Life after IR: Charles Drapers
Charles Drapers graduated from the IRIO programme at the University of Groningen in February 1990, which makes him the second IRIO graduate ever. After his graduation, he moved to Hong Kong and set up his firm producing WILLEX bike accessories and rainwear.
You’re the second IRIO graduate ever. Why did you choose to study this programme?
I chose this programme because I helped put it together. At the time, around 1985/1986, I was in the task force ‘General Arts’. This included several study programmes, among which eventually IRIO. At that time, I already studied General Arts, liberal stream; back then, you could put together a program yourself. I already got my propaedeutics in French, and I added Spanish and business administration to my programme. Through General Arts I got in touch with the study of contemporary history, which organized beautiful excursions. A teacher there had a fantastic network and organised trips to institutions to Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg. Those trips were very popular, and I was fortunate enough to be able to join one of them. This fed my interest in Europe when the EU did not yet exist. I could expand this academically at IRIO.
You’re an entrepreneur with your own business in Hong Kong. How did you get there and what influence did IRIO have?
I have indeed been an entrepreneur for a very long time, and that too has its roots at IRIO. Through that programme I got the opportunity to do an internship in Mexico. I was there as an intern at a trading company and I got acquainted with the international business world very well. I liked it so much that I knew I wanted to continue after graduating. Through that internship, I got to know my first important employer, who had dozens of suppliers in Asia. At one point one of the suppliers asked me if I wanted to work for him in Hong Kong. The supplier was French and my IRIO language was French, so again, IRIO helped with that.
What kind of job did you imagine you would have when you started studying?
During the IRIO course, I dreamt, like most students, of the glamour and glitter of Brussels and New York. I had that ‘virus’ too, to be honest. When I started my internship in Mexico, I found out that I prefer the commercial side of things; in the end, it gives you more opportunities. No matter how high you get as a civil servant in Brussels, you always have a boss above you and that limits your freedom. As an independent entrepreneur, you have a bit more freedom to organise your personal life as well as to realise your social ideals than you do within the framework of an organisation.
So, you advise us to start our own company instead of becoming a civil servant?
So many students, so many ideals, so many possibilities to realize them. There are certainly a lot of students who will be happiest working in a team under an employer. If that’s your ambition, that’s what you should do. If it’s not your ambition, then you should do something else. My first and main advice is to always do what you like.
Many students struggle with finding out what it is that they like.
The tips that I can give you are these: do an extra internship if you are still not sure what you want to do after the first one. Take advantage of the fact that you are still a student by imitating your working life without running too many risks. This is best done through internships in the Netherlands, abroad or with volunteer work.
To which extent do you benefit from the skills, knowledge, and competencies IRIO taught you, in your current job?
Obviously, when thinking about an IRIO graduate, one thinks first and foremost of someone who is going to work in foreign affairs or in Brussels. It is not common to think of someone who ends up in business, because that is what people who are studying business administration do. Nothing could be further from the truth; the IRIO course is very useful, especially for someone who ends up in business. The IRIO programme teaches you to analyze and fathom international situations and also to make them transparent to others. Subsequently, you will be able to draw conclusions and make predictions for your own organisation and set up your business in such a way that it is future-proof. You will learn a lot, but you don’t initially know what capabilities you’ll need in your work field. What is almost even more important than that toolbox you get, is that you also learn to deal with those tools. At IRIO you learn to think, to analyze. And that comes in handy your whole life.
Interview Myrthe Egberink