Hertie School graduate helps keep businesses out of harm’s way

Ali Sokmen, MPP 2011, draws on policy expertise to analyse political and economic risk.

In 2016, after a series of bomb attacks in Turkey, geopolitical and security risk analyst Ali Sokmen said business dealings in the country weren’t under threat, but companies should be vigilant. “Now there are new security measures necessary, such as crisis plans or strategies to minimise threats,” he said in a podcast for his employer Control Risks, which helps businesses manage such perils. A 2011 MPP graduate, the native of Turkey has been with the London-based firm since 2015, following a stint at the Turkish economic policy research institute TEPAV.

“We advise investors and companies – those who are directly involved in sectors like oil and gas, mining, manufacturing, medical services, depending on the country,” Ali explains. “I follow political, security and business developments. Things like terrorism, political instability, elections, regulation, economic reform, which directly impact business. I interpret and analyse an incident or development and determine the outlook – what’s going to happen in the coming months or years?”

Given current geopolitical tensions, businesses seek out Control Risks for advice on how to prepare for the worst. Shocks like the Russia-Ukraine conflict or the Arab Spring have created high demand for their services, or for those of competitors like AKE Group or Verisk Maplecroft, according to the Financial Times (Political risk is now a growth industry in its own right, Sept 2014). This, in turn, has sent consultancies looking for people with country and policy expertise.

“Our company does work that could be interesting for  public policy school graduates, focusing on corruption or corporate and financial ethics, such as money laundering,” Ali says. “We also do integrity risk, such as fraud investigations – this type of research.”

Among the pertinent skills he acquired at the Hertie School were quantitative and policy analysis tools. Along with his knowledge of politics and security, Ali says he feels he brings a unique policy perspective to his job as analyst. “This matters when you look at business environments – basically, policies that shape these environments, things like labour policies,” he says. “At Hertie, we viewed this from a governance perspective: which labour policies are more efficient? In my job, we take the perspective: which labour policies make it easier for a business to operate? The skill is very transferable.”

In general, the number of Hertie School graduates going into the private sector has risen in recent years, with 40% taking jobs in business in 2015, up from 32% in 2013. “The interest in the private sector has been growing,” says Anna von Behr, Manager of Career Services and Alumni Affairs at the Hertie School. “These opportunities are a good match between the skills taught at the school and the requirements of the business world – such as problem solving and analytical thinking.”

Ali found those tools especially handy last summer when he was asked to assess the fallout of the attempted coup in Turkey. “I am not sure I can say this was exactly a positive turn of events in my job, but it was certainly a very interesting time.  In the two months after the coup I had a storm of project work.” This meant advising investors and companies that were directly involved in the region. “We help inform their decision-making and help them create risk-mitigation measures or understand the risk environment. “ The job involves a lot of writing, for which he says the Hertie School prepared him well.

Ali draws on many sources for his reports. In addition to a database of security incidents and desk research, he also has to go out into the field. “When there is a major mining investment, I go and talk to locals, for example, or I talk to bureaucrats and experts.”

How does governance factor into this process? Geographically speaking, says Ali, the emphasis in Turkey is “more on government than governance,” due to political and cultural factors. “But,” he says, “I use this concept to analyse events in Germany or other European countries because civil society is very important here.” Because of this, he says political accountability plays a big role in how events unfold. “In Turkey, this is still emerging, so taking a government-focused approach works better when you are analysing things.  You have to look at how governance develops – how has it evolved differently in one place as opposed to another.”