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VNRE - Ms Nguyet Thi Nguyet Huong, Chair and CEO of the VID Group, believes that ambition, standing on your own two feet and identifying appropriate solutions are the secrets to success.

Born in 1970 and growing up in Nam Dinh province, Nguyen Thi Nguyet Huong was always an excellent student during her years at high school. In 1984, at the age of 14, she won First Prize in a National Contest for Russian Language and Russian Literature. In 1987 she then won the Gold Medal at the Russian Language International Olympic Contest and received a scholarship to study Russian literature at Moscow University.

She arrived at Moscow airport on a cold winter night in 1987, surrounded by unfamiliar foreign faces. It seemed luck and timing may have been against her, because soon after the Soviet Union became mired in economic crisis. Her scholarship was small, given the cost of living in Moscow, and she was barely able to survive. She had to do extra jobs to earn some more money so that she could continue her studies.

Having graduated from Moscow University she first thought that back in Vietnam she would find the job of her dreams, relating to language teaching or the media, but her dreams never came true. She turned to the business world. She is now Chair and CEO of the Vietnam Investment Development Group (VID Group). “After the collapse of the Soviet Union not many people wanted to learn Russian anymore,” she remembers. “I also thought it would be hard to find a good job in the subject of my studies. So I had to make another choice.”

In 1996 she was back in Vietnam with a case full of books. As she expected, her command of the Russian language didn’t help her too much in finding a job, so she decided to apply for an accounting course at Hanoi University of Economics and an English language course, in the hope of getting a job as a company accountant. She finally secured a position with the Nam Thang shoe making company, and was later appointed as its Deputy General Director.

Having drawn a lot of experience from three years at Nam Thang, she decided to open a company of her own in the export garment business. Within just a short period of time she managed to recruit around 1,000 workers. The business grew rapidly and she wanted to expand, so applied for a bank loan to reach her ambitious business targets.

She submitted applications to relevant agencies in Hanoi for land to expand her business, but no reply came. Her application for a bank loan was also rejected, because as a private company she was required to have collateral. She experienced the common difficulties of private company owners.

But the company was still doing well, with its products being sold in more than 20 countries. Her clients wanted to place more orders, so she definitely needed more space to expand her business, but the cumbersome administrative procedures were a major obstacle. The business opportunity passed her by, so she sought land in the provinces near Hanoi to expand her business.

She began by leasing 7.5 ha of land in Hung Yen province. While preparing to build a factory she happened to know that the Lifan Motorbike Group from China was looking for space for their business, and they suggested they lease the infrastructure she had built. She accepted and the two sides signed a deal. If Vietnamese were facing problems in applying for space to expand their business, she wondered what was happening with foreign investors, especially given the language barrier.

In 2005 the Business Law was passed and facilitated all enterprises, including private ones. An idea sprang to mind: why can’t we build infrastructure ourselves and then lease it to foreign investors? Building the Nam Sach Industrial Park, on 63 ha, was next in her plans. Construction required a lot of money, and building industrial parks was then quite new in the northern provinces. Many domestic and foreign infrastructure developers had already failed.

She decided to make a trip to study industrial parks in Taiwan and South Korea, and she came to the conclusion that only when you have good infrastructure are you be able to lure foreign investment. With this experience, the Nam Sach Industrial Park was almost fully occupied within just a year. Her other industrial parks, such as Quang Minh, on 750 ha in Vinh Phuc province, Phuc Dien, on nearly 100 ha, and Tan Truong on 250 ha in Hai Duong province were also put into operation.

VID Group has now established eight industrial parks in six northern provinces, attracting almost 400 foreign investors from Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, China, Taiwan and elsewhere, with total capital of around $2.5 billion. The Group’s success helped attract even more foreign investors, creating jobs for tens of thousands of workers and contributing to socio-economic development and economic restructuring in a number of northern provinces.

Remarkable in Ms. Huong’s contribution in this regard was her idea to build residential quarters for workers near the industrial parks, which was then recognised as an appropriate model to be used throughout the country. “In order to attract foreign investors effectively, most important of all is to seek good locations, build good technical infrastructure, including transport networks, seaports and airports, and social infrastructure such as skilled local workforce associated with supporting services,” she said. “Your working style should be professional, scientific and efficient.

You should also help foreign investors identity solutions to overcome the difficulties or problems they may face. In so doing you need to have experienced and competent staff with a good command of English and a sound knowledge of State rules and the changing State policy, to provide foreign investors with timely advice.”

“It is not necessary to launch a range of investment promotion trips overseas,” she continued. “Just try to take good care of investors at the industrial parks, because they are the ones who best help us in our investment promotion scheme. Let’s provide them with the best services possible and take care of their inquiries, and they will then naturally present your performance to others.”

Apart from industrial parks, in 2005 she began to become involved in the banking business and is now Vice Chair of Maritime Bank.

Beyond business

Not only successful in business, Ms Huong is also known for her active involvement in social and political life. In 1999, at the age of 29 when she was Deputy General Director of Nam Thang, she was nominated by the Hanoi Entrepreneurs Association to run for the Hanoi People’s Committee, succeeding with a large number of votes, and in 2004 was re-elected for a second term. She has been elected to the National Assembly (NA) for two consecutive terms: 2007-2011 and the new 2011-2016 terms. She is now a member of the Central Committee of the Vietnam Fatherland Front.

As an entrepreneur involved in socio-political activities she expected to make a contribution to the country’s economic development in general and the development of the business community in particular. She recalled an interesting story about her campaign for a National Assembly seat in 2007. One day before the election, at around 10 o’clock at night, her phone rang. The caller turned out to be a retired doctorate holder, and he was keen to talk to her to confirm he would be making the right decision if he voted for her. Knowing she had graduated in the Soviet Union, he also tested her command of the Russian language.

Commenting on her NA involvement, she said she would try to play a role in changing and amending rules on land, finance and banking, as there was a gap between the reality and policy.

About her success, she says simply: “You must have ambition, and this should be what motivates you. Stand on your own two feet and find appropriate solutions. In doing business, you can’t wait for an opportunity to come to you automatically; you must seek it out or create it yourself instead. In terms of the NA involvement, voters expect you to be actively involved in boosting and creating change, not sitting around idly.”

Reported by Tran Thai | Vneconomy

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