Starting with very little, after 20 years Mr Le Phuoc Vu, Chairman and General Director of the Hoa Sen Group, is now among the Top 10 richest businesspeople in Vietnam. He spoke with VET about the success of his business and its social responsibility.
|Mr Le Phuoc Vu
Chairman and General Director of the Hoa Sen Group
You majored in transport and graduated with excellent results, prompting the university to offer you a job as a lecturer. Why did you prefer to go into business?
The post-war years of the 1980s were very difficult in Vietnam and my family were mired in poverty. If I chose to be a lecturer I could not have supported my family. I had to find another way. The steel sheet business came to me by chance. I started with $57 and my initial goal was to make enough money to support my family. I’ll never forget bursting into tears when I made $31 in profit on the very first day, May 18, 1994.
What have been the key milestones in the Hoa Sen Group’s development?
I started with almost nothing in my pocket. Securing credit from suppliers was the most difficult thing initially. Managing our employees and uniting them in a common cause played an important role in increasing production capacity. Everyone put in their best effort. The way we overcame the initial difficulties has impressed me for 20 years.
In 2001 I founded the Hoa Sen Group, with about $1.4 million in charter capital. Twenty-two staff and myself built the first factory, in Binh Duong province. Three years later the first manufacturing line was officially put into operation. In 2007 the factory was modernised with three more manufacturing lines - galvanised lines and a laminating zinc line. In December 2008 the Group turned a new page, listing on the stock market in Ho Chi Minh City with $26.9 million in charter capital. In April 2010 the first manufacturing line of the Ton Hoa Sen Phu My factory was put into operation, and four years later the factory was fully finished at a cost of $19 million. There are some other important milestones as well, such as in July 2013 and July 2014, when the steel pipe factories in Hung Yen and Binh Dinh provinces were opened.
At the beginning of October this year we opened sheet metal and steel factories in industrial areas in Nghe An province, which were a breakthrough for the Group in the northern market, then we headed to other markets such as Laos and Thailand. These are the important steps in entering Asian and international markets.
What helped you get through the difficult periods?
I always kept in mind “Do business honestly” when I first started and during the most difficult times. I kept it in mind during 2008-2010, when the economic crisis and soaring interest rates came at a time when the Hoa Sen Group was investing in the Hoa Sen Phu My Steel Sheet Project. At that time there were rumours that we were on the verge of bankruptcy, which made banks nervous. It was kept awake for many nights trying to find a way to save the Group.
Fortunately, the Group managed to arrange investment capital for the Hoa Sen Phu My Steel Sheet Plant, overcame the crisis and rebounded when the economy recovered. The plant was built at record speed, from May 2009 to March 2010, with a production line in place to provide quality products, generate revenue, and contribute to breathing new life into Hoa Sen. During those difficult times, from 2009-2010, the Group expanded into foreign markets. This pioneering and determined turning point helped it become a leading steel sheet provider, with goals to export an impressive $300 million by 2014. For the first time there was a Vietnamese enterprise exporting such enormous industrial products. Hoa Sen steel sheet products can now be found in many countries in Southeast Asia, South Asia and the Middle East.
As you mentioned before, its contribution to society played an important role in the Group’s success. Is their Buddhist thinking behind all this?
Yes there is. Buddhism has enlightened my heart and permeated my mind. No matter how hard I try to do business, I never do harm to others. I believe that I have a responsibility to pay my suppliers in full and on time, to guarantee stable jobs and salary increases for our employees, and to ensure we provide good quality products to our customers. A commitment is a commitment, and I never break it. This is also the thinking of the entire Hoa Sen Group and its 4,300 employees.
Our motto is “Honesty-Community-Development”. We always conduct charity activities such as the “Mai am gia dinh Viet” (Sweet Home of the Vietnamese Family) and “Vuot len chinh minh” (Overcoming Fate) programmes, building charity houses, supporting students, and taking part in events surrounding Nick Vujicic [who has no limbs from a rare disease] coming to Vietnam and inspiring millions of people with his incredible will. The philosophy of “Buddhism in the heart” is etched on our minds. We commit to bear the burden of difficulties with the community.
October was a good month for you, being awarded a Second Class Labour Medal by the State President and being honoured as the Ernst & Young Vietnam Entrepreneur Of The Year 2014 and the only one chosen to participate in the Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2015. What do you think of these achievements?
I am happy and proud of these but they are not my own achievements. They are the achievements of the 4,300 people who work for the Hoa Sen Group. These achievements have motivated me to stand firm on my way to becoming a true businessman. I believe that the Hoa Sen Group will continue to create true value for society, create more jobs, contribute to developing the country, and increase the role of business in this new period for Vietnam.