After about two decades of working across the globe in international business, A. Umit Taftali is proud to acknowledge that he owes much of his success to the education he received at Ball State in the early 1980s.
The former college volleyball player now works with the largest industrial group in his native Turkey. Yet he fondly remembers the days of learning from former business executives who taught some of his classes in the Miller College of Business.
His greatest mentor and close friend was the late T.J. Ault, a former chief executive officer of a Fortune 500 company before his teaching term as an executive in residence at Ball State.
"T.J. was a terrific role model for me. He was a successful international businessman who taught me a great deal and shaped my values," Taftali says. "I learned my strategic thinking from him. He used to basically force us to write a paper on a business every week. We had to look at the company, analyze it, tear apart its financial statements, and find what was wrong or what could be improved. Then we had to come up with proposals to turn around the business or improve it. T.J. basically ran a virtual consulting company within the department for aspiring young executives."
Into the Great Wide Open
Those real-world lessons and hours of research propelled Taftali into the world of international business. After graduating from Ball State in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in finance, he earned a master’s degree in business administration at the University of South Carolina.
He then began his career as an investment banker, working in Atlanta, New York, and London. He is both the founder and manager of the Suna Kiraç (Koç) Family Office, which is responsible for managing a portfolio of approximately $3 billion in assets. He also is on the executive committee of Koç Holding, chairman of the management committee of Kiraça Holding, and a board member of the Suna and Inan Kiraç Foundation.
Prior to the family office, Taftali was a founding partner of Cesmig & Taftali, a private equity investment partnership in London. His experience includes, too, time in the investment banking division at Goldman Sachs International, where he was an executive director and country head, responsible for building and managing the firm's business in Turkey. Before that, he was a vice president in global merchant banking and mergers and acquisitions groups at Bankers Trust Company and a vice president in corporate finance at Balentine & Company. He began his business career as an associate at Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc.
Since graduating, Taftali has been determined to stay close to Ball State by endowing scholarships and serving as a member of the national committee for Ball State Bold, and the Ball State Foundation board where he also chairs its investment committee.
Wall Street Comes to Campus
The A. Umit Taftali Center for Capital Markets and Investing recognizes his contributions and service to Ball State. The technology-centered classroom/laboratory immerses students in a real-world financial environment, providing opportunities for hands-on training in the workings of capital markets, corporate finance and investments.
"Ball State is a great school because faculty really do care about teaching the students," Taftali says. "Our faculty are willing to spend a lot of time with the students, not only in the classroom settings but also teaching the students life experiences. I believe this center will play a major role in preparing Ball State business majors for a technologically advanced workplace."
Miller College Dean Rajib Sanyal believes the university is exceptionally fortunate to have Taftali solidly in its corner.
"Umit's success and his support and gifts are a powerful testament to how a Ball State education can change lives, connect people and enrich the human condition. He is a shining ambassador for the Miller College and his thoughtful gifts inspire us. The positive experience he had at Ball State clearly left an enduring mark on him, and he has continued to express his sense of gratitude in numerous ways."
Despite the many time zones and thousands of miles separating Turkey from Indiana, Taftali vows to continue to be one of Ball State's biggest cheerleader.
"I care about this place a great deal", he says. "I will always remember the hospitality of local families who invited me in for a Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas gathering. As a result of the education I received and the work ethic found here in the Midwest, I was able to overcome many obstacles as an international student. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't change it a bit."