The making of a ‘millionaire’

by Sjoerd Zwinkels, Principal, Mekong Capital
11 August 2021


I grew up in a small village in the center of the Netherlands. During my time at secondary school, I committed myself that I wanted to become a millionaire by age 35. Therefore, I intentionally chose a master’s in business administration. After graduation, I wanted to get an internship outside of Europe in a financial firm to polish up my CV.

Then, in 2010, I got to know the Vietnam-focused PE firm, Mekong Capital, which showed some promising returns. Chris Freund, the founder, offered me a six-month internship in the investment team. So I decided to pack up and move to Vietnam for my big adventure.

Sjoerd Zwinkels, Principal, Mekong Capital

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Vietnam was terrific and Mekong Capital as well, but there was something different about the company. Besides returns and investments, the team also stood for visions being fulfilled of our investee companies and transformation. Mekong Capital inspired me, so I chose Vietnam to be my second home and extended my internship. A few months later, I became an official team member as an analyst in the investment team. I was determined to move up and make more money.

As such, I burned the candle at both ends for years to move up from an associate closing three deals together with other deal leaders to be the Deal Leader YOLA. I was confident after years of transformation and pretty much on track as a millionaire-to-be. Mekong Capital looked like the right place for me.

One day, I met a beautiful Vietnamese girl named Lan Anh, who eventually became my wife. Being with her, I gradually felt a sense of clarity of what I was committed to. Besides my million, I wanted my family to be safe, my parents and Lan Anh, and maybe a little one that will come someday.

Unfortunately, in 2019, my world was shattered as YOLA’s vision went off-track. Since I became the Deal Leader, I had done everything I could but I was left with nothing other than a few months to ‘improve’ my performance. “How could it be possible?“, I felt so unfair to be the one to suffer. I became complacent as if I had lost my fire, the thing that made me be a rock star in 7 years at Mekong Capital.

I could not see how I could move on, and for a moment, I thought that a career switch would be better for the company and for me. So, I decided then and there that I was working on my backup plan. I reached out to people to set up interviews and prepare my CVs to be ready. I moved to be resigned and fearful. I was ready to quit.

Lucky for me, YOLA engaged a coaching company around that time to cause transformation for the leadership team. They asserted that I should be part of the coaching as I was welcome as part of their team.

I can still vividly remember the day my coach started by asking me, “How are you doing? What do you want to work on in this personal coaching?”. I started, “I don’t see my future now as I can’t see myself as an effective Deal Leader for YOLA to achieve its vision. I tried every possible approach, but it seemed that it wasn’t enough”. Of course, I was complaining a lot.

The coach listened patiently, then she asked me “Are you still committed to working for Mekong Capital?”

I replied, “I really don’t know, and I also am not sure if I could find another job that easily right now.”

Then, like a slap in the face, she said, “STOP IT! You are a great and powerful guy. You can work wherever you want! You just need to choose if you want to fight for your job and Mekong or not.”

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I did not expect her to say that. “Is she trying to get me to quit?” I pondered and left the call with great confusion.

Many days later, I couldn’t help thinking about her response. She had really shaken me up. But she also made me realize that “Yeah, I can get a job wherever I want.” And I asked myself, “Why am I avoiding leaving Mekong?”

I couldn’t figure it out until I realized that something special had ignited inside me when I came to know that Lan Anh and I got a beautiful baby boy on the way. At that moment, I realized that I no longer felt like trying to look good or to make a lot of money. I no longer saw myself as ME only. Instead, I strongly felt committed to leaving the world a better place for my son by having a significant positive impact on Vietnam. It was my true purpose.

The answer then came to me vividly: “I really love what we do at Mekong and our impact on Vietnam and the teams we work with. So, I am not going to give up and really want to fight for Mekong and for this job.”

That day, I chose to be successful here at Mekong Capital. That day, I chose to transform myself for the future that I am committed to.

So I jumped in the coaching and continuously looked into myself to discover what was in the way for me to be the leader I wanted to be. As the transformation started, I began to see that I cannot do everything by myself and we could not make the Mekong vision, YOLA vision, the investment team vision, or my purpose in life happen if I was being Me only. So, I decided to become We: We as a family at home, at Mekong Capital, and at YOLA.

Then with more coaching from Rachel, our Director of Transformation, I discovered for myself the shift from knowing to being: Be the success of others and always be the future.

From that moment, every time I was not being my vision or being the success of Mekong or our team, I found that I could catch myself quicker and quicker. Personal coaching transformed me. Without my first coach asking me to choose, I would not have been at Mekong anymore. Without Rachel coaching me on being, I would not be at Mekong anymore. Without them, I would still be stuck with my counter-productive attitude. So, I am grateful for getting that opportunity.

It’s been a year since that day and I clearly see myself transformed into a different person — a whole new me. New outlook. New attitude. New productivity. New success.

I am NOW the champion for YOLA, other new potential investee companies, and Mekong Capital achieving their visions.

Standing in the future, I am committed to achieving the impossible, and I take a stand for entrepreneurs to achieve their visions. I have created my vision for YOLA, the education sector, the technology sector, and a vision to impact the lives of the people in Vietnam.

I still aim to be a millionaire. But I no longer use dollars as the measure of my success and wealth. Thanks to my transformation, I now see millions of impacts are possible in terms of vision fulfillment. And, for me, every day being the Deal Leader at the Vision Fulfilment Center of Mekong Capital is how I am realizing my life-long purpose.


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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.

Published On: July 31, 20216.5 min read

2 Comments

  1. Rob A. Stofberg August 13, 2021 at 3:13 am - Reply

    Een uiterst interessant verhaal Sjoerd. Voorts respect voor de openheid die je over jezelf hierin uitte. Fijn dat je per saldo niet alleen je draai, maar vooral je ‘drive’ weer gevonden hebt. Respect! Ga zo door

  2. Lawrnece August 18, 2021 at 3:15 pm - Reply

    Wonderful, thank you Sjoerd.

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