“I am so scared of Chris Freund”
Author: Nguyen Thi Minh Giang, Former Partner of Talent and Culture, Mekong Capital
October 4, 2018
In April 2010, the day I received an offer letter from Mekong Capital was also the day I received many warnings from my friends and colleagues: “Employee turnover is high at Mekong Capital”, “They are building a cult and doing strange things in Mekong”, “Chris Freund has unrealistic expectations about delivering results”.
“I feel so confused when welcoming a new chapter of my career path”, I thought. But I was up for a challenge, and I could sense that something special was happening in Mekong Capital, especially when I met with the team members there.
I brought all these concerns and noted the name “CHRIS FREUND”. On my first working day, the Administration Manager pointed out to me “That is Chris Freund, our Managing Partner”. I secretly took a glance at him and saw a handsome young man wearing a simple white shirt and sitting in a meeting room.
At that time, I was the most junior team member of the Human Resources team and didn’t work directly with Chris. Nevertheless, I always reminded myself “Be careful, I MUST not to make any mistakes in front of him”. I didn’t want to leave any bad impression because he had the power to make major decisions that could impact my career. To avoid making any mistakes in front of Chris, I asked Betsye, my direct manager, to communicate with him on my behalf. I was just too intimidated to speak to him directly.
Everything was going smoothly until one day. In a training session during my 3rd month on the job, I was assigned to capture input of the participants in my laptop, while Chris was the session leader. Chris said something and asked me to note down but I could not understand what he said.
I was embarrassed when he asked me loudly “Do you understand what I just said?”
Everyone kept silent. I felt the heat in the room. “No, I don’t understand”, I mumbled.
I guessed he was angry and I got paralyzed. I felt as if I had dropped deep to the bottom of the ocean. It was so dark and I could not breathe. Betsye came and offered her support to help me complete the notes.
Leaving the session, I thought “Damn it, he is going to fire me. I should not work with him directly. I am too junior to work with him”. I chose to be small in my relationship with Chris.
After that incident, I was living at the edge of a cliff. Each day, I came to the office with the fear that Betsye would inform me that Chris has asked me to resign. To my surprise, for the subsequent few weeks, I did not hear Betsye say anything about that. Chris seemed not to care what happened in that training room. Nothing happened to me. I realized that the fear was merely my self-created stories about Chris.
Then I started to notice the way the other team members at Mekong Capital interacted and worked with Chris, especially those who were super confident in my view. They weren’t holding anything back and they were very direct with Chris, often telling him things he might not want to hear. To my surprise, he seemed to appreciate the clarity of what they were saying, and used it as an opportunity to get something handled. I discovered that I was avoiding communicating with Chris due to my big fear of him. I let my fear overshadow my commitment to deliver strong results.
From that point on, I practiced speaking and asking more in the group meetings, including in front of Chris. Whenever I was stuck in anything, I went to his office to ask. The more I interacted directly with Chris, I realized that he was much simpler than I thought. Everything could be handled by putting it on the table and communicating directly.
For a long time, it was a practice in Mekong Capital that Chris participated in interviewing all candidates who applied for Mekong Capital. From time to time, I had a concern why he, as a Partner, needed to join the interview for some junior positions such as Receptionist and Investment Associate. However, to avoid any consequences or recruitment failures, I chose to keep involving him in such interviews. I also was concerned that if I communicated with him about such concerns, he would be upset and would not agree with me. The recruitment process remained lengthy as Chris’ schedule was always full and it was difficult to get a time-slot for him to interview someone, so this was a real bottleneck. Until one day, I decided that I needed to resolve it to quickly recruit new members for our company. I took the courage and asserted that “From now on, I will be responsible for interviewing, selecting the candidates and you don’t need to join any more”. Surprisingly, he responded “Yes, please!”. From there, he let me have full power and freedom to produce my results.
During my almost 9 years working with Chris, many times we challenged each other over different views on recruitment and employee retention, or how to best build our corporate culture. However, I knew that he was always committed to my success, and we both shared a strong commitment to build a powerful team at Mekong Capital and our investee companies. By me being direct with Chris, and Chris being direct with me, we worked together to achieve our shared commitments. Over that time, I became a person who has freedom and full self-expression in front of anyone. It is who I am today, both in work and life.
I share this story because I want to inspire people to see the power of communicating directly and completely. This leads to tremendous freedom and peace-of-mind in our relationships, both at work and in our personal lives.
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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.