When Kemal Dervis agreed in February, 2001, to help a desperate Turkish government fix the worst economic crisis in the country's modern history, few held out hope that he would succeed. The mild-mannered World Bank economist had lived outside his native Turkey for years and had no political base back home.
But in his stint as Economy Minister, Dervis' independence has helped him push through Turkey's deepest overhaul ever. Sweeping bank reform, for example, ensured that state banks are no longer financial grab bags for Turkish politicians. And Dervis, 53, has made sure that the central bank is finally independent. The economy, which shrank 8.5% last year, is expected to grow between 2% and 4% this year.
At the same time, his reputation and top-level contacts in the U.S. and European financial community have helped nail down $16 billion in new loans from the International Monetary Fund. "Dervis has approached the problem with the attitude of what's right for Turkey, rather than what's right for narrow political interests," says David Edgerly, Executive Director at Istanbul-based Garanti Securities.
With Dervis enjoying stellar popularity ratings, Turkey is abuzz with rumors that he'll enter politics. So far, he is keeping voters guessing. Whatever he decides, he may go down in history as the Ataturk of Turkish economics.