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The journey of culture transformation

Update: June, 17/2022 - 11:32

You probably didn't think you could learn something from a bunch of crabs being boiled alive. But as you continue reading, you may find the story has an important message about organisational transformation and breakthrough leadership by focusing on a clear vision for the future.

The journey of culture transformation

In 2001, Chris Freund founded Mekong Capital as Việt Nam's first Private Equity firm.

"This was the opportunity that would bring together my three main interests: being in Việt Nam, the country I loved; playing a pioneering role in the development of Việt Nam's nascent private sector and finding a way to add much more value to our portfolios than what investors had been doing," Freund said.

However, the first six years of Mekong Capital were a struggle, and Mekong Capital's investments weren't successful as planned.

The firm tried to add value by sharing valuable ideas, providing solutions, and sometimes doing work for the investee companies. Hence, they applied value-addition programs to implement operational performance enhancement projects (such as six sigma or lean manufacturing systems), financial management, human resources recruiting, and corporate governance advisory:

"We were going to Board meetings and giving valuable suggestions. We even hired Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing experts to show the companies how to improve their operations, but it wasn't working. No matter how great our ideas were, they had little or no impact," Freund said.

He was ready to give up on himself as the Managing Partner (and only Partner) of Mekong Capital when in mid-2007 he enrolled in a three-day transformation program in Singapore called the Landmark Forum. This proved to be a pivotal event for Freund and Mekong Capital, as it marked the start of their journey of transformation.

Chris Freund - Founder and Partner of Mekong Capital

At first, Mekong's transformation got off to a rocky start. Freund wanted everyone else to transform without him yet completely transforming himself. He learned the hard way that transformation starts from the top, from who he is. Freund would have to discover new ways of communicating, new ways of leading, and new ways of being Mekong's core values.

The following year, Freund arranged a transformation program for Mekong Capital. Initially, there was a lot of resistance, but by completing the process, Mekong Capital had been completely reinvented and transformed. The team together created and declared a new future for Mekong Capital. It was a future that didn't seem possible before. However, it would ultimately be realised, and much more. Eventually, the transformation represented a permanent shift out of the past and into the future.

A proven methodology that leads to breakthrough results: Vision-Driven Investing

Since then, a framework called Vision Driven Investing was also launched in 2009. The Vision Driven Investing framework is regularly reviewed and refined, at least quarterly but typically more frequently based on careful analysis and insights about what's working best. The framework is carefully back-tested against their past 41 investments since 2001 to ensure it is strongly correlated with what has led to the best performance.

After that, Mekong Capital became a much more successful and value-added investor, making early investments in companies such as MobileWorld, Golden Gate, Masan Food, Phu Nhuan Jewelry, Pharmacity and F88, and other companies which grew at a fast pace and achieved their vision.

"Vision Driven Investing is NOT a set of best practices or solutions. It is not something that we can give or force onto a company. Instead, it is a space in which our investee companies discover and create for themselves. We assert that when people create new ways of occurring and new ways of being, new actions will naturally arise, and new breakthrough results will be delivered. The 15 elements of Vision Driven Investing could be considered 15 perspectives, like places to look from and ask questions from, always towards fulfilling their visions." said Freund.

Stories for breakthroughs in performance

Five years ago, Mekong Capital discovered the power of stories. Chris Freund, the founder, saw that Mekong's own team members, and the leaders at their investee companies, tended to be interested in hearing stories, would remember those stories and sometimes take new actions based on those stories. Likewise, he noticed that the most insightful business books included many vivid stories illustrating the author's insights. Thus, Mekong Capital engaged two master story writers, Gabrielle Dolan and Kendall Haven, to coach their team to develop their own story writing and storytelling capabilities.

"Crab Hotpot" is available on Amazon: amzn.to/3yWunzG (English) and Tiki: bit.ly/38baF8a (Vietnamese)

Since then, Mekong Capital's team members have written more than 500 stories, which they share in monthly storytelling workshops, and sometimes with their investee companies.

"Crab Hotpot might appear to be a fictional story, but it is mostly based on people and situations in Mekong Capital. I wrote the story in mid-2021 when one of those situations had arisen – I wanted to put our team's attention on what wasn't working and what would work. Each crab is based on a real person who is a current or former employee of Mekong Capital. Many people, including me, can see different aspects of ourselves in the various crabs," Freund said. "Which crab are you?"

 

 

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