Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) President and co-owner Eren Ozmen first came to the United States by herself at age 23 to earn her MBA after graduating from college in Turkey. When she arrived in the United States, Eren spoke little English and had no financial resources, but she did have a driving entrepreneurial spirit and BIG dreams. To pay for her tuition and support herself during her MBA at the University of Nevada, Reno, she worked night shifts, even cleaning offices at SNC for a few months, and made baklava for a local bakery during her first year at UNR. Eren believed in herself and the American Dream, and she worked very hard to earn her MBA and advance her business career.
Although incredibly determined even at that young age, Eren never imagined she’d own and operate SNC one day—or that it would become one of the largest female-owned space and aeronautics contractor in the United States.
Her husband, Fatih Ozmen, has an equally incredible story. A year before Eren came to the United States, Fatih—a former Turkish cycling champion—came to America to pursue his graduate degree in electrical engineering. Later, he started at SNC as an engineering intern. Fatih and Eren became good friends while supporting each other during these difficult first years. Their friendship grew and they married in 1989. Then, in 1994 they had the opportunity to acquire SNC and, together, grew the company into a global leader in aerospace and defense.
Here’s a quick look at Eren and Fatih Ozmen’s staggering success story and why that makes SNC an ideal place to start your career.
Making Their Multibillion-Dollar American Dream Come True
The story of the Ozmens really begins in Turkey, the country they both emigrated from in the early ‘80s.
Eren first met Fatih in Ankara, Turkey during her senior year of college studying journalism and public relations. Fatih was an electrical engineering student there, but they both had plans to head to the United Sates to earn their master’s degrees.
Fatih came to the U.S. in 1980, and the couple reconnected when Eren also came independently to the United States in 1981 for an English language program at UC Berkeley. Fatih was pursing his master’s degree at the University of Nevada, Reno at the time and suggested Eren apply for the MBA program at UNR. She took his advice and moved to Reno to begin the program.
The pair became best friends before they even considered dating each other. Fatih was rising through the ranks at SNC, and Eren was working in the finance department of a local sprinkler system company. She learned the company was completing its financial reports by hand –which took weeks–and she put in a request for a personal computer. Eren’s request was denied. So, she spent her next paycheck on a new PC, brought it to work and generated the next set of reports in a matter of hours. Eren was immediately promoted to manage financial reporting.
A few years down the line, Fatih and Eren were married and working at SNC, but the company was struggling. Eren was working in the finance department to convert SNC’s accounting system to an automated platform. She discovered that SNC was on the verge of going out of business and she knew the owners were not fully aware of the situation. Because of her determination to fully share the company’s current situation with the owners, the leadership team was able to turn the company around and stay in business. In fact, her honesty earned her a promotion and she became SNC’s first controller in 1988.
Later on, in 1994, Eren and Fatih had the opportunity to acquire SNC. They took a significant risk and leveraged their house as collateral to purchase the company. Since then, they have grown SNC from a small electronics company with just a team of 20 to a trusted, multibillion-dollar leader in aviation, national security, and space with 4000 employees across the globe.
How The Couple’s Strategic Decisions Made SNC an Aerospace and Defense Leader
Upon acquisition of SNC, Eren took over as CFO and Fatih became CEO. They developed an entirely new strategy for the company, one that focused on innovation, resourcefulness and exceeding customer expectations.
Given the company’s smaller size and limited resources, Eren and Fatih knew they couldn’t compete with major players in the industry by acting the same way and selling the same product. So, they innovated and decided to offer scaled down products, but at a far lower cost than their competition and at five times the speed.
This innovative strategy not only enabled the couple to take on major aircraft projects while saving the U.S. government millions of dollars, but also drove them to develop a myriad of products across the defense and aerospace industries. Smart and frequent acquisitions and a resourceful approach also enabled the couple to obtain abandoned projects and make them a reality for their clients.
In 2008, the Ozmens made their highest acquisition yet: $38 million for a space company called Space Dev, which included rights to the Dream Chaser® spacecraft—a reusable orbital vehicle designed to replace the retired space shuttle. Dream Chaser is now set to service the International Space Station starting in 2021 as part of a multi-billion contract with NASA.
This was something of a dream come true for the Ozmens. Fatih told Forbes: “Space is more than a business for us. When I was a young child, on the other side of the world, I watched the moon landing on a black-and-white TV. It gave me goosebumps. It was so inspirational.”
Their Hard Work Carried Them to the Top — And At SNC, So Could Yours
The journey to the final frontier is far from the only inspiring thing about the Ozmen’s story and SNC. At SNC, the belief that great leaders and great ideas come from anywhere and anyone comes from the top down. Remember, Eren started at SNC working night shifts while pursuing her MBA and Fatih began his career as an intern at the company.
Perhaps that’s why SNC’s internship program is known for its emphasis on both long-term and short-term career development. While the company has grown considerably, teams are still tight-knit groups of top industry talent and experts. That means mentorship, close collaboration and high-impact projects are always a part of the SNC experience. (You might even get to learn from an astronaut or two.)
At a company like SNC, impact is everything. Whether you’re an intern or the CEO, there’s no limit to what you can accomplish—not even the sky.
Want your career to blast off? Check out open opportunities at Sierra Nevada Corporation on WayUp right now!