In the 150th year of Gulbenkian's birth, host of the BBC World Service Rajan Datar follows the Istanbul-born Armenian financier, art collector and philanthropist Calouste Gulbenkian’s life and deal-making with his great grandson Martin Essayan, historian Dr. Jonathan Conlin, author of a new biography of Gulbenkian and Professor of Business History Joost Jonker.
“The twenty eighth of June, 1914 is a momentous day in world history. Not just because that was when the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo which soon led to the first World War but also because on that very same day stroke of a pen in Istanbul granted permission for a fledgling international cartel to look for oil in many of the middle eastern territories that the Ottoman Empire then controlled,” the host noted.
According to him, “an Istanbul born financier of Armenian origin is largely responsible for the way the middle eastern oil industry has operated for decades.”
The host and his guests touched upon the influence of Gulbenkian’s family on oil exports.
According to Joost Jonker, Gulbenkian family belongs to the merchant group in Istanbul.
“They are trading just about everything internationally from Istanbul to all over the world, particularly France, Britain, Russia,” he said.
The interlocutors touched upon the influence of Nvard Essayan, great grandmother of Martin Essayan on their business issues.
According to Martin Essayan, “it was first of all love and patience as they both kept the love letters they were sending to each other, they show very closely that they were very much in love and passionate about each other.”
“It was very convenient marriage for him because it provided him the entry to the inner circle of the merchant elite with the global connections,” he added.
According to the host, sometimes Gulbenkian was obsessive with documentation and checking as ‘check, check, check’ was his motto.
“So it's curious that we know very little about his business in the five years after his wedding when he made and possibly lost his first millions,” he added.
According to host, he was also a passionate art collector as his collection totals over thousands of pieces from all over the world, dating from antiquity until the early twentieth century.