The story of stewed fish in clay pot

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The story of stewed fish in clay pot

Author: Truong Dieu Le, Partner, Mekong Capital

March 07, 2024

My dad’s favorite dish was stewed fish in a clay pot. So my mom always made it a default dish in every meal we had. When I was about 10 years old, starting to learn how to cook, she taught me to cook such a dish. The main ingredient of the dish was … of course… the fish itself. My mom would go to the wet market, to the wettest place – the alive fish corner, to pick an alive fish. She said: “Without a very fresh fish, the dish would not be yummy”. After all the pre-cook preparation steps, her first cooking step was to fry the fish. She would put the panfry on the gas stove, with some oil, turn fire to max level for the oil to be extremely hot, then the prepared fish will come in the burning oil. After the fish was slightly burned on the outside, she would lower the fire, and keep it like that until it was cooked. Then the clay pot would be put on the stove, adding some oil, some garlic and onion to stir the fragrant smell, the cooked fish will join in the journey, following by other ingredients. She would also keep the clay pot on low fire for at least 30 minutes, checked in from time to time, until it was ready. Before we eat, my mom would heat the clay pot one more time for at least 15 minutes before serving. She said: “With this kind of dish, the longer times it gets cooked, the more yummy it will taste”. When the dish was served, the fragrance and texture of the fish were so mouthwatering. My dad always had such dish, day-in, day-out, for decades. He just loved it!

Le (on the left) in her childhood and her mother

I am that kind of dish, stewed fish in a clay pot. as a mentee type at Mekong Capital.

Similar to the fish, I was quite fresh when I first joined Mekong, empty of prejudices and assumptions about investments and leadership. My initial lessons leant at Mekong were tough and heated, and from time to time, I would feel like myself being a fish getting burn. Back then, Chris, my mentor, was direct and straightforward, so he would say things to my face in a way that could not be more direct. After those direct feedback, he would let those sink in on me, gave some challenges for me to conquer, and checked in from time to time. Yes, my mentor was a good cook for me. He knew exactly when I needed the heat, and when I needed the cool-down. And thanks to all that, I was able to absorb a lot of new insights about investments and leadership throughout my journey at Mekong.

Chris and Le

So, I decided to be the same type of cook, direct and straightforward, no hidden agenda, just put everything on the table, no story. Throughout my 17 years of being in a mentor role, I had a total of 38 mentees. Among them, about 1/3 did not enjoy my mentorship (I used to feel bad about that, but now I could laugh at myself). About 1/3 could work well with me, yet they preferred a different path from Mekong. Only 1/3 of my mentees are still with the company until today, and I currently have 5 mentees. This journey of mentorship discovery enabled me to discover that not all mentees were the same type. Occasionally, I would meet another fish-mentee type like me. Sometimes, I would meet a tofu-mentee type, who would prefer softer feedback approach and frequent acknowledgements. Other times, I would meet a bird-mentee type, who would want to fly her own way. Many many different types indeed. I have not been effective with each and every of my (former) mentees, so for any failed case, I would learn to be a different type of mentor, so that I could be a better mentor next time.

Recently, among the members working directly with me, I have been inspired by some of them who choose to adjust their mentoring style for different members of their teams. Each person self-transforms to become a more effective mentor for their mentees. It is quite rare to see a mentor who keeps transforming herself so she could fit with her mentees, not the other way around.

Looking back, if a fish like me had not met a cook like Chris, I would not transform to who I am today. I am such a lucky fish, and I wish you, whichever type you are, you would choose a good cook for yourself, who would enable you to be the best dish of your type! Or better yet, in my wildest dreams, that we mentees could also transform ourselves, so that we could thrive with any type of mentors!

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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.

The book is available on Tiki (Hard copy): (Vietnamese) and Amazon: (English)

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