Azerbaijan International

Summer 1998 (6.2)
Pages 68-69


Last Thoughts Before Leaving Baku
An Interview with Ken Bradley, President of UNOCAL

Ken BradleyMost of the people in Azerbaijan who know UNOCAL's Ken Bradley know him for his great sense of humor. His witty manner and warm smile will soon be missed, as he is leaving Baku after being here five and a half years. He'll be returning to his hometown of Sydney, Australia. Bradley is the last manager to leave Azerbaijan from among the initial group of foreign oil representatives that came several years ago. In a recent interview, Azerbaijan International's Pirouz Khanlou asked Bradley to reflect on his years of living and working in Azerbaijan.

What was it like in the early days when the first groups of managers were coming over from the oil companies?

I first arrived in December 1992. I still remember getting off the plane and the cold wind was blowing so hard and I kept wondering, "Have I done the right thing?" Driving into the city from the airport, everything showed signs of an extremely depressed economy.

There were huge problems at that time and things got worse before they got better. The war with Armenia was going on. Factory output was falling. Productivity was falling. More and more people were out of jobs. My company was asking itself questions like: "Is this a stable situation to invest in?" We were very attentive to how the war was progressing. I often looked at maps and tried to understand what the situation was and where the action was happening. The situation looked quite grim up until May 1994, when a cease-fire was signed.

BakuHow did your company come to a decision back then to work with Azerbaijan? It was a fairly unknown place, and as you said, not very stable.

I think that for a company the size of UNOCAL, it made a lot of sense to work in Azerbaijan, because the country showed signs of wanting to be independent. UNOCAL's logo, you know, is "1776-the Spirit of Independence." We had that in the back of our minds and were looking for a certain kind of a country. We thought Azerbaijan was that sort of country. Plus Azerbaijan's geographical location seemed to make it a fairly easy place to work in.

We were very happy to see that a stable government did get established. We began to see an end to the relentless depression that had been imposed on the country. Conditions began to improve for us and for the Azeris.

People from Moscow kept asking us, "Why are you in Azerbaijan?" They considered Azerbaijan to be some sort of "backyard" for them. And I replied that for UNOCAL Azerbaijan is the "frontyard." We held the exact opposite view. Because of Azerbaijan's geographical position, we envisaged that you could get the oil out of here with a minimum of problems compared to further distances inside Russia. Although these matters are very complex even now, we still believe it is a viable place to do business. Our perceptions are based on the continued demonstration of independence that this country has exhibited.

As everyone knows, the opportunities for oil production are quite immense here compared to many other countries of the world. We'll see in next few years if our perception and judgment is correct.

Sometimes people arrive in Baku and complain about things-that must make you laugh, considering how much things have changed.

Being an expatriate here isn't a big problem anymore. In fact, I find it harder and harder to find things to complain about. But I must admit, I almost liked it better when there were fewer expatriates here.

Are there any new challenges?

There are a lot more companies here now. Because we were successful in negotiating earlier contracts, we made it more difficult for ourselves overall to negotiate new contracts. Now there are a lot more competitors here trying to do the same thing. Well, that's fine. It shows growth in the business. It demonstrates that there are a lot more people exhibiting the same confidence that we had in earlier years.

I've seen the Azeri side learn how to handle foreigners, too. It took a while to build trust between the two groups. The people who negotiated the oil deals were very professional. Once we got past the first stage and it was shown that the "Contract of the Century" (the AIOC contract signed in 1994) was possible, other companies were encouraged to come forward and think seriously about investing in Azerbaijan. I'm glad that my company saw the opportunity much earlier, and had enough faith in Azerbaijan to believe that it could be a viable investment.

It's difficult to do business in Azerbaijan unless you understand their point of view and get to know and trust them. Valuable relationships go beyond business. One thing I'm taking away from this experience is an appreciation for the individuals I've met and worked with here - I'll never forget them.

Tell us about your experiences at the American Embassy.

I've had a lot of fun with the American ambassadors. They've had some very good people here. I've also enjoyed the local people in the embassy, especially the security guards.

I'll never forget one morning, I was trying to go inside the embassy, and I could tell that the security guard was new to the job. He'd been given a list of how to check visitors, so he immediately went down the list and started asking questions in his faltering English. And then he asked me: "Do you have a gun?" And I replied, "No, I don't, but I can go out and get one if that's what is required to get in here!"

I guess that was a bit unfair of me to say, since his English wasn't so good and he was just trying to do his best. I saw him again a few months later. He took one look at me and laughed: "Did you bring your gun?"

Do you have any advice for expatriates who are coming to Azerbaijan for the first time?

I remember being very apprehensive when I came because I didn't know the Azeri language or Russian. But here I am nearly six years later still much in the same situation but I feel very happy and comfortable about everything because of the kindness of the people.

I guess my advice to people coming to Azerbaijan is to be sensitive about what's going on here. Be aware of the transitions that are occurring here. Understand where Azerbaijan has come from and realize the huge problems that have been tackled. Once you show some sensitivity to these things, you'll understand that you're very fortunate coming from the background that you do. You probably take its framework of law and order for granted.

Let's talk some more about your own experience in Azerbaijan. You were one of those who was involved with humanitarian organizations early on.

Yes, that's right. I'm very interested in humanitarian aid programs. We distributed blankets in 1993 during the war, just outside Aghdam. That was quite an experience seeing all those refugees living along the sides of roads, coming from kilometers away-often on foot-just to escape war zones. That's a vivid memory for me. You can read about it in newspapers, but it's not the same thing as being there. We've also been working with a tuberculosis clinic here in Baku. We've also involved with several projects for the refugees.

In fact, tomorrow we're scheduled to go out to Fuzuli area to look at newly constructed homes that will replace those which were damaged by the war. I think, apart from giving money to humanitarian organizations that oversee such projects, we need to show solidarity with their efforts. We need to go out there and appear-even if it's just a few times a year. Even so, to do that and show interest helps urge them on.

One thing I thought early on when we were trying to set up the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) was that Americans needed ways of demonstrating its support of this country especially since the U.S. government has blocked all direct aid to this country. It's great to see AmCham up and running and I hope it continues to grow. We have people now who will carry it forward.

Now that you're going back to Sydney. Does that mean you've retired?

I've told people that I'm going home to sit on a beach but most people find that hard to believe. I suppose I do, too.

So, what are you going to do?

Get ready for my next trip to Baku. No, really. My eldest son works as a welfare worker in Sydney with two different organizations. He works with street children, spending a lot of time with them and trying to help them. I might work with him on that as well.

What's your next assignment?

I'm going to Sydney to set up a new office there. Since I haven't lived there for 27 years, it'll be basically the same thing I've always done-establishing a new office and trying to understand how people work. The people there have changed over time, and it's up to me to learn how to work with them again.

Do you expect to come back to Baku for a visit?

I'll be very disappointed if I don't get in a visit or two in the future. It will be fascinating to see the differences.

My homeland, Australia, is a long way from here. Although they begin with the same letter, they're really a long way apart! Over the years, I've made many trips between these two countries. Someone from an airline company once asked me: "How could we help you with the trips between the two?" And I said: "Well, for starters, you could move the two countries a bit closer together."

In the year 2000, Azerbaijan and Australia will be close together when the Olympic games are held in my hometown, Sydney. I'll be happy to see the Azerbaijan team there, and I'll make sure to cheer them on.

From Azerbaijan International (6.2) Summer 1998.
© Azerbaijan International 1998. All rights reserved.

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