Interview in ea. magazine by Erasmus University

  • Press Release
  • May 2018
  • Rotterdam - the Netherlands
ea magazine logoTandheelkundegroep Logo

Carien van der Wal
interviewer ea magazine

“I have an unstoppable urge to create”

‘The desire to prove yourself and make a difference can come from anywhere. I discovered I had something to prove to myself, first and foremost,’ said entrepreneur, Ali Keles. ‘When I was ten, I first heard the word ‘business man’, and it kept singing around in my head.’

NAME: Ali Keles
AGE: 34
CAREER: Entrepreneur

‘The only rebellious act I had during my teenage years was quitting piano lessons. I’m from a broken home and my mother was on her own for the most of it so I didn’t want to rebel against her. She has done so much for me,’ adds Keles, sitting at the long table in his office by the Schie river. The room has the vibe of a gallery. He likes to surround himself with work by modern artists, even if they’re still up-and-coming. Keles points at a piece by Alexander Kaletski, a Russian refugee who fled to New York empty-handed, and collected cardboard boxes to use as a canvas. ‘Kaletski is a role model to many, because he shows you can leave behind the misery that often befalls refugees.’

Always busy

Art is the common thread factor in Keles’ life. ‘I currently attend lectures about modern art at the Open Academy and hope to get back to college one day as an art history student.’ During his student life, he was very active. ‘That’s why it took me so long to graduate,’ he laughs. ‘I worked at the legal aid centre, the Legal Complaint Desk, I was a coordinator and board member of the Student Forum for European Affairs and worked on my first start-ups in university, even if we didn’t call it a start-up in those days.’ On top of all this, he became a council member for GroenLinks, the Dutch green party.

Dental care in every part of town

Everything Ali Keles does is characterised by humanism. After all, Philosophy was his favourite subject in school – he applies it to his entrepreneurship as well. That is why he signed the Diversity Charter of the Social Economic Council last year. ‘We have people from eighteen different nationalities working for us, of which 53 percent are female and 47 percent are male.’ Although it wasn’t exactly hip to be an entrepreneur during his university years, it was always his thing. ‘When I was ten, I first heard the word ‘business man’, and it kept singing around in my head. I have this unstoppable need to create. Whether it’s a film festival, like the Red Tulip Festival that provided a Dutch platform for Turkish arthouse cinema, a magazine (Pandora, ed.), or real estate. I want to get things off the ground, preferably in collaboration with others.’ From his boutique private equity house, Keles established Tandheelkunde Groep Nederland with business partner Dr. Go. The company sets up clinics throughout the Netherlands, including disadvantaged neighbourhoods. ‘Full-spectrum dental care. Providing all services.’

Local employees

‘I like to provide employment for people that live in these neighbourhoods. It’s not unheard of to approach the reception desk as a patient and leave as an employee.’ That’s exactly what happened to a young woman who was in-between jobs. Keles encouraged her to go back to school and become a dental assistant. Today she’s the clinic’s coordinator. ‘I’ve come to think of myself as an enabler more than a business man. The perfect vantage point for servant leadership.’

To read in the ea magazine: