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CEO Le Hoang Diep Thao: Only with passion, can a startup business enjoy success

CEO Le Hoang Diep Thao: Only with passion, can a startup business enjoy success

Monday, February 08, 2021, 16:00 GMT+7

Le Hoang Diep Thao - the CEO of King Coffee, received the Most Admired CEO award in 2020 from Global Brands Magazine (GBM) and conceived a project called 'Women Can Do' to help 100,000 women to launch a start-up.

Ms. Le Hoang Diep Thao - CEO of King Coffee in a supplied photo
Ms. Le Hoang Diep Thao - CEO of King Coffee in a supplied photo

Continuing her success in 2020, Thao was officially appointed by the Vietnam Coffee and Cocoa Association (VICOFA) to the position of vice president for the ninth term (2017-20).

In a discussion with Tuoi Tre (Youth) Newspaper, Thao talked about her passion for coffee and her ambition of building a Vietnamese characteristic in the global coffee market.

“A coffee girl”

Talking about coffee, your face exudes an extraordinarily strong passion. What sparked this passion for you and how has it been nurtured?

“I was born and grew up along with coffee nuts. My love for coffee is so strong that it can be felt by everyone surrounding me, including friends, farmers, to merchants, so they called me ‘a coffee girl’ as a nickname during my childhood.

To me, coffee is a treasure of humanity. Vietnam is fortunate to be blessed with this magical treasure by nature, so I am determined to make coffee processing a national strategic industry of our country.

From the opportunities of meeting with coffee experts and reading books on this topic, I understand more about the dark side of the production chain, so I have to do something for the farmers and the country's coffee industry.

My next opportunity was brought by Vu [Dang Le Nguyen Vu, chairman and CEO of Trung Nguyen Group], who is a very excellent person that shared this passion with me. Together, along with Trung Nguyen, we elevated the third wave of coffee, thus changing the way the Vietnamese enjoy coffee.

Vietnamese now find that choosing coffee is choosing a lifestyle, and their own unique tastes.

During my time in Italy, I regularly paid visits to second-hand markets to hunt for coffee antiques. Seeing that I was so enthusiastic, a person told me that they ‘would sell the coffee museum that I loved so much to you.’

According to many experts, Vietnam has a marvelous opportunity to break through and become the number one powerhouse in the coffee industry. As vice president of VICOFA, do you believe that?

I believe in it and I have repeatedly affirmed that Vietnam is the second largest coffee exporter in the world and the number one for exporting Robusta coffee. We are fully able to rise to become the world's number one coffee exporter.

The entire world’s coffee industry is worth more than US$200 billion, ranking second after that of oil. We need to further elevate the coffee industry with other segments in the global value chain. We need to create motivation from which Vietnamese coffee can break through. We also need an innovative mindset, thoroughly aimed towards responsible creativity and sustainable development.

We now have good brands, good coffee quality, and good conditions. Therefore, please support Vietnamese brands, so Vietnamese coffee is able to make a fast and strong global expansion instead of adoring foreign brands, which do not contribute to our country’s coffee industry, or to Vietnamese farmers.

Currently, coffee beans are sold at VND5,000 ($0.22) per kilogram, but a cup of coffee is sold at $5. What a terrible disparity! The farmers must work so hard to care for coffee trees, but they have not received worthy results because coffee prices are too low and precarious.

Le Hoang Diep Thao smiles when she poses for a photo in a supplied photo
Le Hoang Diep Thao smiles when she poses for a photo in a supplied photo

"Women Can Do"... with coffee

In 2020, she received the Global Inspiring Entrepreneur Award and launched a project "Women Can Do" with the aim of helping 100,000 women to start a new business.

What is the message you want to convey with your “Women Can Do” project?

I have thought long and hard about what I can contribute to the community, especially the women. I think of a livelihood for them to actively earn money, an opportunity to gain financial knowledge. The women will be able to receive financial support and specific guidance and be involved in a community to help each other…. Coffee is an answer to the problem.

Given these thoughts, from mid-June 2020, King Coffee has collaborated with Vietnam Women's Union to implement the project “Women Can Do,” aimed at women who need to do business themselves.

I promote women to be strong and brave enough to step out their own safety zones to learn how to do business and to actively manage their finances. The project not only helps the women’s family have a stable income, but also create more untapped resources for society.

