Ambiguous decolonisation: a postcolonial reading of the IHRM strategy of the Burmah Oil Company

Neveen Abdelrehim*, Aparajith Ramnath, Andrew Smith, Andrew Popp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


This article uses the lens of postcolonial theory to determine the extent to which colonial features persisted in the organisational culture of the Burmah Oil Company (BOC) after decolonisation in South Asia. It does this through an examination of the evolving staffing strategies of the BOC and its South Asian (especially Indian) subsidiaries before and after 1947. Through an analysis of archival material and company literature, we demonstrate that the BOC switched from an ethnocentric to a polycentric-staffing strategy very gradually, with senior managerial positions being occupied by British managers into the 1970s, well after other British MNEs operating in India had already made this transition. We suggest that this persistence of colonial modes of organisation contributed to the BOC’s tense relations with the Indian government, and the latter’s decision to nationalise the firm.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBusiness History
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)98-126
Number of pages29
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Also published as a chapter in: "Indian Business in the Twentieth Century
Development within an Era of Globalisation" (Routledge, 2022).


  • Oil industry
  • Burmah Oil Company
  • Postcolonial management theory
  • HRM policies
  • Indian government
  • Decolonisation
  • Coloniality
  • Ethnocentric staffing strategies

Cite this