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How Running 250km Can Make You A Better Leader

Alain Esseiva wants to be a person who can handle the harshest obstacles in both the corporate and natural world.

Photo credit: WWW.4DESERTS.COM / Onni Cao

In May this year, Alain Esseiva ran a gruelling seven-day, 250km race through the Sahara Desert. However, he is no professional athlete. The CEO of fiduciary services provider Alpadis Group and managing director of the Singapore office regularly takes part in ultra-marathons through some of the world’s toughest terrains as a way of diversifying his capabilities.

“I want to be a person who can handle the harshest obstacles in both the corporate world and natural world,” he remarks.

Running complements his leadership style as it allows him to “view things in perspective and be more humble” in his professional and personal life. “When you have crossed 250km of desert with nothing but a rucksack, a corporate deadline does not seem so bad,” he observes.

“On the micro level, I try to emphasise to my colleagues the importance of looking beyond the next deadline or project, towards thinking about the bigger picture, as well as their own personal and professional goals.” 

Through these long-distance races, Esseiva also fuels his competitive spirit, something which is encouraged within Alpadis Group. “I believe all CEOs should cultivate this type of competitive attitude within themselves and their organisations, where one competes not only for recognition but also to add value to the company.

 “A competitive culture, when done correctly, can result in motivated, happy employees and a successful business.”

The Sahara Race is part of the 4 Deserts, a series of outdoor footraces through some of the most spectacular and uncompromising landscapes on the planet. Founded in 2002, the races take place annually in the deserts of Namibia/Egypt, Mongolia/China, Chile and Antarctica.

Competitors are required to carry all the food and gear they need for the entire week, confronting conditions such as blistering heat, sub-zero temperatures and fierce winds to test their physical and mental capabilities. 

Esseiva has completed eight long-distance marathons in the past nine years, including two of the 4 Deserts: the Atacama Crossing in 2016 and the Sahara Race most recently. To his surprise, he managed to perform better in both 4 Deserts races than what he had set out to achieve.

“This experience made me understand the importance of thinking big. For Alpadis Group to succeed, I needed to set broader, more ambitious goals,” he says. “We have recently completed a successful expansion in Singapore, and we have more expansion plans on the way in Asia.” 

Immense physical exertion and fatigue are serious challenges for ultra-marathon runners, but when Esseiva ‘hits the wall’ or feels overwhelmed by the vast desert or mountain that he must cross, he uses these feelings to gain perspective. 

“At some point in every race, I face a completely new and unexpected set of challenges that remind me about the many skills that I have yet to master, and knowledge that I have yet to attain.” 

Although ultra-running is a way for him to improve himself, the benefits for his company are manifold. “Being alone for an extended period of time in a peaceful environment provides me the chance to think, and learn more about myself. This helps me make better decisions, and see things in a fresh perspective.”

Esseiva became hooked on the adrenalin of ultra-running in 2009 after a friend convinced him to sign up for a 100km race in Vietnam. However, he reflects that his love of running probably started the day he learnt to walk.

“Growing up in Switzerland, I was surrounded by an abundance of sky-high mountains and beautiful natural scenery. Most of my days as a mischievous kid were spent exploring unknown environments and testing the limits of my mental and physical strengths. The adventures that I had as a child are what motivates me to run races in different terrains across different continents.”

Looking ahead, he has his sights set on completing the 4 Deserts Race Series, with ambitious plans to tackle the Gobi March in Mongolia and The Last Desert in Antarctica in 2018: “To be honest, the opportunity to remove myself from the hustle and bustle of city life is one of the primary factors for choosing to participate in these types of races.”