How do you build more effective organizations, leaders and teams? Sesil Pir, an industrial and organizational psychologist, thinks she may have found the answer.
Originally from Istanbul, Turkey, it was her entrepreneurial spirit which brought Sesil to Basel.
Her past resumé is impressive: working for close to two decades in HR and organizational development roles for Fortune 500 companies. And she has lived in places like the US, Singapore and France.
Recently, Sesil took some time out of her busy schedule to discuss her consulting firm and the courage it took to go solo in Switzerland. Read on for valuable advice from this enthusiastic power woman.
Sesil, you have lived in many different countries around the world. What brought you to Basel?
I moved to Basel to join Novartis AG four and a half years ago. At the time, my husband and I had just moved to Paris from Seattle, and I was actively looking for a new position in HR. Novartis recruited me and granted me a wonderful opportunity to head up their HR department within Technical Operations.
After working for such a long time for large corporations, where did the idea of starting your own company come from?
I struggled to find a good balance between my growing corporate responsibilities and my private life. Initially, I considered searching for a new position in another corporation. Then, towards the end of 2014, I decided to step outside of the corporate world in order to find a better life balance in and re-ground myself in my own values.
Following my decision, I started working as a freelancer. Six months later, my engagements grew to a scale where I was required to formalize my business.
I launched Sesil Pir Consulting GmbH in January 2015, and I am proud of our accomplishments to date. I am very thankful for our first few clients who believed in us and have granted us the opportunity to be a part of their organizational development journeys.
You have started a new platform called “Whirling Chief” - tell us a little about this platform and what you are trying to achieve with it?
The idea of Whirling Chief comes from that very sacred place of redefining HR: Our unlimited passion for our function, and our strong desire to help move the field forward.
We are a platform hosting a growing circle of business leaders. They get to showcase their work in order to inspire other organizations to put people first.
Our sole mission is to provide a safe and fun environment where people can come to learn about a wide range of organizational effectiveness topics. Every week, we feature blogs on thought-provoking topics, new books, articles, downloadable toolkits and video tutorials.
What have you learned since going out on your own and what are the biggest challenges in running your own business in Switzerland?
Through being an entrepreneur, I have re-learned the importance of relationship management and trust building. I was reminded of the importance of staying true to my inner values and unique identity. I am simply more at peace with myself and with others around me now.
This does not mean that I don’t tackle serious business issues. To tell you the truth, quite the opposite is true. What I mean is that I am in better harmony with what I am set out to do. I love the work I do, the people I do it with and I love being able to touch other people's lives through our work.
Starting a new business in a foreign country is quite a learning experience. I am tri-lingual in English, Turkish and French. And I am actively learning German. However, going through the formal process of setting up a business in another language, in a system you are unfamiliar with, is certainly challenging. I have to add that the predictability of Swiss governance systems, as well as the cooperation of officials, has really helped me in the process.
What advice would you give to someone hoping to set up their own business in Switzerland?
In the initial phase, I would highly recommend they focus on understanding the processes. I have learned that partnering with a lawyer and a tax consultant is critical to getting the right results. Of course, doing your research, writing a solid business plan with a clear target audience and performing a market study are essential. Simply put: Approach it as a learning experience!
In your opinion, is Switzerland a good place to be an entrepreneur?
I love being an entrepreneur in Switzerland. Some cultures value having a prestigious title over being an entrepreneur, and vice versa. I do not see a hierarchy here in any way. Every opportunity is a learning opportunity for a curious individual like me.
I appreciate that the formal business processes are so clear in Switzerland. Basel is a great location and the airport makes it very easy to get in and out. This is critical for consultants, who travel frequently - including myself. I love that I have here access to some of the world's largest non-profits plus research centers like International Labor Organization or the United Nations.
What do you like about living in Switzerland - and in Basel, in particular?
Over my lifetime, I have travelled the world a lot – mostly for business, but also for pleasure. I have been to some of the most rural parts of our world and I have partnered with amazing professionals from some of the most economically and socially challenged countries. I have seen a lot of human suffering, as well as joy.
What we have in Switzerland is unique in every way imaginable. We have a remarkable orderly system and a highly educated society. We live peacefully most of the time and we tend to share common values. Even for an English speaking woman like me, from the Middle East, integration has not been an issue. We have a lot to be thankful for. We are incredibly fortunate with what we have in Switzerland.
Basel is a very international, family friendly city. I particularly love the richness of arts and history for a non-major city. I have experienced nothing but openness from people in Basel.
What are your favorite places to go out to eat or drink in Basel?
There are several Turkish restaurants I love in Basel: Kelim for its kebabs, Pinar for its döner, but my favorite is Grünpfahl for its vegetarian koftes the most. The restaurant's concept is based on the cooking of Sirin Kilinc, the "mother" as they call her, who cooks Kurdish food with Mediterranean elements.
Pfifferling is my favorite coffee house in town and it is in Gundelingen, a neighborhood I adore for its grunginess. I am a sucker for good cocktails, and one of my favorite drinks is the “Wonder Fizz” at the Nomad Hotel.
My husband and I are committed to discovering new skiing and hiking locations around the Alps. My husband is now fluent in German and I would like to reach a good level of fluency, too.
At a professional level, I am focused on growing our business at SESIL PIR Consulting GmbH and expanding the reach of Whirling Chief. I would love to get to know new people in Switzerland and even gain a few new clients.
(All photographs copyright Idit Kobrin)