Chris Freund grew up in Chicago, Illinois, and subsequently attended the University of California in Santa Cruz, where he focused much of his studies on psychology and religious experience. Since his teenage years, Chris had been interested in Buddhism and other spiritual inquiries, so in 1992 Chris embarked on a junior year abroad and enrolled in the Buddhist Studies program in Bodh Gaya, India. When the program completed, Chris backpacked around Asia for 6 months, starting for one month in Vietnam. Chris immediately fell in love with Vietnam and resolved to return to Vietnam upon graduating from his university.
From the end of the U.S. war in Vietnam until February 1994, the U.S. has imposed a trade and investment embargo on Vietnam. When the trade embargo was lifted on the 3rd of February 1994, it opened the floodgates to foreign investment, trade, and career opportunities for foreigners in Vietnam. Chris was excited about the opportunity to live and work in Vietnam, so in mid-1994 he took a leave from his university to engage in an internship project in Ho Chi Minh City, researching investment opportunities in Vietnam. Templeton had recently launched a NYSE-listed Vietnam fund, but they had no one working yet in Vietnam. Upon graduating in early 1995, Chris joined Templeton and became their first employee in Vietnam, opening Templeton’s Vietnam office and scouring the market for investment opportunities.
In 1998, after having made 3 investments in joint ventures with state-owned enterprises, and in the midst of the Asian Financial Crisis, Templeton closed its Vietnam office, and moved the Vietnam team to Singapore. In Singapore, Chris was a Portfolio Manager, analyzing and recommending investments in tech companies in Taiwan and Israel, while continuing to oversee some investments that Templeton had made in Vietnam. Having the opportunities to meet the founders and CEOs of many successful companies in Taiwan and Israel, Chris was inspired by the possibility of launching a business. Chris really wanted to be back in Vietnam. And he wanted to pioneer a model of investing that has much more hands-on and value-added than what he had seen investors doing until then.
So in March 2001, at the age of 29, Chris moved back to Ho Chi Minh City and founded Mekong Capital as the first hands-on Private Equity firm in Vietnam. Mekong Capital would focus on investments in private sector companies, rather than former state-owned enterprises, and aimed to add value to those companies to help them grow. The launch of Mekong Capital was achieved with the strong support of a World Bank program called the Mekong Private Sector Development Facility (MPDF) and the Asian Development Bank, both of whom were being champions for this fund due to the positive impact it would have on the development of Vietnam’s private sector.
Also in 2001, together with his high-school friend Jonah Levey, Chris co-founded VietnamWorks (which later became Navigos Group), which would ultimately become Vietnam’s largest recruitment services firm. Chris’ involvement in Navigos as a non-executive Board member helped position Mekong Capital near the center of Vietnam’s recruiting world. This later emerged as a core competence of Mekong Capital as it built out a strong in-house Talent & Culture team, which has been very active and successful in recruiting senior talent for Mekong’s investee companies. Eventually, Navigos was sold in a trade sale to a Japanese strategic investor in 2013.
From 2001 until 2006, Chris did everything wrong and made every possible mistake. Chris didn’t know how to manage people, his investment strategy was flawed, he tried to add value but didn’t really know how to. It was just a big mess. He was ready to give up on himself as the Managing Partner (and only Partner) of Mekong Capital when in mid-2007 he enrolled himself in a 3-day transformation program in Singapore called the Landmark Forum. This proved to be a pivotal event for Chris, and for Mekong Capital, as it marked the start of their journey of transformation.
At first Mekong’s transformation got off to a rocky start. Chris wanted everyone else to transform without him yet completely transforming himself. He learned the hard way that transformation starts from the top, from who he is being. Chris would have to discover new ways of communicating, new ways of leading, new ways of being Mekong’s core values. By December 2009 the initial transformation was complete when the team together created and declared a new future for Mekong Capital. It was a future which didn’t seem possible before then, but which would ultimately be realized, and much more. It represented a permanent shift out of the past and into the future. Today, Mekong Capital comes from the future.
Chris has been closely involved in all stages of sourcing, due diligence & implementation, post-investment value creation, and exiting for a wide range of investments in Mekong Capital's funds since 2001, both poor investments and successful investments. Chris was Mekong Capital’s Deal Leader for a wide variety of investee companies, including MobileWorld, an investment which resulted in a 57x return for Mekong Enterprise Fund II, marking it one of the most pre-eminent investments in the history of Asian Private Equity. MobileWorld was also one of the core models of success that was an inspiration for the Vision Driven Investing framework.
Since then, Chris has played a central role in the development of the Vision Driven Investing framework, like a coordinating architect. Currently, Chris is not active as a Deal Leader, rather he focuses more broadly on the successful implementation of Vision Driven Investing across Mekong’s portfolio of investee companies and other big-picture initiatives. Chris is involved in some investee companies as an Alternate Deal Leader, a member of the Board of Directors, and also via his role as a member of Mekong’s Investment Recommendation Committee.
Chris’ purpose in life is to reconstruct the future of human civilization such that human beings are BEING, or have access to BEING: complete, present, open, natural, healthy, transformed, and experiencing choice in all matters of their lives. Humanity is living in balance with a thriving natural world. Chris’ purpose is well entangled with Mekong Capital’s vision of reinventing private equity ontologically, transforming who people and organizations are being to fulfill their shared commitments for the future. Chris fulfills his purpose every day through his work at Mekong Capital, especially when being at the pioneering forefront of transformation in an organizational context. And he loves being this, and doing this, in Vietnam.