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A True "Abi": Remembering Ziya G. Boyacigiller

Image By Nakiye A. Boyacıgiller, Ph.D. - Two years ago I lost the love of my life, my husband of 39 years (sweetheart for 43), Ziya G. Boyacıgiller. When our friends at TPF asked me to write about Ziya, a founding partner and board member of the organization, I hesitated. How should I describe such an amazing man with so many wonderful attributes to those who might have never met him? Ziya did not like talking about himself; one of his main qualities, indeed was his humility. I believe this makes it even more important to tell his story.

We met in our first year at Boğaziçi University (then still Robert College) and started dating that summer. I was immediately attracted to Ziya not just for his good looks and intelligence, but because he was a young renaissance man. An electrical engineering student, he played the violin, loved jazz, had a brown belt in judo and a great sense of humor. I fell in love almost instantly…and fortunately, so did he.

While at Boğaziçi I fell in love not only with Ziya but with university life as well and decided to pursue an academic career. That meant moving to the US for graduate school. Ziya was not keen to move, but fortunately he was keen for us to stay together. We applied to several schools, among the schools that accepted both of us, UCLA, was our first choice---and thus began our life in the US.

Ziya worked nonstop during our two years at UCLA. Being a top ranked engineering program, the classes were more challenging than he expected. In addition, as he didn’t want to be a financial burden on his parents, he sought work on campus. Initially, the only work he could find was as a busboy at the university cafeteria. I hated seeing him busing tables, to which he replied, ‘All work is honorable.” Throughout his life Ziya always treated everyone with respect; this made him loved by people from all walks of life.

From the outside Ziya and I appeared very different, a classic rendition of opposites attract. Yet we shared many of the same values, and this is what I believe is what is most important in a good marriage. While love of family was always our number one priority, we both worked to achieve success in our professions. We also wanted to make a contribution in our community; this would be a leitmotif throughout our married life.

For example, while at UCLA we were both active in the Turkish Students Association. Ziya’s talent for cooking first shone at a campus food fair where the Turkish booth was the most popular (thanks to his kadın budu köftesi, and irmik helvası). In later years, Ziya’s desire to introduce Turkish cuisine to a wider audience and willingness to contribute to his community found us often doing fundraisers in our home showcasing his culinary talents. Legendary amongst these are the time he baked 20 trays (!) of baklava for the Monterey Cultural Festival and the Turkish dinner parties that became a favorite of the annual fundraiser at Castilleja School which Belkıs and Esen attended.

Upon graduation from UCLA Ziya joined Intersil as a design engineer and our Silicon Valley odyssey began. While his seniors were designing integrated circuits by hand, Ziya was of the new generation using computer aided design. A few years later, he joined Maxim as one of their first team members. After many years of working as an engineer at Maxim, he moved onto the managerial side. That was one of the best decisions he ever made. While his training and early success was in engineering, he really shone as a business manager and master strategist. As he shared his wisdom and kindness, his seminars on self-development and business strategies at Maxim soon became quite famous. In fact, Maxim’s current CEO, Tunç Doluca, wrote Ziya just before his passing that Maxim still uses many of the methodologies introduced by Ziya.

In 2000, after working for 17 years at a pretty relentless pace at Maxim, Ziya decided to take early retirement. He began investing in start-ups as an angel investor, teaching entrepreneurship at my university, and taking cello lessons (starting cello at age 50 is a great example of Ziya’s growth mind-set). He vowed to play in public by age 60; which he did at his niece, Ceylan’s wedding.

Ziya’s “retirement” was to be short-lived. In 2003, I was recruited to join Sabancı University in Istanbul as dean of their business school. After having spent our entire careers in California, Ziya and I decided it was time to give back to our home country and also spend time with our ailing parents. I wondered what Ziya would do while I was working long hours at Sabancı; I need not have worried. Entrepreneurship was just taking off in Turkey and soon Ziya was in demand everywhere. He taught Entrepreneurship at Sabancı University, was a founding partner at Galata Business Angels, and an advisor at Endeavor. He was an angel investor and board member at Airties, Artesis and Vistek among others. He was invited to several advisory meetings for the Turkish government and this is just a partial list! My retired sweetheart was working at almost a full time pace.

