In world’s business history, there are rarely such individuals who, being born in a rich family, achieve significant achievements on their own. Calouste Gulbenkian, the first Armenian businessman of the 20th century, a unique art lover, a skilled diplomat and a pioneer of the Middle East oil industry, a billionaire and a philanthropist, was just that exception. Many people know about his remarkable riches, but few people know Gulbenkian's journey, as well as the obstacles he overcame to become the top oil giant.
Forbes Armenia presents Calouste Gulbenkian's path to success - life and activity chronology.
1869 - On March 23rd (March 1st and March 29th are also mentioned), Calouste Gulbenkian was born in the family of Sargis and Tiruhi Gulbenkian. Sargis was a successful and wealthy carpet merchant from one of the branches of the ruling historical Armenian dynasty of the House of Rshtuni, in Skyutar district of Constantinopolis.
1876 - 7-year-old Calouste is awarded with a Silver Turkish Coin for excellent schoolwork in the Aramian-Unchyan school of Constantinopolis and exchanges it in the market for an ancient coin, which was the first financial transaction of his life, and the "firstborn" of future collections. (In the future he would acquire John Morgan's famous collection of ancient Greek coins).
1887 - Gulbenkian moves to Marseille, France, studies at St. Joseph’s College in Saint-Joseph, mastering French, and then enters King's College in London to study Petroleum Engineering and Applied Science. He then graduated with honors from Oxford University with a degree in Petroleum Engineering. During that time, Gulbenkian manages to learn and master 8 (eight) languages.
1890 - 21-year-old Gulbenkian was already a world-renowned expert in the oil sector. Shortly after, he was a 30% shareholder of the Turkish National Bank and also had a 15% share in the Turkish Oil Company.
1891 - Calouste travels to Baku to explore the local oil fields. Here, another well-known Armenian businessman, Alexander Mantashiants, provides him with valuable information about the oil industry and oil business. Within a year, Gulbenkian, with the help of Mantashiants, fully mastered the skills and secrets of the oil business, and published in French an important work on the exploitation and development of oil reserves in the Middle East, entitled "La Transcaucasia et la Peninsula d'Apcheron-Souvenirs de Voyage".
1892 - Gulbenkian takes his first steps in the Turkish oil distribution business, but due to the mass massacres of Armenians and the political instability of that country, the Gulbenkian family moves to London. In the same year, Calouste marries Nvard Yesaian, who came from an Armenian noble family.
1896 - The first child of Calouste Gulbenkian and Nvard Yesaian, Nubar-Sargis, was born, and in 1900, the second child, Rita-Sirvard was born.
1898 - By the Ottoman Empire and Persia, Gulbenkian was appointed as an Economic Advisor for the oil sector in the embassies of Paris and London.
1902 - Gulbenkian receives British citizenship, which allows him to obtain a license and establish his own oil office in London. Moreover, using flexible diplomacy and using the 30,000-pound capital provided by his father, Gulbenkian joins several wealthy oil industrialists and urges them to invest in the development of oil fields in Mesopotamia.
1910 - The Young Turk Revolution (1908-1909) did not shake Gulbenkian's political or economic positions, which was greatly facilitated by his strong foothold in Europe. Gulbenkian not only retains the powers of the Economic Advisor of the Ottoman embassies in London and Paris, but was also appointed as an Advisor to the National Bank established in Turkey.
1912 - Due to Gulbenkian's efforts, the Turkish Petroleum Company (T.P.C.) was already established, 35% of which belonged to the National Bank of Turkey, 25% to the Anglo-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell concern, and 25% to the German Deutsche Bank, and 15% to himself. However, Great Britain does not accept this reality, and forces the T.P.C. to redistribute the shares. As a result, T.P.C. was forced to compete with the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, and the latter was supported by the British Foreign Office. Later, the shares of the National Bank of Turkey were transferred to the "Anglo-Persian" oil company. Now, the latter starts to manage 50% of the shares of the Turkish Petrolium Company, while German Deutsche Bank and Royal Dutch Shell kept their 25% each. According to the approved new contract, the Anglo-Persian Group and Royal Dutch Shell each paid Gulbenkian 2.5% of the total value of the assets (as "profit interest"). This was fixed forever, while Gulbenkian receives his famous "Mr. 5%" title.
