Searing heat, exhaustion and sandstorms were just some of the challenges that UBC IMBA candidate James Reiss faced as he recently raced 70 kilometres across Mongolia’s Tengger Desert.

Reiss and his team of 24 UBC IMBA students and alumni were from the only North American school among 55 business schools to compete. They joined more than 1,500 MBAs from across Asia in the UMP Cup Fifth Asian-Pacific Business Schools Desert Adventure.

UBC IMBA students triumph in Mongolian desert racePushing their physical limits and testing their powers of leadership, and teamwork to the extreme, Reiss says his team members prepared for the race by competing in marathons, mountain-climbing and running a trial race in the East China mountains.

“We knew from the beginning that it was going to be very tough,” admits Reiss. “None of us had done anything like this before. So during the planning stages we used our business training from UBC Sauder's Robert H. Lee Graduate School to help divide race tasks such as logistics, training schedules and sponsorship.”


Originally from the United States, Reiss relocated to China after completing his undergraduate degree 10 years ago. A more recent move to Shanghai inspired him to pursue an MBA to advance his career in marketing.

“The UBC IMBA was a perfect fit for me,” says Reiss. “It’s part-time so I can work on leveraging my business management skills in my role at Star Chase, marketing premium automotive and lifestyle brands.”

The 20-month, IMBA program is offered by UBC Sauder's Robert H. Lee Graduate School in partnership with the Antai College of Economics and Management at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

Reiss notes that having access to the UBC MBA professors, both in Shanghai and during the mandatory visit to Vancouver, has been a significant ongoing advantage for him. “For example, marketing professor Ann Stone has helped me resolve some tricky sales initiatives at work. And lots of other things I’ve learnt in the classroom have helped me understand how to succeed at a more senior level – from finance to change management.”

While Reiss aspires to advance his career within his present organization, he says that several of his IMBA classmates have already met their goals of progressing into better jobs even before they graduate.

A strong sense of collegiality among Reiss’s IMBA cohort and a supportive alumni network drew the race team members together. “We’d already become good friends during the program,” says Reiss. “So at the IMBA new year's dinner we decided to take on this challenge and support the school.”

James Reiss

During the three-day race, Reiss says participants braved strong winds, wildly fluctuating temperatures and even heavy rain in the desert. Luckily, he recalls, the UBC IMBA team leader Kai Hu worked hard to have everyone prepared with specialist gear like shoe covers and wrap-around sunglasses that kept out the sand.

“It was intense,” remembers Reiss. “There were a lot of steep hills and one of the days we climbed the equivalent of 300 flights of stairs.”

Participants had to reach race checkpoints by certain time limits or face expulsion, which caused constant pressure, says Reiss. And a massive sandstorm on day one only added to the challenge, making visibility a nightmare.

But everyone worked together to motivate each other, adds Reiss. “There was a great camaraderie and that’s what kept us going and raised our spirits through muscle and joint pains, and exhaustion.”

"Team-work is an integral part of the UBC MBA training experience," says Liz Starbuck Greer, assistant dean at UBC Sauder's Robert H. Lee Graduate School. "Our students regularly collaborate on real-world problems with timelines and deliverables. Taking on the desert race was an extreme but very rewarding opportunity for our IMBA team to exercise these skills."


Thanks to their dedicated teamwork and efficient organization, the UBC IMBA team all hit the finish line on time.

“The feeling of achievement after we finished was amazing,” recalls Reiss. “You could see these huge smiles spread over our team’s faces – we were so proud to have made it. We’ve made memories that will last forever.”

UBC IMBA students triumph in Mongolian desert raceThe UBC IMBA team also took this opportunity to broaden their sense of social responsibility and help provide education to children in rural China – by fundraising RMB 31,211 for the Maitian Education Foundation.