Being one of the first generation’s entrepreneurs after the Unification Day, going through many ups and downs of the market in each development stage of the country, at the age of 58, PNJ’s Chairwoman of the Board Cao Thi Ngoc Dung is still giving her best for the business.
It seems with her, the inner strength, working and learning spirit are age limitless. In 2017, PNJ will officially transfer the leadership to the next generation, many people think it’s time for the General Director to take a break, but her answer is “No”.
* So, when the leadership transferring complete, do you have any personal project?
– I have gone through many ups and downs with PNJ since I graduated. To me, PNJ is a brainchild; I built it with all my love, ardor, sweats and tears. Until the end of my life, I will still live only for PNJ.
However, it’s time to leave for younger generation. However, I will still watch over PNJ. I have experience. If younger generation needs learn from me, I will consult and support. Besides, I will not do other business.
That’s why until now, I still keep learning anything new. My life’s principle is: If I still work, I will still learn; I read many things and I’m not a conservativist. I was trained with knowledge of decades ago, if I don’t keep learning, I will be left behind.
* Recent years, the economy has experienced many difficulties, especially to gold trading companies,but PNJ avoided the depression. In your opinion, how did PNJ make it?
– In 2008 – 2011 period, world and Vietnam jewelry industry have experienced negative growth rate, however, PNJ has surpassed with 7 – 10% growth rate. Although it was not a high growth rate, it was still a highlight in a dark scene at that time.
Moreover, jewelers quitted job a lot at that time. But with orientation of focusing on each product line and the reputation of the brand name, we were not affected by common situation. Yet, the awareness of changing to catch up the world is what made the breakthrough of PNJ.
Early 2012, PNJ hired foreign experts to restructure the company, preparing for the development in post-crisis. It took us a year to train and build up strategy. In 2013, the restructuring was officially conducted when the economy was warm again.
We faced a lot of difficulties in the first year of restructuring. We had to carry on many things: converting, training, changing the way of working and thinking… Everything we made was very effective: the company image, the production, the distribution network… This leaded to the success in 2014 when gold retail sales reached 2.280 billion dong (rose 42%), accounted for 31% of total sales and 74% gross profit of the whole company.
This was a really impressive growth when total gold demand of Vietnam in 2014 declined 8% over the same period (according to 2014 Report of World Gold Council – WGC).
Remarkably, this profit came mainly from gold jewelry but not sudden change in price of gold bullion as in previous periods. PNJ considered this as a milestone to build a sustainable development plan for following years.
It is clear that, when we did right things and determined to change everything for better, from human resources to the organization system, especially focused on developing technology and training staff, we could overcome the market’s harshness with annual average growth rate of 15% and especially more than 50% in 2014.
* Restructuring may sound easy but not any enterprise can conduct. In your opinion, what is the key point in restructuring?
– The biggest failure in the restructuring of enterprises is cognitive problem. A successful or failure consultancy depends mostly on the leaders and staff of that organization, not the consult company. Thus, if you want changes, you must change yourself first.
Besides, you must know consultancy is not a miracle. The consultant just gives the advice, guidance and helps the client in planning a way suitable with market situation in each period. You can’t just apply exactly what successfully applied abroad. Each market, each enterprise has particularities, so the application must also vary to suit the inner capacity.
* Exactly, in which point is PNJ’s “new version” considered the most efficient?
– That is the system standardization, professionalizing every activity and innovating thinking of the managers. The retail network in particular, has a unified identity system from store decoration, staff’s uniform, serving manner to luxury space.
In PNJ’s internal events, Ms. Cao Thi Ngoc Dung always appears with the PNJ uniform
* Constantly keeping good performance and making good sales, but it seems like you are not satisfied. I heard that in 2015, PNJ will keep invest to restructure the company?
– In the past 27 years, we have always satisfied with the sales, the growth and the market reputation. At the most difficult period, PNJ still accomplished the planned targets.
But I am not satisfied with what we are having. Years of success do not make me complacent, I alwaysseek for better, tomorrow must be better than today, we must learn the good from other countries to find a right way to go.
My favorite quote of a scholar: “Perfect is the enemy of good”. PNJ currently is not the best, so we must keep investing on new technology, machinery, hiring experts to make more sophisticated jewelry, making the best of technology and increasing the productivity, decreasing the cost, making PNJ’s product not inferior to international products.
We plan to export our products in the future when we solve the labor productivity issue. Currently, Vietnam’s labor productivity is comparatively low, so that our price is still not competitive.
*With the characteristic of jewelry industry, the sophistication of products depend on the skills of jeweler. Is this an obstacle to PNJ?
– PNJ currently has nearly 800 jewelers, about 160 of those are considered consummate craftsmen. That is the advantage as well as the treasure which PNJ has cherished and built for many years
Many people have asked me how PNJ can keep this big valuable “treasure”. I said: “The reason is PNJ Culture. PNJ members live together under one common roof full with love and sympathy”. So, for many years, the brain drain has never been a serious problem to PNJ, even when the restructuring went drastically most. And those who left usually came back after a while.
* 2014 also marked the strong growth of PNJ distribution system with 18 new jewelry centers in many provinces and cities along with 168 new retail stores. Retail network managing is not easy, is it right with PNJ?
