Branobel applied many of the most modern social innovations of the time. There were welfare institutions that regulated working hours, staff accommodation and some health care for the staff. The operation was also characterised by the lack of skilled staff in Russia. Many engineers and other specialists were recruited from Sweden, Finland and Norway.
1907 was a bloodstained and tragic year for the Swedish colony in Baku. Four Swedish Nobel managers were shot dead at different times. One explanation for the murders was discontent by the workers for not being allowed to do piecework.
The Swedish engineer, Wilhelm Hagelin, was born in Russia and came to Baku at the end of the 1870s as a stowaway on the river boat. Barely 20 years of age, he started as a filer at Robert Nobel's paraffin factory and ended up responsible for managing Branobel during the troubled years that heralded the Russian revolution. The new Soviet regime offered him the opportunity to manage the technical operations of the entire oil industry in Baku – but he declined.
One of Branobel's works managers, the Swede, Gustaf Eklundh, lost everything as a result of the Russian revolution and never spoke to anyone about his time in Russia. But his Finnish wife, Vivi, and his daughters were able to describe a meeting with a sheik and the ladies of his harem. Something that was to have unforeseen complications...
Robert Nobel employs geologists at an early stage to search for oil and gas deposits around the Caspian Sea. The first Swedish geologists who come to Baku travel far and wide around the area and extend their field of knowledge. Leaving the university environment was not always looked on with approval.
Finns, Scots and Norwegians are attractive when the brothers, Alfred and Robert Nobel, want to overcome the management problems in Branobel. The Norwegian businessman, Hans Olsen, is given an important position and creates order in the distribution chain.
At the beginning of the century, the Baku oil field workers presented, as contemporaries put it, “a mixture of tribes and nations”. That “black mineral oil army” consisted of many culturally distinct groups, within which there were also personal differences, as revealed in the workers’ personnel records .
What was the experience of the Branobel Company in managing ethnic relations during the Armenian-Azerbaijani clashes in the Baku oil fields? Human resources policy was non discriminatory in principle. Day-to-day practice was another matter.