Ingo Stralkowski is in his New York office when we phone to interview him for our Frankfurt School alumnus portrait. Originally from the Ruhr region, he returns to Mülheim an der Ruhr every year to celebrate Christmas with his family. But aside from these visits, Ingo Stralkowski generally prefers to roam further afield.
As right-hand man to his boss, American billionaire Robert Ziff, he regularly travels around the world – in particular, his timetable often takes him to major Asian cities such as Tokyo and Hong Kong. This year, he was chosen as one of Atlantik-Bruecke's 44 German-American Young Leaders. Sadly, Ingo Stralkowski can tell us very little about his professional life, because absolute discretion about internal business affairs is a basic part of his job description. Being trustworthy and knowing what makes people tick are the two key qualities he needs for his current work – and these qualities have played a key role throughout his career.
Ingo gives much of the credit for his professional development to his university tutors, Professor Dr. Udo Steffens and Professor Dr. Christoph Schalast. “I owe both of them a huge debt of gratitude. Their references helped earn me a Fulbright Scholarship so I could fund my study time abroad in the United States.”
His semester abroad – at California State University, Long Beach – he describes as the “time of his life”. But this enthusiasm is not primarily driven by the many recreational opportunities available in the Sunshine State. Rather the opposite, in fact: “For the first time ever, I actually had some leisure time. At Frankfurt School, I was studying alongside my full-time job, so I was always busy – either working at Commerzbank or studying for my degree. But during my semester abroad, I was able to take a step back and think about what I should get up to in my newly acquired spare time.”
With impressive optimism and spontaneity, the visiting student seized the moment, trawling the web in a search for companies that specialise in mergers and acquisitions. He made contact with Richard Vander Kaay & Associates, a leading M&A boutique in Newport Beach. “A few days later, I was sitting on the sofa in Richard’s office. On the face of it, it was a perfectly normal afternoon, just a chat over coffee – but it changed my whole life.” Richard employed the ambitious young German and just a few months later, 21-year-old Ingo was already managing the firm’s European business.
Ingo had yet to earn his degree, however. Back in Frankfurt, a real test of stamina awaited him. With only a very little time left in which to prepare for his final exams, he had to work exceptionally hard to make up the shortfall. “My friend Daniel Schulz and I spent most of that time more or less living at FS. Okay, it was a stressful period, but all the studying together, challenging each other, staying focused… that was brilliant.”
The “Finals showdown” was a big success – the friends both passed their exams. Ingo Stralkowski went on to work for private equity fund H.I.G. Capital in London before the prospect of studying for an MBA at Wharton School in Pennsylvania – sponsored by his employer – finally enticed him away. “I’ve always worked full-time alongside my degree studies, and in retrospect, that was a great way to prepare for my later career – I can recommend it,” smiles Ingo Stralkowski. “But I also enjoyed studying full-time at Wharton, as well as the life on campus that went with it.”
Which is why Ingo Stralkowski is delighted to hear about Frankfurt School’s plans for a new campus: “I’ve heard about the barbecue party for everybody on the new site, and about the joint venture with nearby SC 1880 Frankfurt – my brother and I played hockey against them for ages.” (Thilo Stralkowski is a member of the German hockey team that won Gold at the London Olympics in 2012 – Ed.) “I’m really looking forward to seeing the new campus – the design looks very promising. I’m hoping to be able to pop in as often as I can.”