One in three companies in Germany was founded by a non-German. Discriminated against in the job market, immigrants often find that creating their own company is the only way to make it.
FRANKFURT - The man with the Turkish name, sporting an accent from the Gerv multi-millionaire. "My brothers and I always played a lot of computer games," says Avni Yerli. "And then one day we started to think about designing our own games."
When they finished their first prototype in 2000, the three brothers flew to the Electronic Entertainment Expo – the world's largest games fair -- in Los Angeles to find somebody willing to publish it. But at first, they found no takers. "It was only when we became desperate, and started telling people that we'd put everything we had into it, and had come to the States just for this, that we started getting people's attention. After that we were known as ‘Oh yeah, the three brothers from Germany.""
Today, the company that the Yerlis created, Crytek, employs 600 people worldwide and has studios in Frankfurt, Kiev, Budapest, Seoul and Nottingham. The difficulties they had starting their company, Avni Yerli believes, had less to do with the fact that they are Turkish than the fact that they had no business experience. Avni, 42, and Faruk, 40, were born in Inisdibi, Turkey, while Cevat, 34, was born in Coburg, in the German state of Bavaria. Their father left their small Black Sea village to go to Germany to work as a carpenter in a furniture factory.
Avni Yerli thinks that growing up in two cultures was an advantage. "From the Germans, we got discipline, efficiency, and a sense of quality. But Turkish culture is less risk-averse, more communicative. Things aren't taken quite so seriously, but respect and honesty are important. If you give your word then you stay true to it."
Turks use their intuition more, he says, but the German penchant for thoroughness is a huge plus -- creativity and planning, a great combination. "Basically, the German and the Turkish mentalities complement each other perfectly," Yerli says.
That 50 years of Turkish migration to Germany represents a big opportunity is something that many German companies don't seem to have grasped yet. People with an immigration background aren't considered as equals to Germans in the job market. That's according to a report on integration commissioned by the German government that will be published Wednesday.
There has however been "measurable improvement" since 2005 says the Federal Government Commissioner for Migration, Refugees and Integration, Maria Böhmer, in her foreword to the 700-page document. For example, a growing numbers of young children from immigrant families are going to daycare centers.
The number of young people leaving school early is going down, while the number of young people from immigration backgrounds getting higher degrees is on the rise. Statistics show that the difference in educational levels level between immigrants and Germans is still significant, but immigrants are catching up fast.
The "Turkish bazaar" factor
The report applauds the fact that immigrant families are increasingly seeing early education as a stepping-stone for doing well at school later. Between 2008 and 2011, the number of children from immigrant families in daycare increased by 53% which was significantly more than the increase of German children (39%).
But jobless figures show that the position of immigrants has gotten worse despite such successes: in 2011, there was 2.35 times more unemployment among immigrants than among Germans.
That figure has been on the rise continuously for the past six years. Taken together, these parallel trends means there's only one path to success for immigrants: becoming self-employed. "For people with an immigration background, founding their own company often paves the way to integration," the report says. The percentage of immigrants who do just that has been on a constant rise since 2005, and now stands at 12.3%.
Nearly one-third of companies in Germany were founded by people without a German passport. In 2010, there were three times as many companies created by Turks as there were 20 years ago. And today, some 80,000 Turkish companies employ 400,000 people with a total turnover of 36 billion euros.
Depending on the sector, employees in these businesses may be up to 40% German. "The size and number of Turkish businesses in Germany is going to go up sharply in the next few years," says Rainhardt von Leoprechting, chair of the Cologne-based Turkish-German Chamber of Industry and Commerce. "They create a lot of jobs."
Successful integration of immigrants is crucial to the future success of Germany, where one out of three children under five has an immigration background. Especially in view of the growing lack of candidates to fill German jobs, integrating such children more successfully into the job market is essential if Germany is to stay a first-tier economy.
The Yerli company has 130 German and 20 Turkish employees; the rest come from 38 different countries. The office language is English.
Avni Yeri thinks that Germany could make more of an effort to help such businesses. "Especially at the beginning, when Turkish entrepreneurs encounter problems such as getting credit. There are some fundamental gaps, one of them being that the banks don't really bother to try and understand what the entrepreneur's ideas are. More trust is needed."
He adds that the specific qualities Turks can bring to the table are often overlooked. "Turks are strong on marketing. They're good talkers, you can see that when they're in a selling situation. Think of a Turkish bazaar – you always end up buying something."
Read the article in German in Die Welt.
Photo - Crytek