Fatma Yuceler looks at every opportunity to help Turkish Airlines grow its presence on the West Coast

Fatma Yuceler had some work to do in order to build a stronger presence for Turkish Airlines in Los Angeles.

“It was easy to associate Turkish Airlines with Turkey, and we are the only nonstop carrier to Turkey from this area,” says Yuceler, general manager, Western USA, at Turkish Airlines. “But we have all these opportunities and connections to other great destinations. We needed to start educating people about all the places we cover in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.”

Yuceler arrived in Los Angeles in May 2010 with the mission of making Los Angeles International Airport the airline’s American gateway to the rest of the world. She had been with the nearly 4,000-employee company for a number of years already, having worked in New York before the LA office even existed. She then took on an airline leadership role in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, helping boost performance in those two countries.

Now, she was once again faced with a significant challenge as she arrived in LA.

“When I transferred from Europe to LA, the biggest challenge I faced was brand awareness,” Yuceler says. “We have strong brand awareness in Europe, but it was very poor in the U.S.”

By March 2012, it was clear things had already begun to change. Turkish Airlines expanded from just four flights a week to daily nonstop service to and from Istanbul. In addition to bolstering the link between LA and Istanbul, Yuceler was also making strides in demonstrating that the airline, which flew 48.3 million passengers in 2013 and registered sales of $9.8 billion, had brought with it a strong global presence to the U.S.

“As a brand-new destination only in this market for a few years, we are doing great,” Yuceler says. “In a very short time, we have succeeded to be profitable and also secured really strong satisfaction with our customers. But still, of course, we do have other goals.”

Here’s a look at how Yuceler built a team that would keep reaching higher to give Turkish Airlines a higher level of awareness in the U.S.


Set the right tone

Whether you’re a manufacturer making widgets or an airline transporting passengers from point A to point B, you need to provide a consistently high level of service if you expect the customer to do business with you on an ongoing basis. This is especially true when you’re trying to build awareness of your business to draw in new customers.

“We always say that hospitality is our tradition,” Yuceler says. “We mention it in all our promotional materials, our brochures and everywhere we can that hospitality is a big tradition in Turkey. We consider our customers our guests and so on an airline, it’s like the customers are guests in our home.”

For Yuceler, this means a strong cabin crew, “richness” in the food offered during flights and a deliberate effort to go above and beyond in providing great service.

“Strong customer service makes a lasting impression and so we really put our heart and soul into making sure that our passengers’ experience, from the moment they step on the plane to the moment they step off, is excellent,” she says.

The key to getting employees to buy in and provide that high level of service often comes down to your ability to make connections with your people.

“We are all completing each other,” Yuceler says. “Everybody has strengths and weaknesses. I’m not perfect, and I still have a lot of things to learn. So our priority is to build and grow as a team.”

It’s not a leadership style that came easy to Yuceler in the beginning stages of her career.

“In the beginning, I was very strict and thought I had to be that way as a leader,” she says. “I had no tolerance. If there was a mistake in operations or in the office, I would get very upset and I was tough with employees.

“But then I realized that you have to learn from your mistakes and learn to understand what you did wrong and get better. I had to learn to work better with people and create a better team.”

Yuceler has strengthened the relationships with her team, but she still has ambitious goals to keep Turkish Airlines growing its LA presence.

“We stay in close communication, my team members and I, and remain focused on our goals,” Yuceler says. “It’s my personality that I’m never satisfied with anything. I never say, ‘OK, we are done. We can just rest now and have fun.’ We always have more to do. We have more daily flights, but our goal is to increase those numbers and open new destinations. There is still so much to achieve.”