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Lancaster MBA graduate working to free the world of chemical weapons

Christoph Israng

16 March 2015

Christoph Israng, who graduated from LUMS in 1995, discusses his work as a diplomat at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

As a diplomat representing Germany at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) at The Hague, Lancaster MBA graduate Christoph Israng is very conscious of having an active role in making history and making the world a better place.

As Germany’s youngest serving ambassador, Israng is clear that diplomacy is usually about witnessing the unfolding of history, but his current post gives him an urgent sense of being an active participant. The week he spoke to Lancaster University Management School, he had spent hours in international meetings of the OPCW’s Executive Council, negotiating a resolution on chemical weapons in Syria.

“I feel I have a responsibility to help free the world of chemical weapons,” says Israng. “At the moment we are focussed on Syria. It is outrageous that toxic chemicals are still being used as weapons.”

Foreign policy

A graduate (1995) of the Lancaster Full-time MBA programme, Israng took up his current role in July 2014, after serving for more than eight years on the foreign policy advisory team of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel - latterly dealing with the Ukrainian crisis. He has no ambitions for personal recognition, but a strong desire to make a positive impact as part of a team.

His days are spent in international meetings - representing the German government, talking to members of other delegations and to representatives of the chemical industry. Adaptability and the ability to get on with people from a wide range of cultures and backgrounds are the vital skills on which he depends on a daily basis.

This was the buzz he experienced at Lancaster on the world-renowned MBA programme. Lancaster for him meant working in teams of people from all backgrounds and cultures, to tackle a completely different task at short notice. In addition to his MBA he also gained a PhD in economic geography from the University of Bonn, as well as a business administration degree at the WHU Otto Beisheim School of Management in Koblenz, Germany.

MBA projects

Israng recalls a UN team task at Lancaster lasting several days on what to do with Hong Kong, with the MBA class split into national delegations for the UK, USA, China and Hong Kong. “Looking back, it proved very realistic,” he says. “I enjoyed it a lot and it whetted my appetite for more. It made me think about perhaps not joining a company after university, but instead becoming a diplomat.”

The open outlook at Lancaster excited him. For another memorable project, he and a small team of fellow students decided they wanted to work in Bhutan. They capitalised on the country’s almost non-existent tourism, to work with a new tour operator to develop eco-tourism there. To produce a business plan, the team had to go out to Bhutan for 10 days, which they financed by undertaking other projects for European companies, which paid their fares. The result was so good that the entrepreneurial team was asked to do the same in Laos, and Israng admits the work was very enjoyable.

His Lancaster experience was clearly a happy, as well as a useful one. Drawn by the Lancaster MBA’s reputation, he found himself participating in everything he could on the sporting front - the hockey team, the rowing club and he even participated in the Roses competition – and he also enjoyed the northern beer.

International diplomacy

Building on the knowledge he gained at Lancaster, he went on to work at a number of international companies, including Lufthansa, McKinsey, Dresdner Bank and Volkswagen de Mexico, before joining the German Foreign Service in 1997.

Since then he has held several positions in the Federal Foreign Office (including NATO division), as foreign policy advisor in the German Bundestag and head of cabinet of the Senior Deputy High Representative in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He started his diplomatic career at the German Consulates General in Istanbul and St Petersburg.

From 2010 to 2014, he was Head of Division 212 (covering Central, Eastern and South-eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia) at the Federal Chancellery in Berlin.

Israng is astonished by how much of what he learned is totally relevant to his daily work as a diplomat. It is not just his ease with PowerPoint and spreadsheets, which surprises his older ambassadorial colleagues when he gives presentations, but his understanding of the business world inhabited by the chemical companies with whom he has to negotiate.

The marketing skills he learned at Lancaster are particularly useful, he explains: “Diplomacy is partly about how you sell a policy or an idea, so some of these techniques are very helpful in encouraging others to take up your point of view.”

In a world beset by conflict, Israng is under no illusion that he can make a difference as a single diplomat. The work is challenging, sometimes dangerous and requires occasional uprooting of his wife and family but, as part of a team he feels he must work to make a difference on the international stage.