Dang Huynh Uc My, the ‘questioner’– made of firm stuff

Last November, at a meeting between Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and international business executives in Singapore, Ms. Dang Huynh Uc My, Vice Chairlady of TTC Group and the only Vietnamese woman at the meeting, did not hesitate to ask a number of questions to find out about opportunities for Vietnamese enterprises to do business in Singapore. “Ask the right questions, you will find the right answers!” the young entrepreneur explained. The onus to succeed and create a new face for Thanh Thanh Cong Group (TTC Group) is on the younger generation of manager, including Uc My who “learns non-stop, asks questions non-stop, and finds answers non-stop.”

Looking for ‘opportunities to learn …’

In 1999 My’s father and entrepreneur Dang Van Thanh asked: “When will our family have someone who can speak English well?” The 18-year-old Uc My then chose to study abroad. But instead of more popular destinations, countries where their relatives lived, the beloved daughter of the Dang family was determined to go to New Zealand, one of the leading countries in finance and banking but with only a few hundred ethnic Vietnamese and a tiny number of Vietnamese students. Her decision to go abroad met with opposition from her family due to her tender age and the fact that her older brother Dang Hong Anh chose to study in a university in Vietnam. The young lady’s determination finally convinced her parents.

Over these years Us My has obtained valuable lessons. “I am not afraid of working hard to become self-reliant. Studying abroad helped me improve my skills, cultivate the mind, learn basic living skills and prepare for a career,” Uc My said. An internship at ANZ Bank New Zealand gave her full understanding of “responsibility” since banking requires great honesty and accuracy. Once there was a US$25 shortage in the accounts and the whole team had to take responsibility and look for it.

Uc My creatively applied that first lesson in responsibility and her basic knowledge and experience of working in a financial environment to her family’s business. On returning home in 2007, Uc My took charge of TTC’s investment department. At that time the company had a modest office on Khuong Viet Street in HCM City’s Tan Phu District. Its portfolio included mainly sugarcane industry bonds and bonds of a few real estate companies. She admitted she was “terribly unhappy” because of the difference in the business environment and problems in doing business in Vietnam. Uc My overcame the problems in her own way. She focused on observing, analysing, and finding out the best way. With the hope of optimising the effectiveness of TTC, which she considered a rough pearl that needed to be polished, she convinced her family to find a way for TTC to do business by answering the question: “How to separate the trading and investment businesses and make both of them strength?” The answer to this question led to a massive turning point. Uc My received great support from her family in restructuring the company’s finances, gradually transforming TTC from a commercial company to an investment joint stock company. The seven-member company in 2011 changed gradually from a commercial company to an investment company and then a giant professional investment company.

… to ‘new generation woman entrepreneur’

That period also saw the decision by TTC to invest in SBT (known as TTCS currently) and BHS because Uc My believed that trade needed the support of manufacturing to develop properly. The 2008 Asian financial crisis forced her to give much thought to restructuring her enterprise and building a portfolio for it. Uc My had bold plans for TTC, which brought about a turning point for the family-owned company. She said: "If the father is the mentor of the daughter, the mother is her idol." We called her "the undemanding woman" for her love and tireless support. She backed my decisions to restructure the operations of TTC from a financial perspective. With her great market experience and risk awareness, she believed that was the moment for TTC to change to become stronger. Uc My said she had learnt a lot from her famous father, but her mother, who was good not only at doing business but also managing the home, was her idol.

While her parents and older brother focused on resolving the issues caused by the financial and real estate crisis, despite the huge support from her family, it was she more than anyone else who faced great pressure as the person who planned and put the changes into operation.

She asked herself a series of questions: How can TTC be more active both in the role of a trader and an investor? How can it fulfill the role of a professional investor? How to increase the size of business activities in line with the market and trends in each sector? ... It was by finding out the answers to these that she could convince her family. Her knowledge of finance and banking and understanding of business operations combined to usher in efficiency. In 2012 - 15, after the successful merger of sugar companies and change in brand names of TTCS, BHS, BHS - Ninh Hoa, and BHS - Phan Rang, TTC continued to expand its investment in the region, seeking places that had the conditions that enabled their scale of production and promoted competitiveness. The group considered this an active measure to get ready for stepping into a big arena. "Recognise the problem sooner and you will develop faster. However, when you enter the arena, you only know what comes next after facing problems," Uc My said.

The company’s establishment in Singapore in 2013 was aimed at finding an answer to the question, “How to bridge the gap between doing business in Vietnam and Singapore and the rest of the world in general?” Since she is young, studied abroad and has hands-on work experience, Uc My said she does not hesitate to take part in international forums to approach sources of information to find the answers. Besides speaking to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2015, Uc My was the youngest to ask questions to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak -- and also the one to ask the most number of questions -- at the Asean Summit. Her motto is to “learn non-stop ask questions non-stop, find answers non-stop.”

With 25 subsidiaries and a huge portfolio, TTC currently operates in five sectors and targets becoming one of the leading corporations in Việt Nam. Uc My said: “Real estate is home, energy is demand, Agriculture is basic, tourism is a trend, and education is the future.” Being a responsible and professional investor, TTC wants to offer the best to the environment, community and partners. Uc My said investment capabilities lie not just in determining the scope and expectations, and a professional investor must be able to convert expectations into specific actions. The motto "real people, real work" and the right approach and efforts are revealed in the results, brands, products and services of the business. In this, TTC is always confident about its operations, from the establishment of an activity cycle for each sector and timing and method of reinvestment to the operating model in each stage to create the greatest leverage for the group. TTC Group’s management model is undergoing a shift to become optimal for operating in various sectors, which is considered a strategic step in preparing for international integration.

The aspiration to make TTC’s group companies the representatives of Vietnam’s industries comes with clear and specific strategies and implementation plans. Besides the need to have enough resources and a young and dynamic management team, constantly improving the operation model and management systems by using information technology in all activities is her top concern. Bringing technology into management was masterminded by Uc My right from the time she returned to Vietnam to take over the family business. Very few Vietnamese enterprises were interested in this at that time since their operations relied on the practices and sentiments of the chief. She knew that only by using information technology and turning knowledge into business assets can TTC meet international integration imperatives and manage companies in different industries with networks stretching across the country. This is one of the pre-conditions that foreign investors set when co-operating with Vietnamese enterprises.

“With everything we have, we are confident about long-term targets, especially opportunities to do business internationally,” Uc My said. The young manager, one of 10 people named in a list of “The next generation of women entrepreneurs” (Forbes Vietnam 3.2015), said: “Succeed not just inherit.”

“The working spirit is very important, not just for me. Only when you are able to transmit your working spirit are you a true leader.” – Forbes Vietnam