M ZEKI SARICAM 1954 – 2020Zesar
“It is with great sadness that Batteries International has to announce that Zeki Sarıçam, the dynamic founder of Zesar, the international manufacturer of battery making machines, passed away on May 3 following a long and ultimately unsuccessful battle with lung disease.”
A huge wave of tributes poured in after the announcement of his death was made. “He was extremely well respected at work — he was a very likeable man who had a wealth of knowledge and experience,” said one international consultant.
Another said: “He was a huge family man and — for those of us who were lucky to work for him — he extended his care to us too.”
“Some people say we, as Mediterranean people, are quick tempered and volatile,” says Tolga Onen, a consultant.
“But Zeki was different. He was immensely patient even in the most trying situations. He knew that human nature is complex and not black and white.
“I’ve been in the battery industry for close to 20 years and have been highly active in sales and marketing.
“I know people think that Zeki was just a highly technical person — which he was — but he was one of the best sales peo¬ple in the industry. It was part of a wonderful personality.
“He will rightly be remembered as the pioneer batteryman in Turkey.”
Most tributes were expres¬sions of sympathy and condolence to his family, friends and employees at Zesar.
But there were some, such as Lider Kebabcıoglu, manager of Erdil Aku Otomotiv, who also soon came to regard Zeki as be¬ing “one of the milestones in the development of the battery sector in Turkey”.
Certainly he put the firm he started from scratch in the 1970s on to the international map.
The story of Zeki’s life may have been one of unstinting work, but it was also the story of drive and the passion for his family and company that was remarkable.
His childhood was not an easy one. Born on January 1, 1954 in Rize-Çayeli, a seaside town on the Black Sea close to the then USSR, his father Ahmet was a barber. Zeki was the eldest of four children. Times were tough in the early 1960s and in 1964 Ahmet and his wife Fatma took the family on the 1,000km journey to Istanbul to seek a better life.
Aged just 10, Zeki left school and started work in a machine factory to help support the family. He was to support his parents and his brothers for the rest of his life.
By the age of 17 he was highly skilled in machine tooling and he quickly became expert in the manual casting of battery grids. This involved melting down lead pigs and pouring them into moulds. His experience here was to stand him in good stead when he took it further.
In 1975 — aged just 21 — he set up his own firm, Sarıçam Moulding, to provide grid cast¬ers to the major battery produc¬ers in Turkey. He was on the path to success.
Meanwhile, still in his early 20s, a chance encounter on the street with Mine, a beautiful and highly intelligent young women, in his home town Rize resulted — despite opposition from some quarters — in marriage and ulti¬mately four children.
Zeki always said it was love at first sight.
His success in business prompted him to try and auto¬mate the process.
In 1980 he built the first grid casting machine. The firm that was later to become known as Zesar, with its expertise in the battery manufacturing process, was on its way to success.
“It was around this time that my family got to know Zeki,” says Fulya Has¸has¸, foreign trade manager at AlfaKUTU.
“He was one of the most loved characters in the battery industry — an energetic man, a family man, always in the field, never behind a desk.”
Zeki at this point had more or less decided that there were op¬portunities by focusing on ma¬chinery that could be improved to better serve battery manufac¬turers.
The next step forward was in 1983, when Sarıçam Moulding devel¬oped its first heat-sealing machines for plate assembly. In 1986 Zeki restruc¬tured the firm, forming a partnership with a hydraulic pump producer, ATA Sarıçam.
In 1990 he won his first export or¬ders shipping goods to Tudor Batteries in India and Spain.
Since then Zesar — Zeki changed the firm’s name to that in 2002 — has shipped its products around the world and 80% of its sales are exports.
Part of his success was the way that he did business. It’s easy for companies to say ‘the customer is king’ but the re¬ality of the after-service market is often the true measure of so-called ‘customer facing’.
There was also an energetic drive to keep his international business grow¬ing. Tatiana Stolpovskaya, deputy di-rector with Interbat, the Russian bat¬tery organization, recalls dealing with the company in the early 2000s.
“Since then Zesar has participated in all Interbat events — meetings of asso¬ciation members, exhibitions and con-ferences, which helped them to occupy their niche in this market,” he said.
“It was always a pleasure to work with Zeki and Zesar — very responsi¬ble, efficient and friendly people.”
Another conference organizer, Maura McDermott at the International Lead Association, said the same.
“I first met Zeki Sarıçam at the ELBC in Athens when Zesar exhibited for the first time,” she said.
“He was enthusiastic, professional and eminently approachable. Our deepest sympathies to his family, col-leagues and the wider industry.”
Kadir Kaymakçı, director for busi¬ness services at Inci GS Yuasa, recalls meeting him in 2005.
“We’d asked Zesar to visit our fac¬tory and I was immediately impressed by him, he was very knowledgeable and there was a shine in the eyes when he spoke about his company and prod¬ucts,” he said.
“We bought equipment the following year and have continued to do so. Zeki was a very friendly person — but not in an artificial fashion, wanting just to sell you something and go away.
“Over the years the personal service and technical assistance he and his company provided was second to none. The point about him was that he was keen for everything to be just right.
“His first name — Zeki — means clever or brilliant in Turkish. He cer¬tainly lived up to that. He was a de-lightful man and will be sorely missed.”
Perhaps the biggest leap forward for Zesar was when in the mid to late 2000s Zeki decided that computer aid¬ed designs — in three dimensions not two — was the way forward.
The results were spectacular and highly innovative, with battery manu¬facturers coming to him with their problems.
Most recently, for example, System Sunlight, the Greek battery giant, ap¬proached him to design and install a unique plate washing tunnel, the first of its kind in the world.
With the help of a government grant, Zeki’s team was able to launch EVO¬LINE in 2009, and it was marketed as a low-cost, high-performance assembly line.
Two years later he added a robotic transfer system, making the whole as¬sembly line process fully automatic.
EVOLINE opened up new markets across Asia and Africa.
The business continues to go from strength to strength, as does its product range.
In 2015, Zeki decided to invest in a new factory in Manisa, near the port city of Izmir.
This was later expanded to another factory in Manisa and there are plans to double the firm’s manufacturing area to 10,000m2.
One of his employees told Batteries International: “In the broadest sense we who worked for Mr Sarıçam were his family too — the one defining word would be to say his personality was that of a father for us all.
“He thought of everyone before him¬self. He was a sensitive and proud per¬son who never, ever showed his pain [in the last period of his life]. He never wanted anyone to feel sorry for him.
“We all miss him deeply.”
Zeki Sarıçam died on May 3. He leaves behind Mine, his beloved wife of 44 years, his two sons Yavuz, who takes over as head of Zesar, and Furkan and two daughters Arzu and Melike.
He was just 66 years old when he died.