Even after a turbulent weekend in Turkey that included a failed coup attempt and the resulting arrest of thousands of troops and judges, a professional development program started by Atlantans near Istanbul went forward basically as if the uprising hadn’t occurred. 

The Society of International Business Fellows helped found the Central Eurasian Leadership Alliance (CELA) 12 years ago to help promising professionals from former Soviet republics throughout the region enhance their business acumen, make lasting connections and forge new ways of dealing with life’s challenges. 

Each year, they convene at Koc University, an influential institution situated on a forested hillside about an hour’s drive outside the megacity of 15 million people. While it’s held in Turkey, none of the participants are Turkish — instead they hail from places in the Caucasus like Georgia or Azerbaijan, or from countries in Central Asia, like Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan. 


This year, the start of the program came three weeks after a terrorist attack killed 41 at Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport. The first day of mentoring sessions and workshops was scheduled on July 16, as the country awoke to a state of turmoil in which its elected leaders had consolidated power. Luckily, things went ahead without interruption, says retired telecom executive and private equity investor Meade Sutterfield (GA, '97), who helped underwrite the CELA program with the East West Institute in 2002. 

Some participants faced hiccups in their travel arrangements, but only two decided not to come over security concerns, he said. The annual program has averaged about 35 participants in years past. “Our program is at Koc University in Sariyer, which has used its considerable resources to help us and is far from downtown Istanbul in a secluded and safe environment,” Mr. Sutterfield wrote in an email to Global Atlanta. 

He noted that on the day after the coup attempt, recently retired Coca-Cola International President Ahmet Bozer, a Georgia State University alum and a Turkish native, spoke to the group. Ultimately, the fact that the program wasn’t disrupted shows that despite the images of uproarious crowds in Istanbul and bombed-out government buildings in Ankara, Turkey is a large country where the reality on the ground can be hard to ascertain. 

Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport is back open and a ban on flights to and from Turkey by the Federal Aviation Administration has been lifted, meaning that the mostly American facilitators who mentor the younger participants will likely be able to get home without much incident. Mr. Sutterfield said it’s business as usual in the meantime. “I can’t comment on the situation here in Turkey as we have not been outside the campus; we started this morning at 8:30 a.m. and tonight went until 9 p.m.”