Sailing and the MBA: A growing tradition at Sauder’s Robert H. Lee Graduate School

Image of the open waters with sail boats and mountains

Located on a forested peninsula that stretches out into the pristine waters of the Pacific Ocean, the Sauder School of Business on UBC campus is uniquely set in one of the world’s most beautiful marine environments. With this landscape on the doorstep, there’s little wonder why there is a growing tradition of sailing at the heart of MBA student life. 

The Sauder MBA Sailing Club was founded in 2003 by a small crew of avid mariners from the school’s Robert H. Lee Graduate School. It has since grown to become the program’s largest club and to include a yearly invitational regatta with the ambition to become North America’s premier MBA sailing event. 

The club spans a full range of skill levels and sails a fleet of six 24-foot Martin 244s. Throughout their time at Sauder, students take lessons taught by Canadian Yachting Association instructors, many of them graduating with yachting licences and operating cards.

“Sailing is increasingly popular in top tier MBA programs around the world, with a number of European schools launching regattas as global networking events and opportunities to share and promote their values and brand,” says Thera Martens, chair of the UBC Sauder MBA Regatta. 

“At Sauder’s Robert H. Lee Graduate School, our club is building the foundations for an event that will put the school on the map as the leading North American destination on the global MBA regatta circuit.”

Taking place at the end of August in English Bay off the coast of Vancouver’s downtown, the MBA regatta will draw participants from current and incoming classes, as well as alumni who will return to compete. The local teams will test their skills against crews from the University of Washington, Bainbridge Graduate Institute, and other schools from the Pacific Northwest. 

For the past several years, a team from Sauder’s Robert H. Lee Graduate School has been supported to participate in the SDA Bocconi School of Management’s Rolex MBA's Conference & Regatta on the Italian Riviera, taking first place last year and third in 2010. 

There is stiff competition among club members to earn a spot on the Italy-bound crew. Throughout the summer, students balance demanding internships with a rigorous training schedule to get on board. 

Craig Terry, a member of last year’s crew that bested a team of Argentinian sailors manning a boat from the Columbia Business School, says taking the cup in Italy was the result of two years of hard work and team building.  “It was such an amazing experience,” says Terry. “It took a great deal of training and we put a lot into building up the club and the skills of our members. It felt really good to steer the boat in for the win.”

In addition to returning to Italy this September, there are plans for the club to expand the roster of competitions to include a race organized by the Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands. 

“It’s natural for sailing to become an important part of the MBA experience,” says Professor Murali Chandrashekaran, Associate Dean of Graduate Programs, who will speak at one of the numerous social and networking events tied to the UBC MBA regatta. 

“The sport draws and builds on the skills of leadership and teamwork that our students are striving to perfect, and in an environment where they need to be cognizant of many uncontrollable factors that profoundly impact team performance. This also gives us an exciting opportunity to leverage Vancouver’s spectacular natural environment – something many of our international students fall in love with and have fond memories of when they move on to equally exciting global opportunities after graduation.”

Incoming student Roopmathi Gunna will be travelling to Vancouver soon from Mumbai, India to participate in the regatta. She admits to being a bit nervous, saying it will be her first time on a sailboat. But she is keen to get to know fellow students and alumni outside of the classroom.

“Sailing involves teamwork and naturally leads to bonding among team members,” she says. “Working towards the common goal of winning requires that we trust ourselves and the strength of our team. I’m looking forward to having the time of my life on this wonderful experience with my colleagues.”