Ho Van Trung, 63, former chairman of Trangs Group, recently published an autobiography titled Gian Truan Chi La Thu Thach (Difficulties are only challenges). The story of a poor child becoming the owner of a big enterprise inspired many Vietnamese people. He talks with Nhat Le about his ups and downs in life.
Ho Van Trung was brought into the world in Huong Tra District's Huong Vinh Commune in the central province of Thua Thien-Hue on the same day his father died. He started to tend buffalos at the age of four and only had one set of school clothes. After studying one year at Hue University, he moved to Sai Gon (now HCM City) with the hope of changing his life. However, he was imprisoned during the period of 1974 and 1975 because he joined protests against the Nguyen Van Thieu administration. Moreover he was suspected of being a spy and was jailed for a second time.
Trung and his wife then moved to Australia and founded Trangs Group in 1985. Since then, the group has expanded its business in various countries.
You write that good luck only comes to people who take fate into their own hands. Could you tell us more about that?
Opportunities come every hour and every day as long as we try our best. If we do not grasp them, we will never achieve anything or meet someone who can give us a lending hand. For example, in Australia, I mortgaged my assets to invest in a spring roll factory. While I was finding the output for the products and was asked to go to court seven times for unpaid loans, Rob Glove, who provided products for supermarkets, helped me.
Why did you fail in opening branches in Africa and France but succeed in the UK and other European countries?
People are the determining factor for success. When I started to do business in the UK, I sent trained staff from Australia there. People in both countries spoke English, so it was understandable that we achieved success there. In France, although I learned French, I could not have a thorough grasp of the language. All was communicated through interpretation and we were dependent on our partners. Meanwhile, the situation was unstable in Africa and banks there were not strong enough.
Thanks to an article by a well-known journalist, your newly established restaurants welcomed many customers. Was this success due to marketing or some other reason?
At that time, I did not think marketing was the best strategy. I just thought that a restaurant with enthusiastic owners, delicious food and beautiful scenery could attract many customers. One more advantage was that Western people preferred to try food from Asian countries such as India, China, Thailand and Viet Nam. Therefore, besides offering Western food, we also served Vietnamese dishes including spring rolls, stir fried rice and roast shrimp.
Could you tell us more about the production chain you created to make spring rolls? Have you sold the machines?
I've been interested in engineering since I was a child. I often dreamed of making a machine that could produce spring rolls in order to replace manual work. Then I started to make it step by step. I was fortunate to have a production chain and materials at hand so I could make it right away. Experiments finally led to success. I did not sell the machine but only export products.
How have machine-made spring rolls attracted foreign customers?
At first, we did not sell many Vietnamese-style spring rolls, even though we thought they were delicious. Meanwhile, Chinese spring rolls only contained cabbage, but customers were fond of them. Why? What we considered delicious did not seem to suit the taste of our consumers. Foreigners often liked to eat spring rolls with cabbage. Therefore, I switched to make cabbage spring rolls with machines, and they liked them.
Lots of Vietnamese factories own modern production chains to make spring rolls with high quality. So why can't they export their products abroad successfully as you have done?
I don't think that the reason is that their spring rolls are not delicious. It is because Vietnamese enterprises lack their own distribution channels. To approach the international market, they have to use intermediate channels. It'll be successful if the channels are good, and it'll be bad if they are not.
Could you reveal the total revenue of Trangs Group every year?
I don't want to say the exact figure but I can say that it amounts to hundreds of millions of US dollars every year.
Having traveled to many countries in the world, you write that there is a major gap between Viet Nam and other nations. In your opinion, how can we shrink it?
We have to learn the way of thinking and doing from the rest of the world. I believe in our country. One day we'll be better. The country will transform and the young generation will create change.
What is the meaning of your life?
I was born in a poor family and grew up at the bottom of society, then moved to the top. But sleeping at a hotel costing $3,000 per night sometimes doesn't feel as warm as sleeping in straw-filled mattresses. Money does not bring happiness, because happiness comes from ourselves. For me, happiness means relaxation of the soul. That's why I opened many food stores for poor people in Hue City and then Duc Anh House to take care of orphans and poor children.
What I want to share with young people through my autobiography is that poverty is not a crime. Vietnamese people are often poor but should not be pessimistic and desperate, and surrender to fate. If we try our best, we will have opportunities because success comes to people who know how to create opportunities for themselves. — VNS