In time, Ziya began to be referred to as ‘Ziya Abi’ by Istanbul’s young entrepreneurs. In case you are not familiar with the word, “Abi” translates to older brother in Turkish. It is also used as an adjective to emphasize respect and sincerity for those people you are not related to. This was the case for Ziya. His kindness and generosity of spirit made him the Ziya Abi of Istanbul’s entrepreneurship eco-system.

Indeed, I think Ziya’s most important role was as mentor to young entrepreneurs. What made him such a great mentor? His generosity and humility were important factors. But I think what made him such an appreciated mentor was that he was a great teacher. His way of teaching was not telling you what to do, but asking you questions, to get you to think. Even while at Maxim, younger colleagues remember the question he asked them during the interview process “If I gave you a roll of tape and told you only the diameter of the tape, how would you go about determining how much tape the roll had without actually unrolling it?" He was more interested in seeing how young engineers approached problems…not simply the answer itself.

Ziya lives on, in so many ways. I see many examples of him in our daughters, Belkıs and Esen. Their senses of humor, love of cooking, and music come from their father. The companies he helped to grow, chiefly Maxim, but also Airties, Artesis, and several others are also part of his legacy. He did so much to help grow the entrepreneurship eco-system in Turkey. Yet for me, Ziya’s legacy is in how he touched people’s hearts: "Ziya Abi was an exemplary person.  Even in our everyday life, we will continue to handle difficult situations by asking ourselves, 'How would Ziya Abi approach this?' " Alper Yegin, Head of Standards at Actility, Chairman of Technical Committee at LoRa Alliance.

"Ziya Abi was a super mentor. When asked a question, instead of answering it directly, he would, in his usual calm manner, ask the right questions to lead the entrepreneur not only to find his/her own answers, but at the same time building his/her confidence." Dr. Aytul Ercil, Partner and CEO at Vispera Information Technologies; President, International Women's Forum.

His passion for development and moving forward wasn’t just dedicated to entrepreneurship. Ziya grew up in a family where women participated in the workforce. His mother was a true Cumhuriyet Kadını (woman of the Republic) working full time as a schoolteacher. It is thus not surprising that he ended up being extremely supportive of my career and wanting to see our daughters, Belkıs and Esen grow up as strong women. As a man surrounded by dynamic women all his life, Ziya was a big supporter of women’s empowerment as well as education. He always said that the only way for Turkey to move forward would be through fuller participation of women in the workforce.

Ziya's interest in philanthropy took a new turn when he heard about an idea of establishing a community foundation, which was designed to work as a bridge between Turkish American donors and Turkey - Turkish Philanthropy Funds. He wanted to get involved immediately. In addition to becoming one of TPF’s founding partners, he also served as a Board Member and nourished the organization with his insightful ideas and experience.

Sadly, Ziya passed away almost three years ago at the age of 62, due to a rare form of cancer. As his family, we are devastated by our loss. Yet we find solace in how Ziya approached death and the outpouring of love shown by all the people whose lives he touched. Ziya met death in total peace; he felt that he had lived a good life and had no regrets. Friends and family in California surrounded us during his treatment and in Istanbul where he was laid to rest. Then, TPF’s Board of Directors established a memorial fund to support worthwhile projects in entrepreneurship, education and women empowerment in Ziya’s name- the Ziya Boyacıgiller Memorial Fund. Afterwards, they handed me the management of this significant gift for Ziya. We as a family are also contributing to this fund as have his friends.

Since Ziya’s passing he has been honored posthumously by Galata Business Angels, by the 3G Platform and the Antalya Businesswomen’s Association. The young fellows at the Entrepreneurship Foundation put together a beautiful book of essays about Ziya. I have received heartfelt messages from Ziya’s many friends, colleagues and mentees. All of these remind me that what is important is not how long you live, but how many lives you influence during your time on earth. I find tremendous peace in knowing that Ziya lives on in the hearts and minds of his many friends, his family and countless mentees and through our work at TPF.
Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07
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