It’s been said that loyalty is one of the most important aspects when it comes to being part of a group and that could not be more true than being part of a family. That’s why MOM.CEO was thrilled when Irem Tuzunalper, CEO of Extra Loyalty Solutions Co. which has offices in England, Turkey, and Romania accepted our invitation to be interviewed and to share with us her wisdom about business and family.
MOM.CEO: Do you feel that mothers who are MOM.CEOs have it harder at balancing their work/life duties than DAD.CEOs?
IT: This might surprise you, but actually I believe on the contrary. I think being a mother helps you to be even better at time management, organization skills and balancing your work/life duties.
MOM.CEO: The world pandemic of COVID-19 has forced many leaders to rethink their business models and adapt to a new reality as well as to working and leading from home while being parents at the same time. Before, they had the luxury of separating both these worlds so they could focus on 1 at a time. Now that both worlds have collided, how do you see being a leader and being a mother evolving in the near to long-term future? Will we return to the 2-world system or are we now evolving to a new form of balancing the act of being a leader and mother for the foreseeable future?
IT: I think we should all be prepared for the ‘New Normal’. Nothing is going to be as it was before, if not ever, at least for a long time.
Families and companies should start adapting to the new reality.
Most Leaders, including myself, already have their own study rooms at home which will turn into small offices. New rules at home will, therefore, take effect in the form of “office room hours” meaning…unless urgent, I am not actually home, do not disturb!
Distant learning for adults and now for kids is already a reality. They might be at home, but they are actually in class. The whole education system will be re-visited in my opinion.
Big offices have also started to realize this shift as they understand that some people have become even more productive when working from home. Take a look at the freelance market and digital nomads. This has been the standard for them already for many years. I also see this affecting the office real-estate market as the total square meters to house employees and the huge corner offices will actually no longer be necessary. I would even guess that many CEOs might become 'virtual CEOs' in some sense.
MOM.CEO: What is your favorite activity with your kids?
IT: Our favorite activity for the past several years has been spending time together and talking about life over a nice bottle of wine (my daughter is now 23, so it is a great luxury). I get the best advice from her and hope that I am giving back the same.
We also love discovering secluded beaches where we can spend the whole day with a picnic basket appreciating all the blessings life has granted us.
MOM.CEO: How do you stay grounded with your family when everyone around you aims to elevate you because of your CEO status?
IT: Honestly this was particularly hard in the beginning as my daughter was only five back then and I had just reached a C level position at a very young age (when I was 31) which made it quite difficult to balance work and home.
Over time, I came to the conclusion that at work I must lead, but at home, I need to be a mother who is part of a bigger and most personal team with my husband. My CEO status has no bearing on my duties as a mother and wife. Remembering this helps keep me grounded on what is truly important for my family.
Irem with her family on her daughter's graduation day in London, England
MOM.CEO: What would be your top 5 tips for being a successful MOM.CEO?
IT: I believe my tips are quite simple and easy to follow.
1. Wake up early or sleep late (whichever suits you best) in order to give yourself quiet and quality time. If you don’t, you will start blaming others such as your husband or kids for not giving you enough time for yourself. This always creates unnecessary tension.
2. Listen very attentively. Kids are very smart. If you do not listen carefully, you can miss a very crucial part of the conversation and end up with unexpected surprises.
“I told you I was staying over at my boyfriend's house and you nodded yes”.
3. Mark on your calendar the days and times that are very important for your kids. It can be a soccer event or just the day before an important exam. Always try to be there for them as much as possible.
"Meetings can be rescheduled, but special moments happen only once."
4. Explain what you do at work to your kids at a very early age. Take them to the office, make them feel the energy you create among people. Try to relate it to a good cause in the hopes that it will stick with them and help them appreciate and understand you more.
5. Take every opportunity to congratulate and appreciate your kids. Make them feel special and help them to grow into their own chosen field that they can become passionate about. They don’t have to be like us. I always remind myself that it can't be easy to live with successful parents since the bar in front of them is already set high enough. They should set their own bars rather than be competing with you.
MOM.CEO: Are you the CEO in your home? If no, who is?
IT: I can't say that I am the CEO nor is my husband. The more the kids grow, the more they start ruling the house with all their needs and activities, and as parents, we end up being becoming designated drivers and helpers. Maybe we are a bit more relaxed at home with them as I believe it comes from the guilt that we can't spend as much time with them as we would like because of our hectic schedules.
Irem and her daughter
MOM.CEO: Do you believe it’s right for a parent to invest financially in their kid’s start-up?
IT: I have to say “yes” to this since I already invested in my daughter’s start-up last year. She came up with the idea of having a neighborhood loyalty program in London. We sat together and I asked her a whole range of tricky, hard, and nasty questions. She was well prepared and practically answered them all.
It was made clear to her that we would invest up to a certain level, but then she would need to find additional investors or make enough income to support her venture.
She is now about to pitch to investors to raise more investment and as a mother, I am super emotional and excited for her!
MOM.CEO: Being in the investment industry where stress and pressure are high, do you have any advice on how not to let it affect your relationship with your kids?
