Meet The Disruptors: Pinar Akiskalioglu of Punk Business School On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry
An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
…Technology, the pandemic, the recession — the world is changing. In the future there may be fewer jobs, so we need more radical thinking.
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Pinar Akiskalioglu.
Pinar Akiskalioglu is an entrepreneur who wants to make the business and beauty worlds put people and the planet first.
She is founder of TAKK, a personal care brand which sells a stripped-back collection of beauty essentials, and Punk Business School aimed at entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs who want to become better, more empathetic and intuitive leaders.
Pinar was born in Turkey but is now based in London. Along with dividing her time between her two businesses, she is also a board member for Ricoti, a renewable energy business and a consultant at Oxford Garage, a mentor hub for new startups.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
For most of my early career, I was in a hurry to climb the corporate ladder. This is what you do in the emerging world: work hard to achieve the defined success ideal. I did what it took to be successful; delivered results, won the crowd and strategically negotiated my next steps until I was at the top of my game.
The moment I got there, I decided to start my journey all over again to find how I could use my skills, knowledge and privilege to create a positive social impact in the world.
Doing this is harder than I ever imagined. Leaving a powerful corporate position behind — for which you worked hard for — makes you feel vulnerable. I responded to this by immersing myself in prestigious business education before I started swimming in the entrepreneurial ocean. It was a way to manage my fear before I started doing my own thing.
One day during a class, I was praising an old CEO who would replace what he deemed ‘underperformers’ with more productive people to boost company performance when a fellow classmate called me out, remarking that ‘this wasn’t a CEO she would like to work for and how it was nothing to be proud of.’ This pivotal moment opened my eyes to a new world, one that is different from the culture I grew up in where the rules of the game could be confidently challenged.
Today, I am working hard to build companies that are financially strong to stand on their own and make a difference for a just world. In my years working in the corporate world I have experienced so much of what is wrong with business and I now want to work on ideas to right those wrongs. Global companies are too powerful — they make it impossible for smaller companies to compete and spend too much time on internal politics, impressing each other within the organization rather than focusing on creating value for our society. Capitalism has gone too far and it is destructive.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
I am a serial entrepreneur, only involved in impact making businesses. My beauty brand, TAKK, sells a pared-back collection of bathroom essentials made from high-quality ingredients. It is very much a reaction to the ‘sell cheap, stack ’em high’ ethos of the big brands who compete for consumers by creating more and more products. This only leads to shelves groaning with ‘stuff’, mountains of plastic in landfill and to consumer fatigue — do we really need to choose from 200 types of shampoos, especially when most products do the same thing?
At TAKK there is just one product for each category — so, one face cream, one shampoo, one shower gel, one soap, one razor and so on. They are suitable for both women and men because the difference in skin types is negligible — there is no need for separate products.
We don’t overmarket or overpromise miracle ‘wonder cures’, because they simply don’t exist — it’s just marketing hype. We are working to create a robust circular economy to act on solving the climate emergency. We are also helping to create a workplace where our employees are happy, paid fairly and fulfilled.
I hope TAKK will make big beauty brands sit up and take notice. But I don’t just want to encourage the beauty world to be more ethical, I want the business world to be more considerate too. I believe it has lost its way, putting profits over people and the planet.
That’s why I have recently launched Punk Business School which aims to give practical and affordable philosophy education to business professionals. Traditional courses teach the facts such as corporate finance and marketing, peppered with an awful lot of unfathomable management speak and over-complicated business BS, but very few teach people the core tenets of what good leadership means today: empathy, collaboration and intuition. Punk Business aims to change that.
The world is changing, it’s becoming ever-more complex and many of the new problems can’t be answered by what you learn in textbooks. You need to know who you are and what you stand for, listen to your intuition so you can look at the bigger picture and make better decisions.
