Doing a business event in the Gobi Desert

5 min read

It is something in China, about which very little is known in Europe – the business meeting, which builds relationships impossible to break.

Often, though, it is also impossible to form, and must be made in a different way, which I will try to explain here.

I had the pleasure to get to know Kuba Zwoliński, a Pole, who was one of the few Europeans who participated in this unusual event.

This unusual business meeting was a multi-day, cross-country stage race in the Gobi Desert. Common physical and mental struggles in one of the most dangerous places in the world was supposed to mean that  friendships formed  there would help to make business run on an even higher level.

This sports-business meeting was for EMBA (Executive Master of Business Administration) graduates and managers of Chinese companies.

Among the participants were representatives of the management of Alibaba, Taobao and many other big Chinese companies.

In June 2014, for the first time, an 8-strong team of international business people from Germany, Netherlands, Poland and the USA participated. Poland was represented by Kuba Zwoliński.

This proved to be a great success, and organisers were impressed with how the international flavour affected all, so they asked us to promote the idea among other businessmen in Europe and the US and join in the next year.

For this reason, a page was created in English on Recently, we completed the 2015 meeting, with Cuba also participating. More information can be found on the organiser’s website

I asked a few questions to find out exactly what happened in the cross-country race in the Gobi Desert.

How did you find out about this event?

The first time I heard about it was from a German business partner I met in Los Angeles … He was part of a group, being the only Europeans who took part, by special invitation, a few years ago.

How can I become a participant?

You can become a participant by sending the application form and the “letter of invitation.” This is the first step, which allows you to build a unique team, combining big business and seeking adventure. After the application is accepted, you need to pay a fee of “only” RMB20,000.

Who is involved in this endeavour, and who will we meet there?

It is mainly representatives of very well-known Chinese companies, such as Alibaba and Lenovo. Although it is difficult to believe, it is a popular “team building” event, and many companies have up to ten people in their teams. It’s amazing, considering that we are talking about 4 days in the desert and 112km “legs.”

How common are the events in China and the rest of the world?

These events are held virtually all over the world. This is a typical Chinese event and it brings together several hundred people at each event (thousands of events dedicated to graduates of EMBA).

What is the most difficult part of the event?

Each part is its own challenge. For some, it is difficult to move even 30km in one day, while others quickly overcome running this distance. This is a very unusual competition, and every day prizes are awarded for something different (as a team or individually – sometimes it is the fastest team, and sometimes a team who achieved the competition target).

Have you seen some very surprising situations?

It always surprise me when electric scooters in Chinese cities pop up silently and without lights “out of nowhere” 
Seriously, the desert itself doesn’t surprise me greatly. Well, except maybe for the wind, which can dry a man like a chop within 15 minutes – I did not expect that. What always surprises me about China as a country is how very different they are from what I know and I understand from Europe or the US. The differences in the perception of certain subjects, or even their usual everyday behaviour.

Do contacts during the event translate into future work?

Yes, but it is never a direct impact. What is most important is the respect you build just by participating. This gives you “face,” and that is essential to do business in China. It’s not direct knowledge of the deal, it’s striking up valuable business contacts and friendships in the Gobi Desert.

Is it always the same route?

The road taken by the monk Xuanzang is much longer and each year covers only a small portion of it is covered. The route this year began where last year’s ended. As a result, even participating once again, one finds new challenges in the face of the desert, from the rocky wasteland, to the sand dunes, to the fast-flowing river and the mountains.

How do you prepare for the contest?

It depends on what we want to achieve. For the walker, it is simply a mental attitude to maintain activity at a decent level (plus getting the proper shoes before you start). For me it was also a lot of running, because the aim was not so much just to move, but to run the entire route.

Will you also compete next year?

For sure, I will do everything to make it happen. The desert acts like a magnet, attracting people from afar. Each of my visits to China is a completely new experience. The more I know about the country and its people, the more I enjoy staying there.

Are there increasing numbers of participants from outside China each year?

Sometimes more, sometimes less. It consists of many components. The event is not being officially promoted outside of China, and the entrance fee  is also quite prohibitive (though it happens to be consistent with the objective of attracting high level business people). Also, a hundred-odd kilometres through the desert evokes respect …

Source in polish [my page]:
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Tony Simon

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