IT: My solution is to meditate as often as possible and to understand that all the stress and pressure from work will eventually end at some point, but my relationship with my family will last a lifetime. But of course, I can't say I am great at it yet. In cases where stress was clearly shown, I try to be honest about it and to apologize for my behavior. I try to always remember what matters most in life and to evolve for the better.
Being a CEO means attending many speaking events
MOM.CEO: What do you want to look back on and be proud of about being a mother?
IT: That my kids can stand on their own two feet and survive no matter what life throws at them with dignity and be able to keep their heads high so that they will never give up dreaming. This would make me proud.
MOM.CEO: Do you have time management tricks that you could share?
IT: I don't have any particular tricks, but I try to condense several time slots for any kind of work or life activity including sleeping. I wake up very early and go to bed very late. I sleep a maximum of 5 hours, but I meditate myself into a deep sleep which makes a big difference in my overall sleep quality.
Whatever I do, I try to stay in the moment, so I can get the most out of it. I believe that when you are in the moment with no distractions, you can actually manage your time more effectively which equates to needing less time to accomplish the same task as you would if your mind were dealing with 10 things.
MOM.CEO: How do you deal with work versus home conflicts?
IT: That's a good question! At work, I try to stay calm and to take 10 deep breaths and most importantly I make sure to listen to all involved parties carefully. Finally, I have to trust my 'gut feeling' very carefully before commenting.
At home, it's harder as I am more emotionally connected to the people as opposed to work where boundaries are clear. At home, I still need to try to listen, but as I said, the consequences and outcomes are more personal as opposed to work. I have to thank you again for this question, as I just realized that I need to give this challenge a bit more thought and how or if I should adjust my reactions as I would at work to benefit the home situation in a more constructive way.
MOM.CEO: The word NO is a powerful word in business. How does its meaning work in your home?
IT: It can be really tough at home, especially during the kid's teenage years. They never take NO for an answer and always like to test the limits by pushing and pushing to the very end. I've successfully managed hundreds of people during my 25+ years career but teaching that NO means NO to a teenager has to be one of the hardest challenges I believe I have experienced.
The best thing to do is to keep explaining clearly and constructively why it's a NO and even more important is to be fair in your reasoning and conclusion.
"A fast NO for the sake of temporarily solving a situation is not a good long-term strategy."
MOM.CEO: What top-3 lessons did your parents or a mentor leave you with that you feel are still relevant in today’s digitally connected world?
IT: I am very lucky on that front as both of my parents are medical doctors from an era where equipment was not as advanced as we have today. Doctors back then were true researchers and problem-solvers in their own rights.
1) They told me “nature has all the answers when you are in trouble. Look at nature as a whole and how plants, animals, and weather are acting” you will find the answer.
2) Always focus on the root cause of any illness. It's usually very simple. Think on a basic level before putting your mind into complications as you might get lost in it.
3) It's all about the people and how you make them feel. Make sure to listen carefully and be there for people in a genuine way without expecting something in return.
MOM.CEO: Being in the financial world, what 5-key items should be taught to kids at an early age about business and money management?
IT: I believe talking about business and money management is something we tried to teach our kids from an early age. The earlier the better.
1. Teaching the thought process is vital. Why I am doing what I am doing? Who will be affected by it and how? What will be the outcome?
2. What is the value proposition? The meaning of value in business should be explained clearly.
3. Respecting yourself and respecting others without judging should be thought and explained well before coming to any conclusion.
4. They should truly understand the power of money. When it comes to money, 20 dollars can be a lot or too little depending on what you want to get. It's all about perspective and buying power.
5. Always try to save when making money.
"Fill up as much water as possible while the water is still running."
Feeling proud as parents on their daughter's graduation day.
MOM.CEO: Any last words, advice, etc.?
IT: Being a MOM.CEO has great advantages, especially if you can raise what I call a 'rebel teenager' that is complex in character extremes but is a good-hearted, well-grounded, and highly intellectual person. This means you can connect easily to many different groups of people and forge a deep and lasting bond with them.
About Irem Tuzunalper
Irem Tuzunalper is the co-founder and CEO of Extra Loyalty Solutions Co. which is one of the largest loyalty and payment solution technology companies with offices in London, Istanbul, and Bucharest.
She became a C Level Executive at the age of 31, where she was the youngest financial services executive in the field at that time. She was nominated to cover multiple geographies with a constant need for travel. Following her professional C Level positions in Banking, Retail, and Technology with a successful 15 years track record. In 2006, she moved on to become an entrepreneur by launching and running her own businesses.
Irem has multiple awards for leadership and team building. She has a proven track record of executing projects from scratch. Recognized as a respected opinion leader in her field, she is a regular speaker at international loyalty conferences.
Irem is very passionate about empowering and encouraging young professionals especially women in the field of math and engineering by helping them to focus on innovation within technology.
She is now focused on building a mobile platform for B2C operations dedicated to increasing the lifestyle and quality of university students.
Irem Tuzunalper with her students.
For more information: www.unikuni.com