How I stopped myself from crying in meetings with Chris Freund
by Truong Dieu Le, Partner, Mekong Capital
23 October 2019
In 2006, I took on the shareholder quarterly reporting from Chris Freund. When I first received the hand-over, the task was rather simple. All I needed to do was to collect the completed sections from the Deal Leaders, prepare the summary and combine everything into one report. Back then, most of the Deal Leaders were already experienced in preparing data, so I did not have to make much amendments or reconciliation. In addition, the report template was rather simple and short. Thus, it wasn’t a demanding task at all and I felt quite relaxed.
One year later, I was requested to conduct an overhaul of the report template. A new version was introduced as a good reporting practice to be employed with much more high level data presentation and analysis. Thus, the quarterly report went from approximately 14–15 pages to 40–50 pages. More importantly, the amount of data and information required became way more massive and sophisticated compared to the original. While I found this new template to be a big step up in our reporting in one hand, it would take me triple the amount of time needed to complete. All of a sudden, it became a time-consuming and brain-cracker task almost overnight for me!
In every single meeting with Chris to review the report, I was constantly questioned about certain information presented.
“Why this number is like this?” “Why don’t they report the new store opening?” “What happened to this, how come it so high?” “This chart does not look right, do you know what’s missing?”
And every time he raised such questions, I felt puzzled and speechless.
“How should I know?” — a little voice hissed in my head. “It’s what the Deal Leaders reported. And that’s all I got. They are responsible for this. How could I know that it’s not enough???”
For those moments, I did not know how to answer out loud to Chris. And the feeling of impotent and frustration would tense up, and burst into tears.
Yes, I was crying…
I started to hate the reviewing meetings with Chris. It just felt so uncomfortable. He seemed to be unreasonable by asking me such questions. I even thought that he should have been the one who held the Deal Leaders accountable for knowing what to report and being capable enough to report the right data. “I’m just a coordinator to collect information. Why on earth did he expect me to know all the insights?”
Those kind of thoughts lingered for quite a long time. There were constant battles inside me. I hated this but I knew that it was my responsibility. I just kept doing it, suffering those meetings to complete my task.
Up until one day, in one “usual” review meeting, Chris raised a question.
“OK, here it comes again.” — The drop that makes a vase overflow. “I can’t take this anymore!.”
So instead of answering him, I poured to Chris all the thoughts that I had been carrying: that I didn’t think I had enough knowledge to challenge the Deal Leaders about their information or data, and that I didn’t think that his expectation was fair.
Chris asked me: “Do you think you have less knowledge about our investments than our shareholders? Why do you think they always have good questions to ask about our report and point out the error/mistake?”
My heart dropped a beat. I found myself speechless again. I kept thinking about Chris’ question even after the meeting. “Hm..That is painfully true. What did the shareholders do that I’m not yet doing?” I thought, and thought, and thought harder…
“Ah, they asked, lots of questions. That’s the key difference. I did not ask the Deal Leaders when collecting information. But why didn’t I? I was not scared of my team members. I always felt comfortable discussing with them anything else, except for this task. What stopped me though?.”
And then another question from Chris suddenly flashed back in my head: “Where do I come from when I review these reports?”. At this moment, I realized that I had not reviewed the report from being the owner of the report, like him. I had been operating from being a coordinator, who relied heavily on other people to do their job. Therefore, the result was mediocre and that’s why I felt so stressful in dealing with others’ problem.
It was such a discovery. I felt like a thousand pound weight was finally lifted off my chest.
From that point forward, I shifted the way I reviewed the report. I would raise questions and input, even when the Deal Leaders might be upset to be asked. I would ensure sufficient checking and reconciliation to be done properly before passing to Chris for review. And above all, I would consider myself as the final owner of the report:
“This is my report, not Chris’ report, not Deal Leaders’ report, and I need to own it before sending it out”.
After several years, now Chris no longer needs to review the report before it is sent out, without the quality of the report being compromised.
This story reminds me that once I take the full ownership for anything, I’m responsible, I am the real leader in charge to produce results. Thus, by sharing this story, I wish to remind myself as well as to invite you to be the true owner of results. In Mekong Capital, this is one of our core values, named “Genesis”:
Genesis — Choosing the view of life that we are the source of what we choose, what actions we take, what impact we have and how the world materializes around us. Being the cause rather than the effect.
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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 sector. For more information on Mekong Capital, please visit www.mekongcapital.com.