Juggling billion-dollar career and home: how this Vietnamese woman copes

By Khanh Lynh   November 30, 2018 | 12:26 am PT
Globe-trotting mother of two young children is an investment banker in the UK.
Trang Nguyen. Photo courtesy of Trang Nguyen

Trang Nguyen. Photo courtesy of Trang Nguyen

Trang Nguyen and her colleagues at SMBC Nikko Capital Markets Limited, a Japanese investment bank, have sealed five deals worth over $16.45 billion and many others so far this year.

The largest was a $10-billion deal with AB Inbev of Belgium, the world’s biggest beer company.

Trang is a director at Nikko, and her role is to advise clients on bond issuance. Last year she closed two deals for the firm worth over $2.6 billion with TenneT, a Dutch power company, and Airbus.

Trang tells VnExpress with a laugh: "It seems I am destined to be in the financial industry. I used to run away because there was way too much pressure."

In 2001 Trang left her hometown Hanoi to study in Connecticut College in the U.S. She spent five months as an intern in Singapore before graduation and then joined Barclays bank in London because it offered "a higher salary than in the United States."

For the next three years she was constantly in a state of stress, mentally and physically exhausted and without even the time to date.

She decided to "run away."

She resigned and moved to Tokyo to study at the Graduate School of Business Administration at Hitotsubashi University.

After graduation, she got plum jobs at Bloomberg, and was hanging out with friends from fields like marketing and manufacturing, and life was altogether more relaxed and far removed from the high-pressure world of finance.

But it wasn’t to last for long: one day she met an executive whom she knew from an interview with another Japanese bank. He ended up persuading her to join Nikko and becomes a present boss. It had been set up in 2009 by Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, Japan’s second largest bank.

Since Nikko was quite small then, with just 20 people, she quickly assumed a leading role there. Now it has 300 employees, making it the second largest Japanese bank in London.

Dealing with tough clients

The job takes a huge toll on her. Often she comes across difficult clients who would only give her two minutes to make her pitch.

"There have been people who did not like me. They would listen to two sentences and hang up. I just froze when something like that happened and questioned myself what I have done wrong and how to have done it right."

Gradually she learned to understand the client’s mindset, gather information to identify their diffichoulties and make appropriate recommendations.

Trang is now one of Nikko's key personnel, regularly flying around the world to meet clients and close deals. She estimates she spends six months a year away from home.

Trang and her colleagues with awards they received from the International Financial Review (IFR). Photo courtesy of IFR.

Trang and her colleagues with awards they received from the International Financial Review (IFR). Photo courtesy of IFR.

'Finishing laundry makes me feel super proud’

Her work no longer overwhelms Trang, and she has managed to strike that critical work-life balance, finding enough time for her husband and their two children. Her daily schedule when in town is clearly drawn up with time allocated for work, eating, sleeping, and exercising.

She has had to make minor sacrifices for this, of course. When at home, she never checks email or text messages, she even leaves her phone in another room, and does not watch TV. Trang and her New Zealander husband scrupulously stick to their schedule because they have two young children, a four-year-old girl and a two-year-old boy.

"We have to make to-do lists. We don’t set the bar too high. For example, finishing the laundry can make me feel super proud."

In her me time, she plays the piano, does yoga, plays tennis, or goes for a jog. She does not eat fast food and tries to make sure she gets enough sleep.

Trang also sets minor goals for herself such as being able to play a new song on the piano within a month of learning it.

Jade Green, Trang's husband, who works for another bank, says he is extremely proud of his wife because she is disciplined and never lets unnecessary distractions come between her primary goals.

Recalling the early days of their courtship, he says what struck him most about Trang was her confidence and strength. They hit it off almost straightaway, he says.

He calls his wife's frequent absence from home a "great sacrifice" and "not easy" for her considering how much she loves their children.

When she is away, he has to take care of the children. He has had to give up his hobbies. When she is at home, Trang spends all the time she can with her kids, speaks with them and takes them to the park.

Jade says: "We have a happy family that I’ve always wanted to have. I have a busy and fulfilling life."

Trang says they have had their fair share of arguments, but feels very lucky because he understands what is required of her professionally and is willing to help with housework. Even during their courtship of four years, she would speak to him about workplace problems and ask for his advice.

She plans to prioritize her family soon since the kids are set to reach school age soon.

"I'm considering my work. Maybe I will move to a job requiring less travel so that I can have more time with my children, teach them Vietnamese or take them to Vietnam more to see their grandparents."

Trang Nguyen with her husband and two children in Lunar New Year costumes last year. Photo courtesy of Trang Nguyen.

Trang Nguyen with her husband and two children in Lunar New Year costumes last year. Photo courtesy of Trang Nguyen.

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