The Recruitment of Business Elite in a Colonial Context: The Case of British Cyprus

The economic development of Cyprus during the last fifty years has a lot to do with the ability of individuals in the private sector to generate economic growth. However, not much is known about the entrepreneurs who spearheaded the opening up of the island to globalization and contributed to the economic transformation. The proposed paper seeks to examine the recruitment of business elite within the colonial setting discussing the social variables which determined the profile of major businessmen throughout the period under British rule, spanning from 1878 to 1959. The case of Cyprus merits attention as it reflects on the evolution of business activity within two different colonial environments. The island experienced the transition from the Ottoman to the British rule in 1878, but western institutions were introduced in the 1920s when Cyprus was officially declared a Crown Colony. The traditional mercantile class of the late Ottoman period emerged from the old aristocracy and benefited largely from the growth of commercial agriculture, trans-Mediterranean migration and tax farming. Land and capital determined their business activity. Over time and by the 1940s a group of “newly prosperous entrepreneurs” emerged (Crouzet, 2011; Meyer and Vassiliou, 1962), who originated from the middle class and were highly educated. Evidently, between the two periods substantial social and economic changes occurred that transformed the profile of the key economic players. Based on a new database of prominent individuals and through a multivariate data analysis of demographic and social variables, the paper will interpret the parameters which stimulated the evolution of the business elite shedding light at the same time on the role of colonial institutions.