So, in a nutshell, I am trying to do for business what I am doing for beauty — strip out the noise and in doing so, do my bit to make it more humane.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’m not sure it’s a laugh-out-loud story, but the biggest mistake I made when launching TAKK was about being too corporate in our language at the start. Despite being a direct-to-consumer brand, our website talked more about our corporate ethics than what our products did. As a result, in the first two weeks, we had more venture capital companies approaching us than customers!
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
We often think about mentors being senior leaders but I would say my team members inspire me every day to be a better manager. I’ve learnt that being a nice manager, by stripping out the unnecessary layers of business — the presentations, the documentation, the overly-elaborate work systems — you can give people the mental and creative space so they thrive. When you let people be themselves, rather than making them comply with what an organization wants them to be, you will get the best out of them. If you don’t, you can run into problems with internal politics, perhaps blame culture and even bullying, which can ruin a productive workplace.
I also think some of the best mentors have actually been bad managers that I have worked for in the past — who have shown me what not to do.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
Disrupting is good when it is used as a force for positive change, like what I am trying to do with TAKK — trying to stop the beauty industry selling more products than people (and the planet) needs. When disrupting is not good however, is when the motive puts profit over people and the planet. Take Uber. I believe this is just Wall Street cash flooding the market, killing off traditional taxis and without any concern for the social welfare or rights of their drivers. Pouring money into a market simply to hijack profits is not the right way to do business.
Can you share five of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example if you can.
I don’t really listen to other people’s advice. I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant as it’s not meant to be, it’s just not the way I learn. I prefer to plough on, make mistakes and learn from them. I do get advice from books though — I read philosophy. Philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and Bertrand Russel have been great teachers since my twenties. The Japanese writer Haruki Murakami I also find inspiring. He says: “a story begins when something that should be there isn’t, someone who should be there isn’t” — it’s a motto that reminds me of the beauty of life and gives me the strength to embrace challenges when things don’t go my way.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
A few years ago I stumbled on US psychologist Barry Schwartz’s Ted Talk Paradox of Choice which basically changed my life. In it he talks about the paralysis of choice and how the more choices you have, the more unhappy and unsatisfied you are. I was still in the corporate world at the time and the talk was eye opening — it made me question whether my job selling personal care was actually making people happy as I told myself, and whether I was actually doing anything worthwhile to society. Schwartz’s thinking became the basis of my personal care brand, TAKK.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
Bertrand Russel said; to conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom. There’s a lot of fear involved, especially in entrepreneurship, and I don’t think we talk about it enough. It’s important to embrace that fear, but not let it stop you from doing what you believe is the right thing to do.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how was that relevant to you in your life?
I want to build companies where people are really happy, treated fairly and are successful and where we do focus on people and profits. If I can pull this off, I will set an example that people will know it is possible. I’d like to inspire other leaders to do the same — many successful people have the same urge, turning to consulting or writing books at the end of their career, but I’d like to be the one who does it while they go along.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Firstly, I would like the world to share financial resources. This would be in the form of a universal basic income — giving everyone in the world enough money to eat and have a place to sleep. It’s an ambitious dream, but while critics say that it would only fuel lethargy, experiments from a two-year experiment in Finland in 2017 proved that it can boost mental health and can even fuel self-worth, confidence and aspiration.
People were even motivated to branch out and seek more expansive opportunities, often through unpaid work. The experiment showed how people have a desire to contribute to society — so let’s think higher of people and not assume they’re just out for themselves.
Technology, the pandemic, the recession — the world is changing. In the future there may be fewer jobs, so we need more radical thinking.
In the same vein, I would also like the world to start sharing knowledge — businesses often work in silos and don’t recognise that collective action can solve complex problems such as climate change.
I am often accused of being too romantic but there needs to be people in this world with aspirations. Hope is contagious. People are naturally drawn to it, and when they are drawn to it and come together, movements happen. And change happens — for the good.
How can our readers follow you online?
My two business websites: https://www.punkbusinessschool.com/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Meet The Disruptors: Pinar Akiskalioglu of Punk Business School On The Five Things You Need To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.