Mr. Five Percent: Calouste Gulbenkian and the Origins of Global Oil
This case describes the business career of Calouste Gulbenkian, a skilled intermediary who was able to secure 5 per cent of a vast oil concession covering much of the Middle East that was signed in 1928. Gulbenkian was an ethnic Armenian born in the Ottoman Empire, which was a large multi-ethnic empire covering large swathes of the Middle East and eastern Europe. Gulbenkian's career is set against the steady erosion of the Empire's sovereignty by Western powers, and mounting ethnic tensions. These trends reached their climax in the modernizing Young Turk Revolution of 1908, the Ottoman entry to World War 1 on the side of Germany, the massacres of millions of Armenians and other ethnic groups, and the creation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923. Against this background, Gulbenkian distanced himself from the family merchant business, became a financier in London, and formed a close relationship with Henri Deterding, the leader of the power Royal Dutch Shell oil group. After the Young Turk Revolution, he also worked for the new government, forming a company to exploit the oil resources of the Empire with him and Royal Dutch Shell among the shareholders, and securing a vast oil concession. These arrangements were disrupted by the war, the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, and the entry into the region of the United States government and oil companies. However, Gulbenkian survived numerous attempts to dislodge him and his shareholding was confirmed in the Red Line Agreement of 1928. The case provides an opportunity to explore the role of intermediaries in global business and more specifically, to show how the control of Middle Eastern oil ended up for a half a century in the hands of a small number of oligopolistic Western oil companies with no ownership by local stakeholders.