46 days in the desert: In conversation with MBA World Summit award-winner, Chloe Burles MBA2021

Fresh from winning the Tim-Eisenmann Award for best speaker at the 2021 MBA World Summit in Frankfurt, Chloe Burles MBA2021 tells us how her tale of adventure took the top spot.

The MBA World Summit is an annual event set up in 2014, that brings together 100 MBA students and alumni from business schools around the world. The Tim-Eisenmann Award, named after its first recipient, recognises MBA students who exemplify leadership through their presentation, with the winner nominated and voted for by the Summit’s attendees.

Out of more than 3,000 applicants, I was lucky enough to be one of 20 MBA  students selected to speak at the event, which is hosted by Frankfurt School of Finance & Management. In 2016, I became the youngest ever Brit to cross the Gobi Desert on foot at just 24-years-old. My speech – ‘46 Days in the Desert’ – was a reflection on that life-changing experience and the challenges I overcame during the journey.

A lot of people think I just woke up one day and walked 1,600km across the biggest desert in Asia. In reality, I’d been training for it through other extreme expeditions for years. I’d previously overcome altitude sickness on Mount Kilimanjaro in 2014 and frostbite on Russia’s Mount Elbrus in 2015. These experiences helped me stay calm when things weren’t going to plan in the desert. In one instance, my maps were wrong and I ran out of water – I ended up drinking dirty water from a stream. I also suffered from terrible blisters and had to wear a trainer on one foot and a flip flop on the other, rotating them to ease the rubbing. I even brushed past a snake, but luckily didn’t get bitten; it was a truly surreal moment.

I knew I was prepared for the Gobi Desert, but I was still surprised by what I was capable of. At the beginning of the trek, I was averaging 30km a day; over time this increased to 40-50km, which I’d never dreamed of doing before I started. There were days when I was in immense pain, but continuing on was my only option. It’s during these moments that you push past your limits and surpass your own expectations.

It was an honour to share my story at the MBA World Summit, which is an amazing opportunity to meet like-minded people. Despite being held remotely, there was an incredible atmosphere, with 100 students from different business schools sharing their experiences and learning from each other. I’ve always pushed myself to have new experiences, because I believe there’s nothing more valuable than getting people from all walks of life together. As a result, the diverse perspectives and conversations I found myself a part of left me feeling truly inspired. Winning the Tim-Eisenmann Award was, more than anything, a huge surprise. There were so many extremely accomplished speakers taking part, with so many engaging stories.

I hoped that by sharing my story, I could inspire other MBA students to take on their most daunting challenges. Personally, I’ve found the MBA truly transformative. Prior to LBS, I was working in banking at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. I’ve since learnt a lot about different aspects of business, such as strategy and marketing, but my most important takeaway is that you should always try to make a real impact in whatever you do. My long-term goal is to apply this through entrepreneurship and eventually start my own business. With life becoming more unpredictable than ever, now is the time to use our skills to achieve the unachievable and have a positive effect on society. As for my next challenge? I guess I’ll wait and see.


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