The three steps to cause cultural transformation at Mutosi
Author: Nguyen Thi Minh Giang – Former Partner of Talent & Culture, Mekong Capital
20 June 2022
Early 2021, I received a call from a deal leader of Mekong Capital asking me to meet with Mr. Tran Trung Dung, CEO and Founder of Mutosi – a pipeline company of MEF IV. Hearing how determined Mr. Dung was to learn about how to transform corporate culture, I happily agreed to meet him right away.
Sitting in front of me was a mature and experienced businessman with a fire in his voice. He passionately shared his story of a poor schoolboy in the countryside who gradually rose to the top position at international companies. He then built on his grit to become the CEO of a Vietnamese company which he successfully grew from zero to trillions.
In his words, he kept repeating his dream: “I would build a company, a pride of Vietnamese that offers the best services and products to our people, with a high-performance culture where everyone experiences growth, happiness and fulfilled life.” This probably is a dream of many CEOs and Founders. But I saw a great determination in Dung’s eyes. He meant it.
When I asked him about his biggest struggle with the people who worked for him, he honestly shared, “It seems they don’t move as fast as I expected. I think I need to push them more.”
“Oh! If they are as fast as you, they should be CEOs” , I joked. He nodded his head.
“And…. does that work?”, I continued.
He paused a few seconds and answered, “No. I don’t want to push them all the time.”
I could vicariously feel the intense high pressure of working for an action-oriented boss that Mr. Dung seemed to be. I thought for a moment and then shared: “You can choose either to continue going fast by yourself, or you can choose to explore a different approach to go with your team members. Changes must start from you. Are you willing to try?”
He said “Yes” immediately – with a big smile.
It was the first step in Mutosi’s journey to transform its corporate culture: the strong commitment of Mr. Dung to a big vision as well as his readiness and willingness to transform himself first, and then the team.
3 months later, Mutosi officially received an investment from MEF IV. During these months, Mr. Dung did not seem to slow down a beat. He asked which culture program Mekong Capital’s investee companies attended, then registered for himself and his team to attend all transformational leadership and culture programs. I was so excited with the thought, “Mutosi will surely transform its culture very soon.”
But no transformation comes easy.
We met again to prepare for Mutosi’s Vision Days where Mr. Dung and 30 leaders of Mutosi would co-create a shared vision. In contrast to my excitement, Mr. Dung shared, “I still see people taking actions so slowly even after I sent them to attend some program.” He stopped with his eyebrow frowning together, showing deep concern.
It became clear to me that there was a great distance between Dung and his team. The team was too fearful of him to share their struggles. And the more crises they faced; the more frustrated Dung fell towards the team. Hence, he felt back into his cold, hard strong suit as a leader. In the end, it left him with loneliness and exhaustion.
Yes, transformation is slow and difficult work that requires constant reflection and dedication.
I could see that Dung was struggling. Instead of giving any advice or solution, I invited him to look at two futures: one where him and his team worked as a unified force, and the other where he and his team continued to be two lines that never crossed. He was the leader. He had to choose. He had to act.
On the next day, during Mutosi’s Vision Day, Dung raised his hands as the first person who wanted to share. Stood up, he slowly acknowledged and apologized to the whole team for not giving them space and time to be listened to, for putting so much pressure on them to act quickly, and for trying to impose his own ideas on them. He burst into tears as he invited them to stand beside him for the next transformation journey.
Wow, standing there was still Mr. Dung with his relentless commitment to the future of Mutosi being Vietnam’s pride for providing the best services and products. But, standing there was also a different Mr. Dung embracing the power of leading by the head and heart at the same time, and was willing to show his vulnerabilities as a leader. The second step was completed with Mr. Dung’s transformation.
In the same week, we immediately met to define new core values and behaviors. At first, the team was struggling and acting like a machine when they practiced those new behaviors in their communications and making decisions. However, Mr. Dung was always with his team and lead the change. He spent time on the weekend coaching and sharing everything that he discovered and spoke up directly once he saw something/someone against the new behaviors.
He even invited all key clients to attend the company event and declared in front of them what Mutosi stood for and why they could count on them with the vision, new core values, and behaviors.
In our bi-weekly meetings, he always sincerely shared his concerns or potential off-tracks and we together brainstormed how we could move forward. Whenever I left after any meeting, or coaching program, I saw him sitting with the team to come up with the next action plan. To be honest, sometimes I felt like I was working with a military team rather than a business team. They were admirably fast to act!
Step by step, the new Mission, Vision and Core Values became a part of their communication and decision making. The third step in the cultural transformation took place as the team has come on board with the new core values and behaviors and Mr. Dung held to his commitment to slow down and give the team time to speak and to be heard.
As a result of this transformation, in 2021, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, they steadily achieved breakthrough revenue performance. In Q1/2022, Mutosi had a 146% YoY growth in revenue, towards a breakthrough target of overall 114% revenue growth.
Transformation to create a working environment where every employee experience happiness, personal growth, and high performing culture requires not only fierce commitment from the leader, but perseverance and relentless actions taken together with the team to discover ways to succeed together. NO, transformation never comes easy, and it always requires committed action!
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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.