'What’s most important is you do your job well,' Vietnam's King of Steel on road to billionaire

By Nguyen Ha   March 10, 2018 | 07:31 am PT
'What’s most important is you do your job well,' Vietnam's King of Steel on road to billionaire
Tran Dinh Long, Board Chairman of Hoa Phat Corporation and Vietnam's new billionaire, in an interview with VnExpress. Photo by VnExpress/Anh Tu
The Chairman of Hoa Phat Corporation shares his personal views on life and stories of his company’s battle-hardened journey.

After making headlines when Forbes welcomed him into its world billionaires’ club with a net worth of $1.3 billion, Tran Dinh Long – Chairman of Hoa Phat Corporation, a private industrial production group specializing in steel, told reporters how he balances between work and family as well as tough decisions made along his way to the top.

Upon learning that your name was on the 2018 list of Forbes’ world billionaires, what did you and your family think?

We didn’t really mention anything about it, for me it’s just a title. As for my company, it will continue to function normally, with or without the title.

What makes me happy is the fact that among the list was my name and Tran Ba Duong’s – Chairman of Truong Hai Auto Corporation. We are both representatives of two businesses working in industrial production. For a country with new and developing technologies like Vietnam, a billionaire in such an industry is bound to show up. However, even more than just a track record, our appearances on the list means that Vietnam’s economy is finally taking off, and Vietnamese businesses are finally stepping up and being acknowledged around the world.

What do you think about the $1.3 billion worth of fortune you own as Forbes has reported?

When it comes to work, money is not on the top of my list so I don’t even know how much I own. I don’t think it’s just me; so do many other people. Once your work performance has reached a certain level, money stops being a priority and you no longer care about how much you make in one day. That’s not me humblebragging, that’s a fact.

Nowadays, there are quite some controversial opinions about rich people. What’s your opinion on this subject?

For me, everything has multiple angles and perspectives to look at. You can’t just pick one and that’s it. The same goes for rich people. Whether I want to or not, people will keep calling me a tycoon. However, I hope that as time passes and the world becomes more transparent day after day, the negativity associated with rich people will subside.

As a businessman, or as anyone really, I believe what’s most important is you do your job well. Once you put your heart into it, people will see it and their opinions will change for the better. The more you work, the more value you will contribute to society, for example in the forms of tax and social responsibilities.

People regard working in business as soul-sucking and businesspeople have to sacrifice many things to advance their careers. What do you think?

I think that’s just a matter of mindsets and priorities, and how a businessperson wants their life to look like. Personally, I don’t want a life always being neck-deep in work, always answering phone calls and having no time to spend with my family.

I still have time for my hobbies like drinking coffee or playing sports. Even the place where I and my friends hang out is nothing fancy; we hung out at the same place we always did for the last 20 years.

There are people so busy they don’t have any time left for traveling. Not me though. Every year I travel with my family at least four times. I don’t receive guests at home unless in very special occasions. I also take pride in the fact that all my meals are homecooked: three meals per day, 365 days per year.

Multidisciplinary practice is the trend for many businesses, especially for real estate. But you seem to be quite loyal to the steel industry. What’s your and Hoa Phat’s history with real estate?

Maybe that’s because I love this industry and am set on walking to the end of the road. You have to be perseverant and steadfast at all stages, because more often than not, when it comes to revenue, doing business in steel can’t hold a candle to doing business in real estate.

For example, during the late 1990s, the rush into real estate was real. There are people who bought a property the previous week and sold that same property for twice the price at the next one. During that period, many shareholders of the company considered investing about $400,000 into buying new offices. However, I pointed out that by investing that much money, we would no longer have enough cash to build a steel-making factory, and I let them choose. We chose the factory in the end. At that time, our company was quite the oddball, being one who had money in our hands but didn’t invest in real estate.

Had we chosen to pursue the path of real estate, things would have been so different now, though I don’t know if the company would have been as big as it is today. However, in the long run, we never had any intention to invest in real estate at full throttle. Steel is still our company’s lifeblood.

What’s the 10-year vision for Hoa Phat?

In the short term, with our available resources, we wish to focus on the Hoa Phat Dung Quat Iron and Steel Production Complex since this is a colossal investment and expectations are set very high. Our ambition after 2020 is to be one of the world’s top 50 steel-making companies.

In the long run, from now to 2025, our goal is still to focus on steel and its related products. We’re actually doing research on producing stainless steel – something that Vietnam still completely relies on foreign imports.

I would like to stress that Hoa Phat is not giving up on other fields and disciplines; they are just not high enough on our list yet. There’s opportunity cost as well, so it’s nothing to feel regret about. To work on many different areas simultaneously would be a Herculean task, so we won’t do that now.

[Video by Nhung Nguyen]

Hoa Phat Corporation is a private industrial production group in Vietnam. Starting as a trading company specializing in construction machines back in 1992, the group has extended its branches to the field of furniture, steel, refrigeration and real estate. Tran Dinh Long, Vietnam’s so-called “King of Steel”, helmed the company as its Chairman since 1996.

Forbes’ list of world billionaires is an annual ranking of the world’s wealthiest. In 2018, two Vietnamese billionaires, Tran Dinh Long and Tran Ba Duong, got added to the list, doubling the total number of Vietnamese billionaires in Forbes’ list from two to four.

Vietnam’s steel industry earned the country $3.64 billion from exporting 5.5 million tons of steel products in 2017. The industry is forecast to grow by 20-22 percent in 2018, said vice chairman of the Vietnam Steel Association Nguyen Van Sua.

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