On-Campus Interview Series: A Delightful Turk

Alongside their obvious talents for Finance, Strategy, Marketing and so on, many members of the HBS faculty have impressive hidden sporting talents. Assistant Professor Zeynep Ton is no exception replica breitling. These days, Dr Ton spends her time teaching in the Technology and Operations Management department, and researching retail operations and supply chain management. In days gone by, however, she tore up volleyball courts in her native Turkey and then here in the US. Harbus caught up with Dr Ton in her salubrious Morgan office to chat about those glorious sporting days.

Fact File: Assistant Professor Zeynep ‘Z’ Ton
Height: 5 feet 10 inches, but everyone has always said 5 feet 11 – I don’t know why
Weight: 138 pounds
Eyes: Brown
Hair: Brown
Marital Status: Married with no children
Favorite Food: Turkish food
Favorite Drink: Raki (a Turkish liquor)
Favorite Film: The Godfather I & II
Favorite Band: Sezen Akso (a Turkish pop singer)
Nickname: Z
How Acquired Nickname: It is the first letter of my first name, Zeynep, which some people find hard to pronounce

Harbus: How did you first get into volleyball?

Zeynep Ton: It was pretty easy for me to get into sports. My father was on the Turkish national team for basketball and coached that sport. I knew I wanted to be an athlete too, and my father encouraged me to play volleyball, which is the most popular women’s sport in Turkey, and involves less contact than basketball.

Harbus: What position did you play?

ZT: I played Outside Hitter.

Harbus: How did you start your career?

ZT: I played in Bursa (a town of 1 million) for four years, but at age 15, my parents sent me to Istanbul for the last three years of high school so I could play with some of the better teams. I played for the best team in Turkey, and also on the junior national team.

Harbus: You can’t have had much time for class – how did you find time to become a TOM Professor?

ZT: You’re right! I didn’t pay much attention, went on camps all the time and didn’t recognize my classmates and some of my teachers! However, I won a volleyball scholarship to Penn State, where I studied Business for one semester before transferring into an Engineering degree. My father had a textiles business in Turkey, and I loved working on the factory line, so with this passion and the engineering degree, and some more study, I ended up here at HBS.

Harbus: What was the training regime like at Penn State?

ZT: It was tough. We trained 3 and 1/2 hours from Monday to Thursday, played games on Friday and Saturday and had two weights sessions each week – although I hated them and didn’t want big muscles. You really have to prepare mentally just for training because you pair up with your opposite number for drills and it’s very competitive – we always used to keep score. But the rewards were there – we twice made it to the final 4 in the NCAA, and I ended my career as the Team Captain.

Harbus: Do you still play?

ZT: I play the occasional game in Shad, but not much. I did meet my husband at Shad though. He is Nicaraguan, but played on the Costa Rican national team.

Harbus: What was your best sporting moment on the court?

ZT: There are two. In 1994, we were doing quite well and went to play Nebraska in Nebraska. They were 34 and 0 and were talking about how they’d beat us to the final four. We won 3-1 in a very good game. Also, I played a final four game against Brigham Young at the University of Wisconsin, Madison with the biggest crowd I’d ever played in front of – 14,000 or so. It was a unique experience.

Harbus: And your worst?

ZT: Playing with a very bad team in Bursa and losing 15-0 all the time. That and losing matches 3-2 and 17-15 in the final set. You just can’t stop crying after a game like that.

Harbus: What was your best moment off the court?

ZT: A couple of months ago it was our coach’s 25th anniversary and all the Penn State players came back. He invested so much in us, and it was nice to be able to do something for him. Also, coming to the US, not knowing anyone, but having 12 instant friends from volleyball.

Harbus: And your worst?

ZT: When I first came from Turkey, I had horrible English. The Coach told me to come 10 days before school started. I thought it was for orientation, but it was actually for a pre-season training, involving eight or nine hours of training every day. I didn’t even know how to call home! Everyone seemed so strong and I thought it was just me who couldn’t handle the tough practices.

Harbus: Do you play any sports these days?

ZT: I play a little basketball and I am trying to learn tennis.

Harbus: Do you play sport any differently now that you are a TOM Professor?

ZT: I LOVE process analysis, and can’t stop talking about it, even when I’m doing something like cooking or preparing for a holiday. But I don’t think I would have played any differently. The one parallel is that in volleyball, I always pushed myself, and that’s what businesses do when they improve their processes – push themselves to be the best.

Harbus: A valuable lesson for us all. Doctor Ton, thank you for your time.

ZT: My pleasure.