Vietnamese billionaire Pham Nhat Vuong discusses his past life and ultimate life goals in this last instalment of a three-part interview with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
Vuong is Vietnam’s richest man and chairman of multifaceted conglomerate Vingroup, which operates in the fields of realty development, retail, tourism, and automobile manufacturing, and smartphone development.
It has been 17 or 18 years since you first earned fame in Vietnam. Still, nay wonder: Who is Pham Nhat Vuong?
A citizen [smile]. When I first started my career in Vietnam there was a rumor that I was a Mafia member coming back home from Russia. When people saw that I had no visual signs of being stabbed or anything like that, they started spreading rumors that I was a drug trafficker. When no one found evidence of drug trafficking, rumors began to circulate about my death. Every year there are several rumors that I’ve died!
I’m just an ordinary citizen. I studied in Russia and stayed to work. I started doing business during the third year in college. I rented a room at Dom 5 in Moscow in order to sell goods. The business was in the doldrums. The more I kept doing, the more losses I suffered.
Then I opened a restaurant at Dom 5 and later imported products from Vietnam. Trading jackets was most profitable. At first I made a lot of money but eventually lost everything and went bankrupt because I responded poorly to changes in market trends. After all, I was just a college student with no business experience. I carried a $40,000 debt with me when I left Moscow for Kharkov [now a major city of Ukraine].
What lesson did you learn from that failure?
I learned to react quicker to market changes. I took a lot of blows, but I’m wiser because of them.
What do you think about money?
It’s a means to an end. I never carry any money with me. I borrow it from my chauffeur when I need to buy something.
How important is family to you?
Family is certainly very important. Family has helped me achieve a balanced life. It can be a source of happiness in old age, when what counts is not how much money you have, but the the people around you.
They are first and foremost your family. Next they are your sibling and friends and those who helped you and you have helped. This is a view I’ve held for a long time. For me quality outweighs quantity.
Are you religious?
I’m deeply relgious. I have a firm belief in the Buddha and Dharma but I don’t follow the formalism. I don’t go to the pagoda and religious ceremonies. I’m not superstitious but my mind always moves towards goodness.
We’ve talked at length about the education undertaking by Vingroup, but how do you educate your own children?
My view is that they have to be hard-working, love working, and strive to improve themselves. Take my first-born son for example. When I lived in Ukraine there was a very wide front garden where I put a truck of bricks in summer. He and his friends moved them from one end to another there and got $100 whenever they finished. They kept doing this for the entire season.
I still always ask my children to work. My youngest daughter, for example, has to wash the dishes and do housework after mealtime.
I don’t force them to follow in my footsteps. They’re allowed to pursue any job they like. I accept their performance and their abilities. If they don’t want to take on my job, that’s OK.
It would be impossible for me to allow my children to destroy this corporation that many people have tried hard to build. Even this man [Vuong pointed to his first-born son, sitting next to him] has to slave over assignments and work in the corporate office. I don’t tolerate laziness.
You’ve chosen to have your son join us. Why?
My intention is teach him. This is an opportunity for him to learn by listening to how older people work. As most of the staff members he works with are younger than him, there’s little room for improvement.
What is your goal? Are there any differences between your goals when you were a jacket seller and your goals now?
In this past my concern was livelihood. I worked to earn money to relieve the financial burden on my parents. When I had more money, I wanted a comfortable life for myself and my family. As I grew older, I considered my job as a passion. And now the ultimate goal is related to what I can do for life.
To be specific, now I aim to build good industrial brand name. Hyundai and Toyota can do that. Why can’t Vietnam? The US has Microsoft and Apple. Why doesn’t Vietnam have anything similar?
Even if Vietnam can’t have the world’s best company, it should at least have a company amongst the world’s top five or ten. I really just hope to make the country internationally famous for its brainpower and stature.