by Kim Trang, Senior Investment Associate, Mekong Capital
19 August 2021
In 2009, for the first time in Mekong Capital’s history, the Mekong Capital team spent 14 days declaring a bold and impactful future for the next 5 years – a very clear picture of what the future looked like that not only empowered ourselves to be the leaders to fulfill that future but also inspired transformation in all of our investee companies. The Vision co-creation process back then, or the Vision Festival, was so powerful that ever since we have inspired our investee companies to view Vision co-creation as an essential foundation building block that can unleash tremendous leadership. We have witnessed some successes with our investee companies. It feels as if Mekong Capital has invented a magic wand. It seems that just by waving our wand and saying our magic words, we are able to transform the impossible: mice into horses, pumpkin into a carriage, Cinderella into a princess, and demoralized teams into high-performing cultures. But unlike the Cinderella story, our magic does not stop at the stroke of midnight. So buckle up, and let me take you on the Vision Festival transformation adventure of one of our latest investee companies: Marou Chocolate.
Marou team at the Vision Festival
The past 8 months with Marou was nothing short of a roller coaster ride. As a member of the Deal Team, I thought as if I had tasted both the bitterest chocolate – the passing of the dear co-founder Sam Maruta due to COVID-19 – and the sweetest flavor of all – the official commencement of the Mekong-Marou partnership. When we finally nailed down the days for the Marou Vision Festival, I was so excited to embark on this magical adventure with Marou and to empower them in their new future.
On 2 March, Mekong’s Marou Deal Team, Chad and I, arrived at Ho Tram Beach Resort for the Vision Festival with full energy, joining forces with the two facilitators Rachel and Minh Giang – our Director of Transformation and Partner of Talent & Culture. Personally, having experienced the unique energy each core team member of Marou brings to the table—just like different bonbons in a beautiful chocolate box—I beamed with pride thinking about the inspiration the Vision Festival would give them. Just imagine if Vincent, the co-founder and CEO, and the team members declare a committed future in which they could also see their personal purposes fulfilled, the positive ripple effect across the whole organization would be tremendous. From what other companies had achieved in their own Vision Festival, I kind of had a picture of what the outcome should look like: 3-4 statements of their committed future followed by clear measurements.
The first two days went smoothly. I listened attentively as Rachel and Minh Giang coached the team on personal and organizational transformation, laying a fertile ground for the vision to arise. I felt excited witnessing the magic as I heard many “oohs” and “ahhs” and even tears around the room. The emotions among the team were so raw; transformation might just be on the tip of their tongues.
Throughout these two days, I kept having the same thought, “Is there anything we can do better?” I wanted to make every moment of the Vision Festival count. I diligently took notes and was eager to contribute my observations to Rachel during the break. Opposite to my eagerness, Rachel leaned in and spoke softly to me after my sharing, “I really appreciate the insights you share with me. However, please consider just being with the experience of the team. This will give you tremendous power.” Although I had no idea of what she meant, I believed she got my intention, so I replied to her, “Ah, okay”.
The morning of day three, Rachel invited the team to do something different: the team was asked to sit in two concentric circles, taking turns to share with each other their dreams. Dreams for themselves, for their families, for Vietnam, and for the world. As time passed by and more dreams were exchanged, I could see people’s faces light up. They laughed, high-fived, and gave each other tight hugs. “I would make your dreams come true!” I even heard Vincent’s voice somewhere in the corner of the room. The ambiance was surreal.
That evening, after the team went through an alignment process to declare their Purpose, I held my breath, eagerly waiting for them to move on and deliver their Vision 2025 baby. But when the clock struck 5 pm, I secretly panicked. They still had not arrived at a concrete Vision statement. What if we had wasted 3 days without fulfilling the intention?
Suddenly, Minh Giang asked everyone, “Can some of you please share your dreams for the future of Marou? This will give you a taste of the Marou Vision 2025. Vincent, do you want to lead this session?” Vincent stood up, and like a joyful captain, he welcomed people on board. “Come on guys, what you shared with me this morning was all amazing. Let’s hear from more people.” A few hands raised up. “I want Marou to be the best chocolate company in Asia”, the Factory Manager said. “Awesome,” Vincent’s eyes brightened. “I want Maison Marou flagships to be recognized by Relais Desserts International for our elite pastry!”, the Head of Training & Development at Maison Marou cheekily said. “That’s a lot of work for you right there! Guys let’s keep going.” Vincent laughed and pointed all over the room. “I want Maison Marou Singapore and Maison Marou Japan”, another one shouted out.
I was in awe with all these ideas, but was it time to consolidate them? I looked at Minh Giang, waiting to hear the next instruction.
“Alright guys, I think we can start aligning on a vision now”, Minh Giang announced. However, the atmosphere felt a bit incomplete, as though Vincent just cracked open a chocolate bar, and now the flavors were only starting to burst. Vincent turned to us and spoke softly, “Please guys, can we spend more time on this? I really want every dream to be shared.” My heart melted. Vincent’s being-ness was so warm, and he was clearly listening to each of his team members as their highest potential. Rachel’s words suddenly floated back into my mind. “What am I fussing about? Just be on this journey with them.” I finally got what she meant. Let the dream magic flow!
In the end, the team painted not one, not two, but collectively 35 vivid pictures of Marou’s future. No dreams were too ambitious. No dreams were too trivial. No dreams ever got shot down. Everyone’s dreams were heard. It was as if everyone just had their first Marou chocolate bar, and their taste buds were excited and forever transformed. On our ride back to Ho Chi Minh City, as I had time for self-reflection, I realized what a successful event the Marou Vision Festival had been. I discovered that the magic was not a statement that everyone thought they could rally around, but the experience of connectedness and discovering their personal desires and dreams fulfilled inside Marou’s future.
2 months since that joyful event, it is clear that Mekong’s “magic wand” has sprinkled its fairy dust all over me and my Deal Team. The Marou Deal Team is now a unified force going all-in for Marou’s vision. The experience of the Vision Festival has humbled and grounded us with our commitment: authentically being with the experience of our founders and CEOs, instead of imposing on them anything we know could work. Now we are on a grand adventure to keep the magic vibrant, rich, and thriving.
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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.