If Plan A Doesn’t Work, There Will Be a Better Plan

Her early philosophy was that she would only have a Plan A – no backup, no Plan B.

Melek Pulatkonak set specific goals and expected that she would reach them. When I caught up with her, I learned that although she has not moderated her ambitions, she has discovered that when her Plan A doesn’t materialize, something better often will.

Today, Melek works for Microsoft’s Global Startup Group based in Istanbul. While her career achievements may look completely different than those she originally aspired to achieve, upon closer look she is having the impact she had always intended.

While her career achievements may look completely different than those she originally aspired to achieve, upon closer look she is having the impact she had always intended…

Melek is from Istanbul, Turkey. She wanted to and did study abroad, attending the London School of Economics. Her academic goal was to get PhD in Gender Studies so that she could implement economic policies in Turkey that would make a difference for women. But, she didn’t get the scholarship she needed to pursue a PhD. Since that was her Plan A and she had no Plan B, she wasn’t sure what she’d do next.

stay cool

She decided to bide some time before applying again for a scholarship. With a little money from her parents she went to New York City to live with an aunt. But, she had to find a job or she would not be able to stay for long. Since she had no network or contacts, she went to a public library and scoured the New York Times looking for any economics research jobs. She applied for all the research associate positions that were available. Against many odds, she was offered a job the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). She thought she would work there until a scholarship opportunity for the PhD she had set her sights on materialized. It never did.

After three years at the NYSE , she leveraged her experience to get a job back home in Turkey as an advisor to the Chairman of the Turkish Stock Exchange. But the attitude of the men on the exchange, the groping that women experienced on the exchange floor at the NYSE and her observations that women who were getting ahead in finance had to look and act like men, led her to conclude this too was not the right plan for her.

Armed with great work experience, she decided to apply for and got accepted to Columbia Business School for an MBA. The advanced degree led to seven years at a Tech startup company in New York. One day, at the annual TED conference, she happened to be in line next to the General Manager of Microsoft in Turkey. Hearing him speak Turkish to someone else, she struck up a conversation. He was so impressed with her that he asked her to join the Microsoft team in Turkey.

As I spoke with Melek, I was continually struck by how the obstacles she encountered did not deter her and how when something did not work out for her she just pursued another course of action. I asked her where this resilience and perspective came from. She credited three things:

  1. A guiding philosophy to always set goals and targets, but to be open to the very different ways those goals might be achieved
  2. Two strong women in her life, her aunt and her mother who are both entrepreneurs and have been inspiring role models for her. Among many things the women taught her was the importance of a support network – something she thinks is missing in many women’s professional lives.
  3. A practice of pursuing a two simultaneous tracks throughout her entire career. Track one is her professional, paid work. Track two is volunteering at organizations to learn and to contribute to the greater good. Her volunteerism is, in fact, what has led her to have the impact on the economic empowerment of women that she originally set out to have early in the days when she thought she needed a PhD.

In 2010, Melek founded the Turkish Women’s International Network. Unique among business women’s organizations, Turkish WIN serves as a platform of women around the world of Turkish origins or ties to Turkey and with Turkish women living and working in Turkey. These women have four important values in common: curiosity, generosity, transparency and courage. Through Turkish WIN, Melek is economically empowering women.

Connect with Melek at @orientalist and with Turkish WIN at @turkishwin.

Rania H. Anderson

Founder & President

Transforming the way men and women work, and lead, together. International Keynote Speaker. Author. Executive Business Coach. Angel Investor.