Here at M&G, we are avery tight knit group of creatives that share more conversations than just work topics. We thought it would only be fitting to highlight Ayhan Kimsesizcan for the upcoming Father’s Day holiday! Ayhan is the other half & business partner of M&G’s founder, Emily Guggino. He has come a long way in his career & life since leaving Turkey at 26 years old.
Hi Ayhan! Let’s get to know you a little more. What has been your background so far, & how did you end up in New York?
I was born in Austria, and raised in Istanbul, Turkey until I moved to NYC when I was 26 years old. My parents worked in factories and drove taxi cabs all of my life. I came from hard working parents that really sacrificed their own lives to provide for me and my siblings.
Growing up, my older brother was someone that I really looked up to growing up. He was and is very outgoing, and really has made a name for himself as a lifestyle journalist in Turkey. After graduating high school, I didn’t have the desire to attend college. I just so badly wanted to be apart of the world that my brother was involved in. Through his connections I began as an assistant for different photo journalists around Istanbul. I just wanted to learn everything that had to do with photography. Long story short, I worked in all types of newspapers and magazine for the following 8 years. I eventually became the editor of a page for one of the largest newspapers in Turkey. I covered restaurant openings, fashion shows, hotest travel spots, etc.! I really had made a name for myself within my industry & city, but was becoming a bit “bored”.
I visited New York on holiday, and realized that the world was so much bigger than what I had experienced up to this point, even with all of my success. I went back to Turkey, packed my things, and left my family and established career. Even though I was working odd jobs & delivering pizzas, I loved New York right away. This was a second chance to become who I really wanted to become, and whatever that was I knew I wanted to be behind a camera.
I would see these people selling their photos on the streets, and thought I could definitely do that! I didn’t know hardly any English at the time, but I knew I had a good eye. I bought a scooter and started going around the city taking photos of New York from all different angles. I did this for 3 years, with my best spot being in front of The Guggenheim Museum. That is where Emily & I first met. I took her out the next night, and we were engaged 4 months later.
You’re quite the renaissance man, Ayhan. What has been the proudest moment of your career thus far?
It was my second year in NYC. I heard Bill Clinton was signing his new book at the Barnes & Noble on 5th Avenue. The line was wrapped around the block to get in, and people had been camped out for days to meet him. As I joined the back of the line you could see huge storm clouds rolling in, but no one in that line had an umbrella. As a New Yorker, you see those umbrella guys on every corner as soon as a sprinkle begins just waiting to sell umbrellas to the desperate commuters. Something inside of me told me to go to a dollar store and buy as many umbrellas as I could, but in the same breath I was fighting with myself internally. I didn’t want to be one of those guys, and most importantly I did not want to be seen being one of the guys by anyone I knew from Turkey. Even though I knew I was living my most fulfilled life.
But I did it. I took the $50 in pocket and went a bought 50 umbrellas. As soon as I got back the downpour happened. I began yelling out to the crowd “$5 umbrellas!”. I sold everything I had in less than two minutes. I didn’t have any change to break bigger bills & I was scrambling to make sure no one was missed. The last umbrella I gave out was to the guard at the Barnes & Noble door. He pushed me through the front of the line and into the store I went. Within seconds I had Bill Clinton’s book in my hand, and I was next in line to speak with him. I had dollar bills stuffed in every pocket, I was drenched from the rain, and a little flustered of all the events that had happened in the past 10 minutes!
Bill Clinton looked at me and asked “How are you and where are you from?”. I told him, in my very broken english, “I was out there selling umbrellas. How are you? I’m from Turkey!”. He signed my book and said “Welcome to America”. This is the moment in my career that really opened my eyes. This really taught me that there isn’t anything I can’t do. When you take a risk, it takes courage, and courage alone opens doors and opportunities. When you push yourself out of your comfort zone, you will always be rewarded.
Clearly you & Emily are incredibly busy, running a business & chasing after children. Have you learned how to separate your work life from your home life or have you learned to merge the two?
When we are working we are thinking about the kids, and when we are with the kids we are thinking about work. We do everything, simultaneously, always. We do make a conscious decision to make time just for family, and even if we don’t they definitely drag us into their worlds- which I’m thankful for. I definitely play with them more than my parents played with me. I’m not blaming them- they had a very busy life, and it was a different world then, but I know the difference it can make in my kids life by spending quality time together. Clearly, we have learned to merge the two. Emily works the same way. We have it down. Some days we say okay for 4 hours we wont work. Weekends we visit our locations with the kids. We want our teams to know our family and we want our kids to see what we do everyday. They are still young but i want to teach them a good work ethic, how to respect what we do, and our teams.
What did you learn about yourself after becoming a father that surprised you the most?
I never have backed down from anyone in my life before- if I’m right, then I know I’m right. No one can tell me different. Even though a lot of the times I’m right, I’ve learned to be silent and let them figure things out on their own. They are always going to love you, and they the most precious things in your life. Kids teach you a lot about life, & compromises. When you have your own children you become more empathetic with the people in your life. Being a family makes you think how can you contribute to other families/people.
What traits of yourself & Emily do you see in Ali, 5, & Eren, 3?
Emily and I are very passionate with what we do and the way we do our lives. I see that in the boys. The smallest thing, the games, the super heros- they put their all into. They are two different characters, and they definitely get the best and worst parts of us. Ali, for instance, is impatient like me, but I have had to learned to be more patient. I want everything to be done yesterday- he’s the same. So we are both working on that. I’m trying to teach him to work on a goal without getting frustrated when it doesn’t happen quickly. We try to give them as much freedom as we can to explore what they are interested in.
What are some main lessons/values you want to instill in your boys?
I want them to be respectful to every living creature. I want them to live their lives freely, but their freedom is not going to cause problems for other people. You can have money, but you also need to share. You can be successful, but that success gives you a platform to help people. You can be well educated, but never think of yourself as above people that were not given that chance. Animals and plants included! I’m teaching them to not crush bugs (they love doing this). I tell them they are a living creature therefore they have a right to live. It doesn’t matter the skin color, religion, or walks of life. Even though America has seen better days, this is why we live here. Also, I want my boys to be respectful and kind to girls. This book I read years ago Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus explains it best- we are just different creatures. Their careers and all of that stuff is up to them, and I will be there for advice and support.
How would you respond if either child said they wanted to own their own business?
I hope they will! I don’t know where our business will be at that age, but I want them to go after their dreams, ultimately. It’s my job to tell them if I think they are going into a bad business deal or heading down the wrong path, but it’s ultimately their decision. Hopefully, through experiences they will learn that advice from others is invaluable. Everything I’ve learned in business is by making mistakes. No one in my family is an entrepreneur, so I had to just learn it as I went.
Do your kids find you funny? What really gets your boys laughing?
Yes, I think they do. The best game that I love and I think they also like is “kissing you so bad”. When they get in trouble or do something they weren’t supposed to, instead of putting them in time out I tell them I’m going to kiss them so bad as their punishment. I grab them and kiss them 50x, and instead of correcting their naughtiness with a negative vibe, we are able to put a positive spin on us teaching them a lesson. They laugh so so hard. We laugh with everything we do.
What advice do you have for new dads?
This is not my advice, but this is the advice I took away from others before I had kids from other dads. Spend as much time as you can with your kids and family. Business is important, but when you’re old, the only moments you will miss is the moments you didn’t spend with your family. We need to create as many memories as we can with our kids. It has nothing to do with money or business success. Creating memories is all about creativity and being genuine; taking them to the park, letting them travel with you. Because at the end of the day, all they really want is to spend time with you.