The table is set. There’s a bowl of German sweets, a bowl of sunflower seeds for nibbling on and a shisha pipe ready to smoke. And the sun is sinking over the Aegean sea, here in Kuşadası, a beach resort on the western coast of Turkey.
“Over 300 days of sunshine a year and the temperatures don’t fall below 20 degrees from April through November,” enthuses Mehmet Göker, the special guest in this idyllic balcony setting today. “What would I even want in Germany?”
In fact, it’s more like the other way around. In Germany, Mr. Göker, 39, is a wanted man. The self-made millionaire and former business guru has an international arrest warrant against his name and faces a trial for possible fraud. Once one of the most successful insurance brokers in the business, Mr. Göker moved to Turkey in 2010 after declaring insolvency. The warrant means there is no way he can return. Fortunately for him, Turkey does not have an extradition agreement with Germany.
So he’s safe here in Kuşadası. But although he lives in this serviced penthouse, Mr. Göker no longer has his Ferrari.
At the zenith of his time in the health insurance business, there were 14 Ferraris and 23 Porsches in his office car park in Kassel, between Frankfurt and Hanover. “I was young and I had boundless energy,” he says today. “Money didn’t mean anything, other than not having to compromise anymore.”
The son of a Turkish cobbler, Mr. Göker founded his first business at the age of 22. He was a skilled salesman and, as a broker, brought private medical insurers many customers. Within just a few years he was in charge of Germany’s largest insurance brokerage. And since he was the reason for his own success, Mr. Göker says it was only logical to call the company MEG, which stands for Mehmet Ercan Göker.
The company’s hey-day sounds like something out of a movie. He wanted his employees to be just like him. He yelled at them — if they got it right, and if they got it wrong. If they could be more like him, they’d be rewarded — with a five-figure monthly salary and other bonuses. The best salespeople got a Ferrari. The next best, just a Porsche.
Once Mr. Göker had 300 potential employees appear on a stage in front of him. They were to give their names and their reasons for wanting to work at MEG. Only the most confident got the job. In 2004, MEG had 40 staff; by 2006, workforce had risen to 150 and at the business’ high point, there were a thousand. Staff were flown to Las Vegas for parties.
The harder they fall
But life in Germany isn’t a Hollywood movie. Things started to go south when MEG was forced to employ independent salespeople as permanent staff. All of a sudden there was not as much cash in the bank – Mr. Göker had been spending premiums almost as quickly as they came in. To compound the company’s problems, insurance companies, who had been paying premiums up front, wanted their money back. And MEG was looking at millions in debt. So in 2009, Mr. Göker declared insolvency.
MEG could have been one of Germany’s leading insurance industry businesses today, says Fritz Westhelle, who is in charge of the insolvency proceedings at the company. “Göker could have achieved great things but the money went to his head,“ Mr. Westhelle notes.
In the final years, prosecutors accuse him of increasingly flouting the rules. Among other things, he stands accused of stealing clients’ private data and selling it on to third parties, earning him a cool €3 million. Mr. Göker denies the allegation and has accused German authorities of not offering him a fair trial.
Did he make mistakes? Yes, Mr. Göker admits, he did. “They were all my mistakes. I cannot blame anybody else. The fact is that the majority of the decisions were the right ones. But the wrong decisions had devastating consequences,” he says.
Today he works as an employee for a company founded in his mother’s name. That means the firm is safe from any creditors. He’s also been accused of continuing to work in Germany under a false name. He denies it but earlier this year, evidence emerged he was working for a shell company called Simplex Optima, doing what he does best: selling insurance.
Currently Mr. Göker has three different ways of making money. Each of them makes him six figures, he boasts. Firstly, he is starting a real-estate business with a friend. Being located in this resort town is ideal. He is also acting as a management consultant with various companies, including a large German firm — but he won’t divulge which one.
A €5,000, two-day ‘master course’
He’s also giving seminars. These are called the “MEG Sales Master Course” and they cost participants who want to learn how he does his magic almost €5,000. In return, they spend two days learning from him, eating with him and hanging out on his terrace. There are 15 spots per course — which means he makes €60,000 from each one.
Given his story is so well-known in Germany, it’s a little surprising that people still pay to hear him speak. There have been a number of documentaries made about MEG and in 2015, Mr. Göker published his autobiography: “The Crazy Career of Mehmet E. Göker: From Migrant Child To Millionaire — the rise, fall and comeback of a power-salesman.” The book has yet to be translated into English.
His Facebook page is still inundated with praise from his fans, who compliment him on his motivational speeches. Mr. Göker himself likes to respond in capitals. “FOCUS ON SOLUTIONS; NOT ON THE PROBLEM — IF YOU CAN DO THIS; YOU THINK ONLY IN TERMS OF SOLUTIONS AND YOU DRAW THEM TO YOURSELF,” is typical advice he gives them on Facebook, free of charge.
It’s not clear why so many people still love him. Listening to some of his speeches online, he comes across as hyper-aggressive yet also strangely hypnotic. There are really only two ways to react: Flight or submission.
“In principle, things are going really well for me. I just cannot travel,” Mr. Göker explains. In 2019, the arrest warrant against him should expire, even though the latest proceedings against him in Germany only started earlier this year. And yes, he concedes, he has gone through crises. After all, he arrived in Turkey with only €36,000 to his name. But, hey, he says, taking a pull on the water pipe and telling himself what he has doubtless told many others: You just need to put the doubts aside and move on.
Philipp Mattheis is an Istanbul-based reporter for WirtschaftsWoche, a sister publication of Handelsblatt. Cathrin Schaer adapted this story for Handelsblatt Global. To reach the author: email@example.com.