Chad has always felt compelled to step in and provide leadership from a young age.
At age 10, he stepped in to be the Senior Patrol Leader of his Boy Scout Troop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (USA) where he led his friends to recite the Scout Oath and Motto each Thursday night at the Patrol meetings.
At age 16, he stepped into be the Captain of his High School Cross Country Running Team where he helped the coach give the team pep talks before races and to ensure his teammates stayed true to their commitments during the longest and most painful practices of 20km or more (not taking shortcuts or hitching rides from generous friends).
At age 18, he felt compelled to run for Student Government at Carleton College and become an active Senator, where he caused time-efficient decision making in the student Senate by becoming masterful at Robert’s Rules of Order.
But not until he joined the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Indochina Program in Hanoi, at the age of 22, did he discover that all this previous “leadership” was done implementing the design of others. Baden Powell had written the Boy Scout Handbook. The Iowa High School Athletic Association had fixed the calendar of cross-country running meets. Henry Robert had written Robert’s Rules of Order.
While at WWF, he learned that a true act of leadership requires declaring a possibility in the face of great uncertainty and resistance. For instance, in 1997, Chad took a stand for the future of the highly biodiverse Phong Nha Ke Bang karst limestone forest ecosystem in Quang Binh Province of central Vietnam. Despite this forest system being relatively unknown, except to a few conversation scientists and the local Government officials, Chad successfully led an effort to expand the size of the National Park by 3x from 41,000 hectares to 123,000 hectares which, together with the adjacent Hin Namno National Park in Laos PDR, created a 400,000 hectare supersize transboundary protected area. To accomplish this goal, he had to inspire and enroll many different stakeholders including his own WWF colleagues, local and national level Government officials in both Vietnam and Laos, research scientists, foreign donors, and UNESCO who ultimately awarded World Heritage Status for the Park in 2003.
In 2000, Chad wanted to leverage his leadership at a larger scale and joined ScanCom, the world’s largest hardwood garden furniture company which worked in partnership with over 50 Vietnamese factories in Binh Duong, Quy Nhon, Da Nang, and Pleiku. With the support ScanCom’s visionary Danish Founder, Mr. Boje Bendzten, Chad declared the possibility to convert ScanCom’s wood supply chain to 100% sustainably sourced FSC-certified wood material with no increase in price to the customers. At the time, this occurred as an impossible task to everyone in the industry including ScanCom’s clients, ScanCom’s partner factories in central Vietnam, and even ScanCom’s employees. But after having achieved this audacious goal with just 24 months of relentless belief in the goal, customers from around the world acknowledged the feat and rewarded the company with a skyrocketing order book. ScanCom’s revenues grew over 10x in the years that followed, not only due to the great product design and competitive prices but also from this act of leadership to reinvent the garden furniture industry by delivering an environmentally and socially responsible product to the market.
Chad was then invited, in 2006, to take on the challenge to grow a well-respected Vietnamese interior fit-out and construction firm: AA Corporation. Chad started by declaring the possibility of growing the monthly revenue of the factory by 6x with no CAPEX and no hiring of new labor. Despite a large and disparate body of naysayers and doubtful production managers, the result was achieved in just six months. Chad then declared the possibility of not just winning contracts to fit-out the interiors of a single hotel ballroom or a single hotel lobby but to win contracts to fit-out the entire 5-star hotel from top to bottom. Achieving this result, AA Corporation’s revenues subsequently grew by over 10x during his years as CEO.
In 2013, when Chad accepted Chris Freund’s invitation to join Mekong Capital, he had no idea that he would have to again completely reinvent his relationship with leadership. Within just a few weeks of joining Mekong Capital, Chad had an immediate and rude wake-up call that what had worked for him over the previous 15 years as Project Director (WWF), Managing Director (ScanCom), or CEO (AA Corporation) was not going to work in his new role at Mekong Capital. For the previous 15 years, Chad woke up each day, switched on his mobile phone, and marched his teams forward, like an American football quarterback marching his team down the field, through the use of directives, rapid decision-making, and getting his team organized around big crazy goals.
But at Mekong Capital, he realized he needed to be the coach, not the quarterback. He realized he now has to lead more through listening rather than through speaking. He learned that supporting others to evolve and grow their own leadership, in order to fulfill their own goals and visions, was far more challenging than just rolling up one’s sleeves and executing the work by yourself. To this day, Chad remains on this journey of constantly finding new ways and approaches to being a coach for the Founders and management teams of Mekong Capital’s investee companies.