My 8-year-old self has been guiding me to…Mekong Capital
by Bui Kim Trang, Investment Analyst, Mekong Capital
09 June 2020
I grew up aspiring to be an archaeologist. The day that my Dad hooked our TV up with the Discovery channel, I can still vividly remember, changed my childhood. I would spend countless hours devouring documentaries about ancient civilizations, even scribbling ancient Egyptian scripts all over my picture books. The rise and fall of empires, individual lives of our ancestors, all deeply fascinated me. From a kid who had been bestowed upon some (dry) adult dream jobs — doctors, lawyers, engineers — I finally discovered my very own aspiration: being an archaeologist who discovers hidden treasures.
I was serious about pursuing this dream job. I went straight to the storage in our house to collect some of my Dad’s paintbrushes. After all, that was what archaeologists did all day every day — digging up artifacts of our ancestors from the ground and brushing off the dust. I put all these brushes into a small box and put this toolkit up on a top shelf in my room, shielding it from my Dad’s gaze. I felt well prepared for the grand archaeology trips I knew I would make.
As it turned out, my trip came earlier than I had expected. At the time, my parents were renovating our home and had construction workers come in every day with their machinery. One day, I saw a big hole in the ground — the workers were digging up something. When they finally took a break and stepped away from the hole, I knew that my opportunity had come. Hours of watching archaeologists in action did not go to waste. I quickly took out the paintbrushes in my toolkit and used my bare hands to dig deeper into the hole. I kept digging and digging. It was intensely hot, the sun was shining brightly above my head, I was sweating, but the treasure buried underneath was pulling me deeper, until…
A cold hand got a grip on my arm.
My Mom was furious. Horrified at the sight of my hands all covered in dirt and God-knows-what-bacteria-is-on-there, she yanked my brushes out and forced me to return to my room. She did not even take the time to hear me explain my oh-so-important treasure hunting mission. I came back to my room and turned on one of the documentaries, longing for the day to freely roam a treasure site again…
Fast forward 16 years. I am an … Investment Analyst at Mekong Capital. The childhood dream job stays burdened, wishfully, in my vague memory. My day now is filled with meetings, cranking out works, meetings, and cranking out works again, the paint-brushes and picture books now replaced by Excel files and pitchbooks.
I am serious about pursuing this career path. I spend countless hours honing my technical skills, delivering my expected results on time, shooting questions at senior colleagues, bouncing off ideas with some of the most creative minds. I also embrace the Eight Core Values of Mekong just fine. I get their definitions. I also know the expected behaviors. I would clarify the intentions of each project, occasionally being aggressive and relentless, and speaking up what I see is not working (well, sometimes after the encouragement of my Mentor). So far, so good. Or, at least that’s what I thought.
Around four months into this role, my accountabilities started to increase tenfold. I quickly found myself juggling between projects assigned by different senior colleagues.
One day, during a video conference call with a client and another colleague, my computer crashed. Our IT manager had gone out for lunch, and I was left trying to fix this frozen computer screen on my own. It dragged on for 20 minutes. “Whatever,” I thought, “I will text my colleague and ask him to relay things that I miss in the meeting later. Besides, I do not think we are that serious about pursuing this opportunity. This meeting might just be something nice-to-have”. I went ahead and fetched myself a glass of water. Later in the day, the colleague texted me and expressed his disappointment in my sudden vanishing, “You could have used your phone or something to join the second half of the meeting. I’m not happy with this excuse”. Although I had apologized to him after that, I still felt ashamed.
A week after, the same colleague reached out to invite me to another project. Unclear about the intention and potential impact, I emailed back to clarify. He replied right away, telling me that he would allocate this task to someone else. A thought, “Maybe he does not like me,” crept into my head…
Little did I know how much this interpretation would significantly impede the working progress between the colleague and me. I was thinking to myself, “Why are we doing this much work when you don’t seem to be that serious? But whatever”. I held back from clarifying the level of commitment I should have for this project, fearing I would come across as an uncollaborative and lazy colleague. So I kept doing the bare minimum of whatever he told me to do, until…
A message yanked me back to reality. “Hey, can we have a call tomorrow to discuss this project more? Besides, there is some feedback I want to give you”. My heart almost jumped out of my chest. My intuition told me that there would be some very harsh feedback.
As it turned out, there was no such feedback. The colleague kindly told me that he realized there might have been something in the way of our collaboration. He admitted that something he said might have left me with a disempowering feeling. He also gave me feedback on my lack of proactiveness. But most importantly, he gave me his words on his commitment to this project and to my professional development. Encouraged by his authentic communication, I shared that this project had come across as something nice-to-have to me, that my perception about him had limited my engagement with it, and that I should have communicated with him about my interpretations earlier.
The hour-long conversation left us two with restored workability and me with a discovery. I realized that, at that moment, I was fully immersed in the combined worlds of two of Mekong’s Eight Core Values: Communiplete and Jeromosity. “Communiplete” — communicating in a complete and direct way so that nothing is in the way, misunderstood or unhandled, and “Jeromosity” — relating to other people as their commitments, intentions, possibilities, and inherent goodness and empowering others. I felt like a wave of freshness suddenly sweep over me. My heart was tingling with excitement, and my mind crystal clear about the next steps. It was as if I had finally brushed away the dust and dirt to feel, to live the splendor of this Mekong treasure: the Eight Core Values.
At Mekong Capital, we strive to keep a fresh pair of eyes and continuously reinvent ourselves. Whether discovering what it means to be the Core Values or re-discovering the possibilities embedded in our Vision Driven Investing Framework, the game is about digging up that one piece of gold, every single time.
A little archaeologist once told me that empty holes in the ground always mean more than meets the eyes. Sixteen years since that fateful afternoon, she has finally dug up her long-coveted piece of gold. This time, from the depths of something as abstract as “Core Values.” And yet, she knows there are many many more treasures underneath, pulling for her actions.
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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.