1913-1914 - As a result of negotiations between oil companies, T.P.C. is reorganized and profits are redistributed between Anglo-Persian Oil Company, Royal Dutch-Shell Group and the Germans, and Gulbenkian's share is reduced from 15% to 5%. During that period, Gulbenkian decided to create a new oil company, Comite General du Petrol, aiming to acquire the securities of Deutsche Bank. At the famous San Remo conference, disagreements arise between oil companies regarding the exploitation of oil fields. Gulbenkian takes a red pencil and calmly draws the oil domain of each state, as a result of which the San Remo Agreement is called the "Red Line Agreement".
1915 - The First World War ends, the huge Ottoman Empire collapses, the Western Armenians are subjected to a new genocide by the Turks, and negotiations between the victorious and defeated countries begin in Europe. Gulbenkian had to start negotiations again with the old and new partners who appeared on the scene. France, victorious in the war, was among the contenders for the oil reserves of the Middle East, and Germany, as the defeated side, was out of the game. The US also did not want to give up the riches of oil fields in Mesopotamia and especially in northern Iraq. In this situation, thanks to Gulbenkian, 14 years after the formation of the Turkish Petrolium Company, a new agreement is drawn up within the framework of the newly established Iraq Petrolium Company, whose shares were distributed between the former English and Anglo-Persian, French and American companies, which later become oil giants. Adhering to his principles, Gulbenkian keeps his share within 5% and tries to get it from almost all major oil fields.
1936 - Gulbenkian's global fame and name is related to another mission, which seems to have been predetermined long ago. It was a bright reflection of his mysterious high aesthetic taste, thanks to which Gulbenkian collected about 6 thousand unique works of art throughout his life. His collection continues to be replenished with new works, and the collected samples of the collection increase so much that they no longer fit in the accommodation he has. For security reasons, he moves some of them to London, and the Egyptian art collection was given to the British Museum for protection. These samples were later (1948-1950) transferred to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, then returned to Portugal a few years later.
1938 - Gulbenkian merges with the oil and gas company Panama, which is then renamed Partex Oil and Gas (Holdings) Corporation and later becomes the property of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, now based in Lisbon. The British authorities wanted to keep Gulbenkian's financial resources in Great Britain, but Gulbenkian decided to transfer it to another country, where the conditions were more favorable in all respects.
1942 - During the hottest years of the Second World War, Gulbenkian searches for and finds a neutral country in Europe where hostilities were not taking place and which was not occupied by Nazi Germany. That country was Portugal, where he moved all of his wealth and personal collection, which remained entirely there after his death. In addition, during the Second World War, the Americans through the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco) began to penetrate the oil fields of the Arab world, violating the 1928 consent obtained. During these same years, Gulbenkian is the delegate of Iraq in Paris, after which he is also the Commercial and Diplomatic Representative of Persia.
1948-1950 - as a result of new negotiations, the parties come to an agreement, as a result of which Gulbenkian's previously proposed "Red Line" is eliminated.
1955 - On July 20, Calouste Gulbenkian, a prominent businessman, a skilled diplomat, a pioneer of the Middle East oil industry, a philanthropist and a great art lover, one of the greatest people of the century, died in the luxurious hotel "Aves" in Lisbon, Portugal, where he spent the last thirteen years of his life. His remains are enshrined in St. Sargis Church, that was built in London at his own expense. At the end of his life, Gulbenkian's fortune was estimated at 840 million US dollars.
2012 - In January, when the list of people who in 1951-1999 were nominated for the Queen's Award of Great Britain was published, it became known that Calouste Gulbenkian in 1951 was Nominated by Queen Elizabeth II for the KBE (Knight Commander: Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), the highest government award of the British Empire, which would have also earned him the title of "Sir". However, the great businessman refuses the gift...
Oil production was gradually becoming more profitable in the world, and when European countries and the USA were not yet fully interested in the oil fields of the Middle East, Gulbenkian was the first to notice the prospects of large-scale exploitation of oil fields. During those years, he invested his efforts in protecting the interests of two major partners, the Ottoman Empire and England, ensuring for a long time the monopoly of exploiting Mesopotamian oil for them and keeping his own share. Along with operating the first oil well in the Persian Gulf, Gulbenkian bought oil-bearing lands in Persia, and later became one of the founders of British Petroleum, which was later renamed "Anglo-Persian Oil Company". On the eve of the First World War, Germany also has ambitions for Arab oil. The British ask Gulbenkian to negotiate with Germany, in order to reduce their share of oil fields as much as possible. As a result of long-term negotiations, Gulbenkian prepares a draft agreement that would satisfy all interested parties. Later, when the British became the main shareholders of the oil business in the region, they had to give up 5% of them to Gulbenkian. Of course, his voice could not be decisive in making decisions in the company, but he would always have his share of the revenue. This is how the legend of "Mr. 5%" is born.