Over the past 20 years, I have travelled to many countries around the world, attended many international seminars, met with friends and partners domestically and internationally. I have found that everyone praises Vietnamese women as beautiful and excellent. I hope the roles they have played will be recognized and affirmed in a worthy way in the society.

To inspire women to start a business and young people who want to start up with coffee, what do you want to share?

You must have a passion for it! Start-ups want to succeed, they must first have passion. Without intense passion, I would advise you not to get involved. Only with such a passion would you have the motivation that helps you surmount all obstacles in your way because the first step is the hardest.

From being a co-founder of Trung Nguyen trademark, bringing it to a number one Vietnamese brand from zero, building G7, and now King Coffee…, my only principle is to focus on making differences and avoid going the ways as others have done.

The second is the startup spirit. An entrepreneur with a startup spirit will do everything to achieve their goals based on law and prestige, from which, to gain success and go long term.

The coffee industry is an extremely challenging industry because you will encounter many major competitors. With our support, you will start up on the right track and can build up yourself thanks to being trained by a community of over 100,000 people.

Le Hoang Diep Thao touches on a branch of coffee in a supplied photo
Le Hoang Diep Thao touches on a branch of coffee in a supplied photo

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is necessary to fly high to avoid storms

After a year of volatility due to the impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, did your coffee business and the coffee industry in general suffer losses? How do you predict the entire picture of the coffee industry next year?

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a huge shock to the market, causing disruption to the global supply chain. This is not only a substantial loss for people, but also for the world market.

It is great that we can even sit together here. This is something that I am extremely grateful for the Government and the State of Vietnam.

To my business activities, right from the beginning of the pandemic, I immediately thought about how to make the company fly higher, faster, and stronger to be able to avoid that storm. We used every measure for the business to accelerate.

After a year, despite many difficulties, the achieved business results are very well. At the international market alone, we have doubled our exports thanks to using a global network of agents, which take advantage of people’s spare time at home during social distancing periods to expand the international business network.

In the next five to 10 years, the world coffee market will have a shortage of supply, so Vietnam needs to take practical actions to quickly welcome new opportunities, such as replanting coffee trees, setting standards of the coffee industry, and building a better reputation in the world market. We will have an advantage in terms of output and achieve a greater value.

In addition, we also have the responsibility to facilitate the best development of specialty coffee, reaching the international level.

As a person with a wealth of experience as both co-founder of Trung Nguyen Group and head of TNI Corporation with King Coffee brand, how will you take steps to help improve the value of the coffee industry and Vietnamese brand?

Many other industries in the world have decreased both supply and demand, but the coffee industry has still increased around 2-4 percent per year. Particularly, the Vietnamese coffee industry in particular could enjoy a growth rate of around 9-10 percent per year.

Our country is an agricultural country and coffee is one of the strategic agricultural exports. But the value of the revenue is not high, only about $3 billion per year. Therefore, we need to promote the coffee industry to increase the value of revenue.

When it comes to Italy, people think of pizza, when it comes to Germany, we think of machines, techniques, when it comes to America, people think of fast-food brands. I hope that in the future, when it comes to Vietnam, people around the world will remember coffee. Vietnamese coffee is delicious, so Vietnam must have a world-class coffee brand.

Le Hoang Diep Thao (right) talks with a reporter in an interview in a supplied photo
Le Hoang Diep Thao (right) talks with a reporter in an interview in a supplied photo

The expectations of businesswomen in the year of the buffalo: Vietnamese prosperity

It is said that people often encounter many difficulties in the year of the zodiac animal they were born under. But I always choose to think and plan to help me and my business overcome anticipated obstacles. When we have carefully planned, the emerging difficulties, if any, would also be in the plan.

In the year of the buffalo 2021, I have many programs and intentions to promote Vietnamese coffee industry to thrive not only domestically, but also globally. Vietnamese people are proud of Vietnamese coffee and advocate for Vietnamese coffee to shine all over the world.

I believe that when we come forward together with a common goal, we will have an undefeatable strength and will bring about a prosperous, thriving and happy Vietnam.

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Kim Thoa - T.D.V - Minh Sol - Tuoi Tre News

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