As part of our Inspiring Business Women series, Argyll Scott has interviewed over 80 female leaders from various industries across the APAC region. With every interview, we learn something new and continue to find it fascinating to hear about the many different career journeys of these women and their insights into how we can build more diverse teams in all workplaces. We thought it's time to turn the lens on ourselves, and interview our own inspiring business women from Argyll Scott.
Nga Vuong has over 25 years of international experience in business development, people development, and general management, with a proven track record in setting up new businesses and rebuilding executive search firms from times of crisis. As a professional in business coaching, executive coaching and executive recruitment, Nga has extended her support to C-suite clients and candidates in the FMCG, Industrial and Professional Services sectors. With her industry experience and market knowledge, she has joined Argyll Scott to launch our new Vietnam business.
You've joined Argyll Scott to lead our new office in Vietnam. Could you tell us about your career progression that brought you here?
In 2006, I returned to Vietnam from the Netherlands where I had done my master’s degree in HR and Employment and where I was also the Recruitment Manager for Asia, recruiting students from Asia to study at HAN University in the Netherlands. When I came back, I started my first headhunting job with Navigos, managing a team of five consultants, and having to learn everything about headhunting, from interviewing to the offer process and getting fees paid. Later, I joined Active Selection, which was set up by my boss at Navigos, then after a couple of years with Odgers Berndtson, I was headhunted myself to set up the Vietnam office for RGF. I was the Managing Director there for five years, building teams in Ho Chi Minh City, then Hanoi, to become one of the market leaders, which I was very proud of. After that, I did some advisory work, HR consulting, and building other executive search teams for a couple of local firms before joining Argyll Scott to build a Vietnam office from scratch, which currently has a headcount of six.
Do you feel that your roles in HR consulting have helped you become a better recruiter?
I believe that the best recruiters need to be all-round general managers, because you need to understand the market, as well as your clients' business objectives and strategy, to be able to find the best candidates. You have to be an expert in the market and know a lot of people, so I gained a lot of experience doing those jobs in different functions and industries. Before the financial crisis, I was recruiting in Financial Services and Investment Banking, but after it, I pivoted into different industries such as FMCG, Industrial and Manufacturing, so I've had experience across the board. Different management roles give you exposure to other skills too, such as how to manage P&Ls, business development and developing people, and it's important to have experience of all of those, to be an effective country head.
What one factor would you say has helped you the most throughout your career?
Integrity is the main thing I try to bring to everything I do. I put everything into my work for the benefits of my clients and candidates, as well as my colleagues and staff. And I always try to balance what I do for my company or other parties, with my own values. I've focused on that throughout my career.
Have you had a mentor or a role model in your career? And what is the value in mentoring?
I've never had an official mentor, but when I started working as a headhunter, I learned a lot from a woman who, to me, is a Guru in the recruitment industry. She taught me how to perform professionally – she is someone who knows everything about every function, industry, and candidate! 15 years later, my mentors are now my clients, candidates, and colleagues because I've learned so much from them. I also do a lot of coaching and mentoring for my staff, as well as some clients and candidates. So, I'm an unofficial coach & mentor to them and I think that a coaching/mentoring combination is great for supporting people.
Do you think that your gender has ever hindered you or blocked you from any personal progression?
No, I don't think that has been an issue. As a Vietnamese woman, I have quite a strong personality, and we are known for being hard and smart workers, so I've never had any gender problems here. When I was in the Netherlands, there was good gender equality already, so I didn't face any problems there either. In Vietnam, we actually have more female headhunters than male, which I know is quite different to other countries. If you go into any office here, you will see more women than men, so the team I'm building at Argyll Scott does have more women in it at the moment, but I am trying to balance that. If I can get to a third of the team being men, that will be very positive.
How do you balance the long hours that often come with a job in recruitment with your personal life?
I like to use the phrase "work/life integration". I don't separate the perceptions or definitions of life and work. I love my job, so I don't mind integrating it into my life outside of traditional hours. Our location means that there is a huge time difference with Europe or the US, and the market here is so competitive, that we don't have the luxury of choosing to do a call the next day instead. So, I still have time with my family and for holidays, but I don’t mind spending my evenings talking to clients or candidates when I need to. It's a part of life, so that's why I look at it as integration, rather than balance.
Looking back at your career, can you pinpoint when you first noticed an emphasis on diversity and inclusion around you?
In Vietnam, diversity is a fairly recent thing, not many people were aware of it that long ago, especially diversity outside of gender, such as diversity of race or background or religion. I first noticed it when I was in the Netherlands because there are people from many different countries and all sorts of backgrounds, but it's normal there. If you have the capability to do a certain job, there is no negative impact of being a minority. I could have changed my nationality from Vietnamese to Dutch when I was there, but I didn't because not only am I a proud Vietnamese, but I didn't have to do it to improve or prove anything. I was accepted as a Vietnamese and had the same opportunities as everyone else.
What is the main thing that you've seen in an organisation that works from a diversity point of view or that enables women or people from diverse backgrounds to progress?
I think whether it's gender or any other form of diversity, there should be no barriers or limits if a person has the competencies to perform their job. Treating people all the same and focusing on capabilities is the thing that works best. Our clients in Vietnam often prefer to work with women as we are known for working hard and working smart, so there are more women here in senior roles and they have plenty of opportunities. Sometimes, we reach a ceiling if our company is owned by a parent organisation from another country that has its own corporate culture and perhaps doesn't treat women the same, but otherwise, gender diversity is not as big of an issue here.
As you have worked in different countries, did any cultural differences affect your management style?
Working in the Netherlands, as I mentioned, everyone is very accepting and respectful of other cultures and backgrounds, so I have adopted that into my management style. Vietnam is a developing country, an emerging market, and over the last 20 years, a lot of MNCs have come here, bringing different cultural traits from America, Europe and other parts of Asia. These cultures are welcome and have been adopted and I believe it's the leader who leads by example and who shapes a company's culture, so embracing those are important. At the same time, it's the leader who has to impart the company's own vision, mission and values to the employees. We respect an individual’s own values, and I believe it’s vital to embrace them into the company’s culture. I did that at RGF and now I'm doing it again here at Argyll Scott. I introduce the culture into the team and get everyone to buy into it and lead by example. And remember, I always write the value INTEGRITY in capital letters.
Is there anything that you're doing to help or support emerging female leaders?
I participate in a lot of events, seminars and talks that are held by the many leadership and business professional bodies that we have in Vietnam, and I have also been a guest speaker on international talks whenever the subject is on working in Vietnam or women in leadership. We also do a lot of charity events that have a focus on women and get female leaders involved in lots of activities in the community. In terms of future leaders, I am very passionate about supporting students in high school who are about to choose career paths and options, or those about to graduate and start their careers, helping them improve their skills or decide which major or course they should do.
For more Inspiring Business Women in APAC interviews, please click here.