Gulbenkian a Philanthropist
During his lifetime, Gulbenkian made many extravagant donations. Being very careful and moderate in his own family, he spared no money to make generous donations to the Armenian communities of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan. He made donations not only to Armenian communities, but also to many foreign organizations.
1920-1922 - The Armenian community in London expresses its desire to have a church and addresses Gulbenkian with this issue. He meets the request of the Armenian community and soon the Saint Sargis Church is built with his funds, modeled after the bell tower of Haghpat Monastery in Armenia. To this day, that church is considered one of the most beautiful memorials in London, where the ceremonies are performed at the expense of funds given by Gulbenkian.
1929 - Thanks to Gulbenkian's large charitable investments, the building of the "Gulbenkian" seminary, attached to the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, is being built, and a library was also supplied to it at one time. He also undertakes the building of many other churches in the Middle East.
1920-1940 - Gulbenkian takes Armenian schools and medical centers in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq under his auspices. He also invests a lot of money in the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, for the renovation of the Holy Savior Hospital in Constantinople/ Istanbul, as well as the construction of the Nubarashen and New Kesaria districts, which are being built on the suburbs of Yerevan (The capital of Soviet Armenia), also provides 400,000 US dollars for the reconstruction of the museum and the restoration of the walls of The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin in Soviet Armenia.
1936 - Gulbenkian decides to donate all his property in Turkey to the Yerevan State University, but the representatives of Soviet Armenia, who were supposed to help Gulbenkian in that matter, are declared enemies of the people one after the other and are shot. The issue of this donation was soon closed by the Turkish government, prohibiting the further organization of Gulbenkian's donations by a special law.
1930-1932 - After the death of Poghos Nubar Pasha, Gulbenkian took over the leadership of the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) founded in Cairo in 1906.
1953 - At the end of his life, he was thinking about his will, in which he also expressed his wish to create a special fund in Lisbon to collect all the pieces of his collection - all his "children" scattered throughout Europe. According to his final will, which he signed on June 18, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation was to be located in Lisbon and governed by Portuguese law, but at the same time was to contribute to the progress of all mankind. According to various information sources, he bequeathed to the Future Foundation an annual profit of 2.6 billion and 102 million US dollars, with which the foundation was to continue its charitable projects in various countries around the world.
1956 - In Lisbon, his will begins the activities of his philanthropic crown, the Gulbenkian Foundation, which inherited not only his oil income but also his art collection. Only specifically mentioned in his will was about the allocation of 450 thousand US dollars for the renovation of St. Etchmiadzin Cathedral in Soviet Armenia. However, with the efforts of Gevorg Yesaian, the husband of the daughter of Calouste Gulbenkian, a member of the testamentary body, a new department of Armenian communities was opened in the foundation. The annual budget of the Armenian department is about 4 million US dollars, which is regularly distributed to scientific, health, educational and cultural organizations of the Diaspora and RA (since 1964). Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation has made large allocations especially to individual organizations and structures of Armenia. The foundation has been in contact with the Mother University of Armenia for more than 56 years. With his support, since the 90s, Yerevan State University has published 110 volumes of Armenian studies, as well as a guest house.
P.S. It is noteworthy that all his life Gulbenkian dreamed of coming to Armenia and donating all his wealth to Soviet Armenia. The great philanthropist tried to find ways to implement his idea during various formats of meetings with Armenian intellectuals sent abroad, but the Soviet authorities considered him a capitalist exploiting people and categorically forbade his entry to Soviet Armenia, where the names of Gulbenkian and other Diaspora Armenian philanthropists were constantly condemned and mutilated.
Author: Forbes Armenia
Source: Articles by Tsulikian, Z. Balaian, Z. Yekavian, K. Mayilian, H. Hakobian, as well as various news sources, including gulbenkian.pt.