A transformational journey: From KNOWING to BEING
Author: Max-Ferdinand Scheichenost, Director of Digital Transformation, Mekong Capital
Aug 24, 2020
“There is a 50% chance that it will not work out!”, my thought before starting to work with Mekong Capital. Or as Chris Freund said during the on-boarding: “You chose either a red pill (=Mekong Capital) or a blue pill (=Different career)”.
SETTING THE CONTEXT OF KNOWING
End of 2019 and after nearly four years of commuting between Vietnam and Singapore, I decided to give up my residency in Singapore so I could be closer to my family. We have a 15-month-old boy, and I promised to myself that I would not be a weekend Dad.
Luckily, I entered Vietnam on the 17th of March, the last day before they forced everyone to go into centralized quarantine. I started to reach out to my contacts in Vietnam, and a good family friend suggested speaking to Mekong Capital. After a few discussions, we decided to start with a 3-month-consulting-project with Pharmacity.
Not knowing what to expect, I joined the first Pharmacity Management meeting. The team started this (and as I later learned every important) meeting with reading out their Vision and their core values. The intention is to make everyone present to the future state in the present moment. It literally opened my eyes. I am a big believer in Vision/Value-driven businesses, but this was at a different level.
After the first management meeting, I started to build up a professional as well as a personal connection with Chris Blank, the Founder and CEO of Pharmacity. It was not necessarily that we were best friends from the beginning, but we live at the same condo, so he offered me a ride back. The ride back home ended in the early morning with cigars and a bottle of wine as I was listening to his life story, his challenges, his literally life-and-death fights. I could relate to him as Entrepreneur to Entrepreneur, building something up from zero and I felt his struggles and constant needs to improve himself and his business. Ending a nearly 6-hour discussion, I saw how Chris transformed from a first-time Founder to a visionary CEO, leading thousands of employees, a leader who deeply cares about his business, employees, and commitments.
In the following weeks, I was able to experience the newly implemented Core Value sessions at Mekong Capital, led by Rachel. We immersed ourselves in those values and their maturity levels, what it means to operate in a state of BEING, and how each value can be experienced. In addition, I had the chance to regularly update my Deal Leader cum partner-in-crime, Chad, regarding our progress at Pharmacity.
All interactions have been easy, warm, and focused on results. I resonated very much with each of the people I met.
On my sixth week of this journey, I received a request for an emergency Board meeting for my previous business. It is a company that I co-founded in 2014 and into which I invested years of hard work and money. I transitioned from executive to non-executive Director in early 2019 and then moving to Chairman of the Board by the end of 2019.
In the past, I operated in the space of knowing: Board meetings were not inspiring, nor was I able to use the brainpower of this highly talented and experienced board. I felt like being a victim of my own creation (or as my partner said “prisoner of my own prison”) by creating a non-effective board and thus limiting the performance of this business. Now, being exposed to the world of Mekong Capital and its investee companies, I realized that there could be a new path. I said to myself: “I always thought that I KNOW what the team or I have to do but I don’t actually KNOW. I let the OLD world being the OLD world. I am a BEING and operate in a new space: leading from the future. This is the Mekong Capital way of doing it, and I’ll try this on as my new personal as well as professional pathway”.
In this Board meeting, I completely restructured the WAY I operated on the board. I started again with the Vision. I clearly stated the intentions for each agenda point. I started by acknowledging the CEO and his leadership team for the success and how they managed their struggles, especially with the harsh realities of COVID-19 and its impact on the business. I provided SPACE for every Board member to operate from the future, instead of nit-picking for what happened (or did not happen) in the past. I removed barriers and emotions so we can have an honest, open, and future-oriented discussion. The best of it: We did all this in a span of 1,5 hours.
Afterward, I received a call from a fellow Board member: “Max, this was one of the best Board meetings I have participated in. Thank you”. First, I was stunned and thanked him for his acknowledgment. Then I shared with him how I transformed and operated in the space of BEING.
Hanging up, I realized that the call from Mekong Capital was indeed a calling. This was the moment I realized that Mekong Capital is not a choice I had to make (or forcefully cause) but rather naturally happened the moment I started to let go of the past and operated in the space of BEING and leading from the future.
I guess I did not have a choice between the red or blue pill, “No 50/50 chance here. When it comes to being an effective leader and coach, it turns out there is only one natural choice: Mekong Capital.” My being naturally decided to take the Mekong Capital one while transforming to a leader and coach, I never thought I could BE.
As I was writing the outline for this story, I got goose-bumps all over my body. Words cannot describe how thankful I am for this personal as well as professional transformation. Thus, I want to end this story with my sincere acknowledgments:
“Minh Giang, thanks for offering me the opportunity to work as a consultant as a ‘dating period’ so we can both evaluate whether there is a cultural fit.”
“Chad, thanks for being my ‘partner-in-crime’ at Pharmacity and your spot-on assessments on what I shall be aware of.
“Rachel, for your patience, listening, and pulling me in your transformational world. I am grateful for our friendship and amused about our Vietnamese classes that we take together.”
“Le, for helping me to generate a personal breakthrough performance by helping me to master task and time management, and I love it!”
“And Chris, for re-inventing Private Equity and investing in People (from Founder Teams and employees) to fulfilling their vision. Your work and accomplishments will have a lasting impact not only on me, dozens of businesses but Vietnam as a whole. Thank you for this.”
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Mekong Capital makes investments in consumer-driven businesses and adds substantial value to those companies based on its proven framework called Vision Driven Investing. Our investee companies are typically among the fastest-growing companies in Vietnam’s consumer sectors.
In January 2022, Mekong Capital founder Chris Freund published Crab Hotpot, a story about a bunch of crabs who found themselves stuck in a boiling pot. The colorful cover of “Crab Hot Pot,” complete with expressive cartoon crustaceans, looks like a children’s tale at first glance. But as one continues reading, it becomes clear that the work has an important message about organizational transformation, leadership and focusing on a clear vision for the future.