TMG – “Women in high positions often aren’t as trusted as men. But that’s just the initial psychological barrier. After actually working together, stereotypes about gender completely disappear,” said Ms. Xuan Thu.
Having been with Victoria Can Tho Resort since the 2000s, Ms. Vo Xuan Thu is currently the Cluster General Manager of the Mekong Region and General Manager of Victoria Can Tho Resort, leading the Victoria Hotels & Resorts brand of Thien Minh Group (TMG). Not only is she successful as one of the “female generals” of the group’s senior management, but she is also an inspiration for future generations and has mastered the secret to a happy family life.
1. Having been with the hotel since its beginning over the past 25 years, what was it about Thien Minh Group that made you stay, even when ownership changed hands?
I’ve worked at Victoria Can Tho since the 2000s when the hotel was under the management of a French group. In 2011, when Thien Minh Group took over, I was already the hotel’s general manager and decided to continue working here. At first, senior personnel like us were quite anxious because we were used to working with French investors, and we wondered what would happen when a Vietnamese company took over, how they would treat us, and whether they would keep existing personnel or not. But when we met Mr. Kien (ie. Mr. Tran Trong Kien, Chairman of Thien Minh Group), we completely changed our perspective.
We felt empowered, treated as equals and our opinions were respected. Everyone is heard and can freely show their value and dedication. We are encouraged to try, and if we fail, it’s okay, we will learn from it and start doing things in a different way. Chairman Tran Trong Kien loves hearing new ideas and always encourages us to think creatively. That is the motivation for us to be enthusiastic and dedicated to our work.
2. Can you share more about your ideas on developing the Victoria brand?
Previously, Victoria had a fleet of five overnight riverboats. Recognizing the development potential for this type of service, I proposed building two more, larger overnight boats with three separate cabins to serve private guests. I was given full authority by Mr. Kien and the Group, from planning to implementing the concept. That idea became a reality and was very successful when pre-epidemic, capacity reached more than 100% in some months when we disembarked guests and welcomed new guests on the same day.
In addition, realizing that the hotel has gorgeous views from our riverside gardens, I proposed starting up a garden café and hosting high-end weddings to attract more local guests instead of just serving hotel guests. Thanks to those initiatives, we have recovered well from the pandemic. Currently, the hotel’s food and beverage revenue is more than 50% of room revenue.
Or when Mr. Kien wanted to deploy the overnight Victoria Mekong cruise ship, I was put in charge of the project from the beginning. When completed, it was very well received by guests. At that time, all the cruise ships on the Mekong River were operating according to the same model: the crew was Vietnamese and the service staff was Cambodian. But the Victoria Mekong decided to go in another direction. We employed 100% Vietnamese staff, so we could operate normally during the COVID-19 epidemic as long as there wasn’t a social distancing order in place. At that time, we were the only ship that could operate and generate revenue.
3. Training and retaining talent is a ‘headache’ for many businesses. From practical experience, do you have any secrets to solving that problem?
We focus on educating the younger generation and are not afraid to empower young people. In the day-to-day of working, we’re always looking out for talented people, focusing on orienting and training them, because if we passively wait for young people to rise and make it on their own, it will take a very long time and we may overlook some talented people. With young leaders born in the 80s and 90s, we give them opportunities and then stand behind them to lend support. This puts them on a fast track. As a hotel chain with many properties spread across North – Central – South Vietnam, there are opportunities to cross-train talented young people at different properties to help them hone their skills, learn new things, be exposed to different regional cultures…
We have an internal group that shares good books for others to read and we all agree that learning never ends. Thien Minh Group has a reading culture throughout, always encouraging good reading habits and inspiring people to actively learn and expand their knowledge base. We spread that spirit to each of our hotels.
4. Having been with Thien Minh Group for a long time, what’s your most outstanding memory?
In 2019, we had a high-level meeting in Hoi An to set out the direction for the new year. At that time, Hoi An was affected by typhoons and it rained for four consecutive days. There was flooding everywhere. After the meeting, we visited a new facility in Tam Ky. On the way, conditions were good but as we were returning to Hoi An, it started to rain heavily. The road flooded and our 16-seater van stalled in the middle of the road. Without hesitation, Mr. Kien opened the door and urged us to get out and help the driver push the van to the side of the road. I remember clearly, he said: “This is a leader’s job. If you’re an employee, just sit in the car.” It was a small thing but made a deep impression on me. We respected Mr. Kien even more as an older brother who was already ready to shoulder the hardest work. That’s when we learned what it meant to be a leader.
5. As a senior female leader, do you ever feel disadvantaged compared to men?
I think gender is not the issue no matter what position you have; it’s how competent you are that matters. However, it’s true that when dealing with Asian businessmen, I find that they’re somewhat reserved when they see that the person they’re working with is a woman. Women in high positions often aren’t as trusted as men. But that’s just the initial psychological barrier. After actually working together, stereotypes about gender completely disappear.
6. Starting from a hotel receptionist to now holding important positions at Thien Minh Group, what are your secrets to balancing career and family?
People often talk about talent, but I feel lucky: lucky to have found a good job, to have a good boss, and even luckier to have a good family. Working in the service industry, it’s always a case of too much work and not enough time. My work day is very long, usually starting from early morning to late at night. But I’m lucky to have a partner who understands me. We’ve known each other since university and after getting married, my husband was very supportive of my work as well as helping me to take care of our children. Although I work hard, I’m still the woman of the house.
Outside of work, I spend all my time with my family. So although we don’t have a lot of family time, what time we do have together is quality time. Getting together with the family is a must and over the last 20-plus years, we have maintained the “rule” of always eating together. Every year, my family vacations together several times.
7. Finally, what advice do you have for young people of the next generation?
Young people are very good very early now, so I just always tell them one thing: do even the simplest job well. That’s the only way to be trusted with bigger jobs. Always do your best and be respectful of the work; work with dedication and a sense of responsibility because every success or failure is yours and yours alone!
Thank you for the interview!