ICON'S INTERVIEW
Mr. Lê Viết Hải
Chairman & CEO of Hoa Binh Corporation

The most important thing for people is to think seriously about the direction in which they wish to go.

The challenge is to first understand yourself, your abilities, advantages and opportunities.

You need to think carefully about yourself, to know and understand your character. Also important is to see yourself from another’s point of view. Teachers or friends can evaluate your actions and give you advice. When you know and understand yourself, only then can you find a good career and satisfy your aspirations. For example, when you are studying, you can discover what subjects you learn easily. I myself found out that mathematicswas very easy for me to learn, while I was less good at subjects that needed a lot of memorizing. What I liked most was geometry, this was very easy for me and becoming top of my class, I received the highest possible score for this subject. So in general I would say, focus on the things that you can do well and try to develop them, instead of trying to develop things at which you are not good.

Businessmen have to be leaders in order to be managers. One of the major challenges for a leader is to influence people in the right direction, to let them discover what they are good at and to support them in that direction. All businessmen should be leaders. We have to learn how to influence people. I learned that from the book: “How to win friends and influence people” by Dale Carnegie. I read this book when I was in high school and was inspired by it. I can recommend this book to everyone who wants to be successful.

You cannot be successful only on your own. You have to work with many people, working together to influence others. I have learned, and am still learning, from many people around me, partners, clients, colleagues and staff, not forgetting my parents.

My parents were a great example to me and gave me very valuable lessons about how to live and do business. My parents were very brave people.

When my parents were alreadyquite old – my father was 47 and my mother 45 – they decided to bring the whole family of 11 children from Hue to Saigon around1972 and there they had to start everything from scratch again. They came to Saigon with almost nothing, only their bare hands. My father used to be the principal of a high school in Hue, so he was able to take care of his family in Hue.

When they came to Saigon my father and mother had to work very hard, they had to do many different jobs so that the family could survive. At that time we lived in a house that was about half the size of my current office. To create some more space they made a mezzanine floor, but since the ceiling was not very high, it was not possible to stand up straight on this floor.

My parents’ life was not easy. After 5 years in Ho Chi Minh City they started producing “bánhchưng, bánh in” and “mứt” which are a kind of special cakes which they sold in the market for New Year. This was very hard and caused a lot of stress because people usually bought these cakes only 2-3 weeks before TET. We used to have a lot of cakes in store, not being sure how many we would sell. We didn’t even know if we could sell enough to pay back the money that we had borrowed from friends to do this business. So we really worried a lot. Sometimes when it already was very close to TET we still had a lot of cakes in stock and this made us nervous we would not be able to sell them.

Luckily my parents knew the market well and could encourage the people to buy their cakes.

We children all had to help in this business, so every day when we came back from school we had to work in the business, sometimes until 12 at night. At that time I was 10-12 years old.

What I learned from that time is that we have to work very hard to survive. I also learned that we always have to create our products or services in such a way that they are good and beautiful, we have to add value, we have to be different. We have to believe in ourselves and believe in our business, otherwise it’s not possible to succeed. We have to be confident that we create good products for the people. Only then can we be successful.

According to me,the success factors to doing a good business are:

  • Choose the right way
  • Choose the right direction, know what you’re good at and improve those skills through study.
  • Have the right attitude

Even though this is not new wisdom, we should never forget that attitude is most important. With the right attitude I mean:

  • Be honest
  • Love your work
  • Aim at the highest; the best quality, the fasted delivery, the most beautiful product, etc..
  • Put all your mind and thinking in your business; think about how to make people happy when they will use your product
  • Try to constantly improve yourself, your skills, your knowledge

Important is to focus on what you can change, not on the things you cannot change. Ask yourself the questions what YOU can do and focus on that.

About making mistakes

If people do the wrong things because they don’t know, we can accept that and should help them to find the right way to do it. If they make mistakes intentionally we cannot accept that. Sometimes people don’t follow the regulations, procedures and cause a lot of defects so we have to spend a lot of time to repair.

In our company, when people make mistakes that lead to higher expenses, we only pay those expenses when we know; -who was responsible, -what happened and -how we can make sure it doesn’t happen again in the future. We have to research our mistakes very well, we cannot accept that a mistake is made twice.

Being humble

We should be humble and learn every day from everyone. Almost everything has been done already, created already, the knowledge is their but we should be open to it.

Use your intuition

We can apply the logical thinking that we learn in mathematics to our life to find out what is right or wrong. But we should also use our feelings and intuition. Everyone has intuition, it’s an inborn thing according to me, but you have to know that you have it and learn how to apply it. Most people only use logical thinking, they don’t use their intuition although they have it.

For example, when I had to choose a name for our company we had many options. Hoa Binh (meaning: Peace) gave me a good feeling (by the way, also my son has this name).

Because the war in Vietnam we loved peace and we knew the value of peace too. So at that time I choose this name based purely on my feeling.

After many years I can also rationally understand that this name was a good choice. War damages things, breaking them down, in HoaBinh we are building them up. War is breaking down, peace is building up, that’s the rationale, the logic. So, at first we felt that the name HoaBinh was good by intuition, now after all these years we discovered that it’s a good rational name too.

Sometimes in HoaBinh we feel that it’s not good to do business with a certain client. Because of this feeling we sometimes refuse certain projects. So in doing business with people we don’t only look at their business, financial reports and so on but also let our feeling speak. I discuss my feelings with my colleagues and if we don’t have a good feeling we don’t do business, although from a  strictlyrational viewpoint everything seems ok.

On the other hand, some clients are not very strong financially, but when we have a good feeling about these people we do our utmost to help those people be successful.

Inspiration

When I was young, my family was very poor so I know how difficult life can be for poor people. I cannot solve poverty but what I can do with HoaBinh is to offer people a chance to work with us so they can develop their career and have a good life. I am very happy that our company can support people in their careers. I feel that we must help people to develop their careers and also develop the community. We should focus on what WE can do, what is the part on which we ourselves can make a difference, the part that we can influence.

There is a saying in Vietnam : “ Một cánh én không làm nên mùa xuân”, in English “One swallow does not make a summer”. It exemplifies the meaning and value of team work, One person cannot do everything even if he tries very hard. We need to work together and contribute the part that we can do. But not so much so as to deny the value of one swallow, especially with people. And so, let’s try, with a little goodwill, to be that swallow, to bring the feeling of spring to the people around you.

My parents always taught me to do good for society not only for myself or my family but for people in general. We should always keep that in mind.

(Interview: Jos Langens)