– Yes, it is. To an enterprise, a distribution network without a good administrative system means failure if it keeps opening new stores.
Actual situation helps me realize that, managing retail network is also an art. Therefore,we have hired experts to instruct PNJ’s managing staff to administrate the retail network under American standards which are currently applied by US leading jewelry companies.
Members of the Board of Managements always stay close to the staff in the opening day of a new jewelry center
* With the ambition to make PNJ a big brand of Vietnam, do you feel under pressure, especially in the down time of the economy?
– No, I don’t. I always think of directing PNJ as leisurely game. If you think it is a pressure, then it is. If you think it is a work, a pleasure, a passion, then it will never be a pressure.
Many people said to me I would be stressed if I overworked, but I have never thought so. I just keep doing things and don’t feel upset or worried. I’m not afraid of being laughed if I can’t do something. I always set a target and go easily toward it, I won’t put pressure on me or anyone
Even in tense situations, I still remain calm. Because complaint and worry willjust make the situation more complicated, we’d better accept it and find a new way through.
Actually, after decades of business, especially when I was in gold, gas – petroleum or seafood business… I was very afflicted with the business but I would never complain or ask for the preference. I have just worked and worked, accepted the situation, because this career is my life, I don’t feel any pressure.
* If you don’t put on any pressure, how can you make “tomorrow better than today”?
– To make every day better, we must put pressure in work, not in mind. You should never force yourself or anyone to be absolutely perfect. We are human, we must not fear mistakes. If you live afraid of being laugh of doing wrong, you put yourself under pressure.
Even as a leader, I still apologized my subordinates when I made mistakes. The most important thing is to admit the mistake and fix it.
* PNJ is preparing for the next generation, is your child one of the successors?
– I never think this company is my family company. This company used to be a state company, and now is a public company, so I don’t direct my children to follow me. My children are now studying abroad and are not ones of the successors. I don’t even know if they work in PNJ when they come home.
We have prepared the leading transferring for the next generation since the previous term, but due to difficult economic situation, I had to strengthen the brand before transferring the leadership to our successors. After that, every operation will run systematically, and I will only adjust support indirectly.
* For you, to tell the truth, what do you concern about most in your life until now?
– I was born in a wealthy family. When the country was liberated, my family was forced to reeducate. I and my siblings were taught to work as a farmer, I also experienced the fierce war in my hometown. I gained many things, but lost many things too. In general, I have a very abundant life.
Until now, I can say I’m not afraid anything comes to me. Few years ago, I met a nun, she asked me: “A man has three valuable things in life: life, wealth and fame. Are you willing to give all of these?”
To me, I was close to death twice, I coped with it and successfully overcame; fame is not important to me; I have much money, but I don’t care about how much I have either. I don’t like to be call “wealthy businesswoman” or “powerful businesswoman”.
I think, if you have all of them but you don’t care about losing it, then you fear nothing. And when you fear nothing, you are enlightened and live by the Buddhist concept of impermanence.
Therefore, I can say I am living very happily, healthily, not fearing anything nor sulking, resenting, stickling, scrambling. And that is my greatest inner strength.
* As a President of HCMC Association of Women Entrepreneurs, what are you planning to make this Association a meaningful place for members?
– Before, there had been a Businesswomen Club in HCMC but it was dismissed after a while. Until 2013, there was not any organization for businesswomen when there were many businesswomen in HCMC.
After attending the founding ceremony of Vietnam Businesswomen Association, I realized that there was a businesswomen association in each province but not in HCMC, so I agreed to run for the founding of HCMC Association of Women Entrepreneurs.
To think again thoroughly, this is a mission of my life. I used to be one of the founders of Young Entrepreneurs Association, then I became a consultant when it became strongly.
After that, HCMC Association of Women Entrepreneurs and the leaders entrusted me the founding of Businesswomen Association. I refused many times but now I undertook it, maybe each person has his life mission, and this is my mission.
Good thing is in a short amount of time, this plan has received many supports and gathered many members to join hand building the association, hopefully made a remark for HCMC Association of Women Entrepreneurs.
With the principle of “Listening – Sharing – Positive – Joyful”, the Association does not only raise fund, do charity, organize workshops or outdoor activities… but also connect enterprises with the authorities, help members, but most of all is the opportunities for members to listen and share experiences in business and life, as well as inner strength building activities like yoga meditation to help members gain positive thinking. Because inner strength is the truly strength and women need it.
In the founding ceremony of HCMC Association of Women Entrepreneurs (HAWEE) on April 5th, 2015, Ms. Cao Thi Ngoc Dung was elected HAWEE President in 2015-2020 term
* In your opinion, what is the advantage and disadvantage in leadership capacity of businesswomen nowadays?
– Women can manage the business very well. But many of them still can’t catch up modern administrative techniques. There are also many women succeed in both family and society. And many women were trained in international company or studied abroad but still lack of living skill to cope with actual situation…
Those whose ages are the same as me will share living experiences with the youth and receive from them administrative skills learning abroad to consult small enterprises. Despite operating for a short time, every member feel really happy and I myself find this my mission to spend time doing something for women of Ho Chi Minh City. And I believe, if I have a clear goal and a passion, I will succeed.
* Thank you for this talk.
Lữ Ý Nhi
According Doanh Nhân Saigon