1930), and his daughters Semahat Arsel (b. 1928), Sevgi Gönül (1938–2003) and Suna Kıraç (b. 1941).
Snatching of corpse
On 24 October 1996, the corpse of Vehbi Koç was snatched from his grave. After some time, the body snatchers called the Koç family and demanded a ransom. As the family refused to pay, they applied to the TV channel Kanal D, owned by Aydın Doğan, demanding 20 billion TL (around US$210,000 at that time). Since Kanal D showed no interest, the body snatchers called the TV channel InterStar, owned then by Cem Uzan, and reached an agreement to release the corpse against 25 billion TL (around US$260,000).
Informed by the TV channel, the police captured two suspects, who came to the meeting point in a stolen car. Later, three other accomplices, including a woman and a hotel owner, were also arrested. Vehbi Koç's corpse was found in another grave at the same cemetery not far from his resting place.
At the request of the public prosecutor, the remains were taken to the city forensic medicine laboratory for identification by DNA profiling. Finally, the remains were reinterred in the presence of the family members.
- "Hayat Hikayem" (Story of My Life), 1973 (Turkish and English)
- "Hatıralarım, Görüşlerim, Öğütlerim" (My Memories, Visions, Advices), 1987 (Turkish and English)
In "Targets and Principles", a document published for employees working in his companies, he states, "My constitutional law is this: I exist if my country and my state exists. We all exist if there is democracy. We must put in our best efforts into strengthening the economy of our country. As our economy strengthens, democracy will take a stronger hold and our credibility in the world will increase".