An educational trip to the United States brought Engin Yesil from Turkey to South Florida ripe with innovative business ideas and a penchant for contributing generously to children in need.
By Vanessa Valera
Living under Yesil’s modus operandi, “one child at a time will make the world a better place,” will definitely have a positive ripple effect on today’s society.
If you don’t believe in the American dream, Engin Yesil, a driven entrepreneur with a relentless zeal for victory, will make you believe. “I came to the United States to get an education, so that I can go back and run my family business in Turkey,” he continues, “I was an entrepreneur since birth, but I realized all the opportunities this country offered, and I was hooked on becoming the American dream.”
PLAY HARD, WORK HARDER
As is the case with most entrepreneurial ventures, the perfect blend of determination and destiny prompted Yesil to found his first business. As he recalls, his college girlfriend lost her contact lenses and was forced to pay $350 to replace them, an amount that seemed quite steep to Yesil. He started a mail order contact lens company, called it Lens Express, today known as 1-800 CONTACTS. The company became the leading source for contact lens replacement, shipping 80,000 lenses daily. The company’s mission remains the same today-to provide clients with the fastest, easiest, and least expensive way to replace contact lenses. When Yesil sold Lens Express in 1996, he gravitated to different fields and founded a number of other companies, including Ntera, the largest private network operator in the US, providing Voice over IP as early as 2001. Creating an efficient VOIP network to deliver toll quality voice services was Yesil’s goal, and he unquestionably succeeded.
So how exactly does Yesil pummel the competition? “Our staying-ahead-of-the-curve formula is thanks to technology,” he admits. “Technology drives today’s society, and it’s extremely important to my business.” Taking this teckie dream a step further motivated Yesil to found companies such as Iprepay, a pioneer company in delivering store value products such as Prepaid Wireless Airtime, Calling Cards, Bill Payment and more.
Iprepay recently integrated its services onto ATM machines, merging banking, credit-card processing, telecommunication services, and stored value products into a single device. “I am very aggressive in implementing technologies that make our systems run efficiently across multiple platforms” he says. “Hard work is the main component-my team’s dedication and countless all-nighters are what took us to this level.” Iprepay’s terminals are currently installed at more than 10,000 retail locations across the country. But that is not all! The company’s goal is to have over 50,000 ATM machines across the country delivering all of their services in addition to simple ATM transactions.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE KIDS
Living under Yesil’s modus operandi, “one child at a time will make the world a better place,” will definitely have a positive ripple effect on today’s society. In 2005 alone, Yesil donated more than $1.5 million to different non-profit organizations including Bay Point Schools and Make-A-Wish Foundation, and local schools like the Fisher Island Day School. “Spending all my free time with my son, Ali, makes me realize how important it is to give a child a good upbringing,” Yesil confesses.
After a little reflection and seeing his son grow so quickly, Yesil decided to get hands-on experience when it came to charity work, so he recently decided to set up a program called “Consequences” in conjunction with Bay Point Schools. The program will be a nationwide preventive education course to be offered at schools where families can enroll their children to learn about the immediate and future consequences of alcohol, drug abuse, unprotected sex and other social issues. “Consequences” is scheduled to begin at Bay Point Schools and gradually expand to other cities, where children will get acquainted with all these problems by educational and interactive activities, including watching video interviews with inmates who explain, in detail, the severity of imprisonment from the use or sale of illegal substances.
“Kids will learn precise consequences like ending up in jail for 10 years if they are caught with five ecstasy pills. The program will teach them that drugs can ruin their lives,” Yesil explains. “It gives me great pleasure to help our kids.”
REAL ESTATE TAKEOVER
With today’s booming real estate market, who would not want to get a piece of the action? Buying right is Yesil’s simple advice to real estate investors. The mogul has an extensive real estate portfolio starting with some of his recent purchases, which comprise a mansion on Star Island, a villa on Fisher Island, a 50-acre ranch in Jupiter to name a few and units in the exclusive Canyon Ranch, W, Continuum II, and all other major buildings.
Indeed, he is considered to be one of South Florida’s most valued investors, and gets special treatment when it comes to new developments. Most of the units he buys are all purchased at pre-reservation prices. “The developments did not even have brochures or any materials when they came to me with the idea and I purchased,” Yesil reveals.
One day, Yesil took this devotion for real estate and his entrepreneurial passion to a higher level by forming Core Development, a real estate corporation that contributes to South Florida’s booming real estate market. A flourishing mélange of his businesses guided him to acquire a 12-acre campus in North Miami, where the US based operations are headquartered. The campus was set up as a training facility, where 350 of his 2,000 employees around the world conveniently live by.
The company has a large software development division and a Research & Development lab on campus with educational facilities. “Our US telecom businesses are vertically integrated with many facets, from wholesale network operations to retail sales, and almost all of it is driven via some form of proprietary software that is developed by us, so it is vital to offer in-house training to our employees.” Yesil proclaims. “They learn new and cutting-edge technologies in a great learning environment, which is something I am very proud of. They learn while on the job.”
HOME SWEET HOME
Even though Yesil has been in the United States for more than 20 years, he still exudes the unmistakable warmth of Turkish culture. “Turkey is, and will always be, a major part of my life. We are headquartered in Yesil Plaza, a startling office tower that we developed in 1999 to run our operations. We have 150 retail shoe outlets throughout the country, a telecommunications company and a real estate development business, which is on track to be bigger than everything else with over 3,000 residential units,” he says.
Under the wing of his father, Mustafa Yesil, Turkey’s largest shoe retailer and manufacturer, he learned the valuable lessons that guided him on the path to success as an entrepreneur in America’s fast-paced and competitive business world. “I remember going to my father’s shoe factories as a child,” Yesil recalls. “He had a shoe machine manufacturing division; I used to watch him build many of the complicated machines. That is where I learned to be innovative.” Indeed, his dad’s engineering background was a major impact on his career.
Three years ago, the Turkish tycoon was swept off his feet by Ayesha, an Indian princess, and he set his mind to marry and become a family man. She has since become a great mother figure for his 5-year-old son. “Family is key and important. I was always brought up this way,” Yesil says. “I believe kids are simply our future; therefore, raising them correctly should be our primary duty as parents. Every family has unfortunate situations and setbacks, and I feel their pain, so I thank god for all my success and I want to give something back.” Engin Yesil embodies the perfect blend of Turkish traditionalism with a modern twist of American fervor that has without a doubt led him to accomplish the American Dream.