Category winner: The Acquisition Experiences of KazOil

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This case won the Free Case category at The Case Centre Awards and competitions 2019.
The case

Who – the protagonists

Nurlan Ospanov, Head of Corporate Finance at KazOil.


KazOil is an oil production company based in the oil-rich former Soviet state of Kazakhstan.

KazOil is currently under Chinese ownership, who bought it for $4.2 billion from Canadian firm Hydrocarbons.


Compared to the previous Canadian owners, who worked closely with staff and involved them in decision making, the latest Chinese bosses were sticklers for bureaucracy, hierarchy and set rules and practices, often cutting out the local managers and general staff. Within the first two years of the acquisition, many local managers had left.

Nurlan was contemplating how to improve working conditions under the current owners.


Kazakhstan is bigger than the whole of Western Europe, and KazOil has three bases across the country.

The headquarters are located in the former capital Almaty in the south, the main production field and support officers are in Kzylorda, 900km to the north-west, and the refinery plant is in Skymkent, 600km southwest of Almaty.


China Petrol bought KazOil in 2005. This came nine years after Hydrocarbons were sold KazOil for $120 million by the Kazakhstan government.

Key quote

“Everything is better now – we have medical insurance, we have good bonuses…but people are still leaving, and that is directly caused by the different style of management.” – KazOil Corporate Taxes Manager speaking in 2006.

nextWhat next?

After sitting through another gimmicky speech from the owners, Nurlan knew he had to do something.

But his list of questions was endless. How could he motivate his employees to give their best? What kind of incentives could he offer them to stay at KazOil?

Interested in finding out more?

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The Acquisition Experiences of KazOil
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Teaching note
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The authors

authorsDana Minbaeva and Maral Muratbekova-Touron

Dana talks about their published sources case and writing process.

Striking the right balance

Dana said: “Writing cases is an extremely rewarding experience. It is very much about creating and telling a story in a most interesting way.

striking the right balance

“Writing a case from published sources can be a mixed blessing: it can help you to create your story, but it can also become ‘too dry’.

“Actually, we used data triangulation and all three of its subtypes: time, space and person. We explicitly searched for as many different data sources as possible (face-to-face interviews, group interviews, intra-company surveys, participant observations, archived material) at different times (1997-2007) and in different sub-units of the same subsidiary (three business units, various departments). Maral and I are acquainted with the Kazakhstani culture and speak the local languages (Kazakh and Russian).”

Contrasting cultures

Dana added: “Although the company’s name is disguised, the story and experiences are very real and indeed fascinating.

“We spent almost ten years following one company during two consecutive acquisitions, by very different MNCs from two different national cultures.

“What also makes our case fascinating and truly unique from an empirical point of view, is the choice of the companies and the environment in which they operate. We chose a developing country as our context, and a country underrepresented in international business research, the Republic of Kazakhstan.”

Practice makes perfect

She continued: “We rewrote the case several times to achieve the right flow. We were aiming for a story that would enable classroom discussion by focusing on a management challenge, where the answer is not obvious.”

spreading the reachSpreading the reach of the case method

“I have received several emails from faculty in recently established business schools, in developing countries, thanking us for making this case available for free download. Business schools in those underdeveloped parts of the world do not have funding to acquire cases for education, and it’s essential we do all we can to make cases accessible for everyone.”

About the authors

Dana Minbaeva is Professor of Strategic and Global Human Resource Management at the Department of Strategy and Innovation, and the Vice-President for International Affairs at Copenhagen Business School.

Maral Muratbekova-Touron is Professor of Management at ESCP Europe.


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