A story shows importance of taking responsibility to true leadership

Tan Hiep Phat Group Deputy CEO Phuong Uyen Tran said that the true leadership means taking responsibility for their failure as well as success.
July 22, 2020 | 17:00
tan hiep phats high goals and ambition to out compete multinationals Tan Hiep Phat's high goals and ambition to out-compete multinationals
thanh quy trans tough childhood and early years into business Thanh Quy Tran's tough childhood and early years into business
branding helps shape tan hiep phats future business Branding helps shape Tan Hiep Phat's future business

"True leadership means taking responsibility for their failure as well as success."

It is all too easy to shift the blame when something goes wrong. It was down to a competitor, a customer, faulty products, irresponsible employees, suppliers, or the general economy, etc. It is always easier to find excuses and far harder to embrace setbacks and mistakes with the same enthusiasm as triumphs and victories. It is human nature.

And yet, true leadership means taking responsibility for their failure as well as success. The two go hand in hand. Only when someone accepts there is no one else to blame, then and only then can he or she develop a plan to succeed.

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Phuong Uyen Tran. Photo: Pinterest

Instead of asking, "Who did this to me?" the question should be reframed as, "What did I do wrong?" This becomes the far more constructive self-help. As the saying goes, "It never gets easier, you get better."

It is a difficult truth. But taking ownership means accepting that you are the source of the problem. You are the only thing you can change or control. So, if there is a difficulty, own it. Never blame anyone else. Have confidence that by changing yourself, you can change the environment, too. Leaders who do this are far more likely to inspire the kind of loyalty and trust that makes companies succeed.

My father is a big advocate for John Maxwell's five levels of leader-ship. He is a big believer in level three: people not only follow someone because they want to (i.e., the relationship they have with them, which is classified as level-two leadership) but also because of their track record. This is when companies really start to produce results. At THP, we try to empower all team members to act as if they are the owners of the enterprise, as well: to take responsibility for their successes and mistakes; to stay authentic and retain

Their success and mistakes; to stay authentic and retain their integrity. If they stay true to what they believe and are open about what is working or not working, then they can succesfully address problems, drive results and improve performance.

Leaders and employees who can do this typically have an air of humility about them, which wins people over and inspires their loyalty. One good expample of this kind of leadership in action comes from Emirsyah Satar, CEO of Indonesia's Garuda Airlines. Several times a year, he gathers his top leadership team to clean the company's airplanes.

He launched the initiative to remind his executive team that whatever important work they were doing, it was no more important than keeping Garuda airplanes clean and hygienic for their customers. No one was excused from taking part. Satar himself cleaned the toilets.

Staying humble and grounded becomes ever more difficult as people become more successful. They start to believe their own hype, a breeding ground for arrogance and the kind of hubris that leads to mistakes and a swift return to planet earth with a thump. The reality is that while THP became very successful during the early part of the century, much of that had to do with what was happening in Vietnam as a whole. The economy was on fire and all companies were doing well.

Whipped by a media storm after being accused of selling a drink of a fly in it

That is not to say my father would not have made a success of his life in different circumstances. He has the personality traits, which give him enormous drive. But he has always known that timing has played a big factor in his success as well. That and the hard work everyone puts into THP. Nevertheless, we all got a wake-up call about accountability and staying humble in 2014 when we were accused of selling a drink with a fly in it. Being accused of selling adulterated products is just about the worst thing a fast-moving consumer-goods company can experience.

In this case, a man in Tien Giang Province claimed he had found a fly in a bottle of our Number 1 energy drink. He aksed us for VND 1 billion ($44,100) to pay for his silence. He subsequent reduced it to VND500 million ($22,050) but threatened to release his complaint to the newspapers and TV if we did not pay up. We set up meeting with the man and handed over the VND500 million ($22,050). What he did not realize is that the police were already investigating the case and he was arrested in act of receiving the money.

However, we did not win any plaudits for our actions. On the contrary, we soon found ourselves in the eye of a media storm. It whipped up very quickly and it continued for months. The words "THP" and "fly" quickly became the hottest ones across social media. The story gained a life of its own.

At one point, social-media users speculated that my father had a nineteen-year-old mistress who was running the factory into the ground. There was even a suggestion that one employee had died after falling into a production tank. Everyone believed there had been a fly in a Number 1 bottle.

And it did not just stop at online trolling. There was a Facebook page calling for a boycott of THP's products and organizing demonstrations against the company. It cost us dearly in terms of values - VND2 trillion - not to mention the fact that it costs about six to seven times more to acquire a new customer than it does to retain one.

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Phuong Uyen Tran. Photo: cafef.vn

The court ruled in our favor and our accuser was sent to prison. There were signs of tampering with the bottle. The water level was also lower. The Ministry of Public Security's Criminal Science Institute investigated the case and found that the cap of the bottle had been punctured with a sharp object.

Still, from THP's perspective, the communication crisis was overwhelming. As the dust settled, we also concluded that the campaign against us had been orchestrated. Who stood to gain from our loss of merket share?

But one of the mistakes we made was appearing arrogant. Comsumers did not like the fact that we had come down so hard no one man who had accused us of negligence. The public perception was that we did not seem to be playing fair with consumers, even though one of them had not played fair with us. It was a very valuable business lesson. Even if others do not play fair and adopt dirty tactics, we mus still handle it correctly ourselves, for at the end of the day, any one person's perception is their own trust.

In the past few years, especially in 2018, Tan Hiep Phat and Phuong Uyen Tran are among Vietnamese names in the field of business that appear the most on international media because of their stories inspiring co-startups as well as millions of consumers around the world.

That Forbes first published the book “Competing with Giants” by a Vietnamese businesswoman has help promote the name of “rich man” Tan Hiep Phat.

Afterward, in the minds of many consumers, each water bottle is not only a drink but a crystallization of the desire to overcome difficulties and the spirit of entrepreneurship, an organic trend and Vietnam of miraculous stories.

And also from this book uncovered the aspirations of Tan Hiep Phat, as Mr. Hiroshi Otsuka, President and CEO of Musashi Seimitsu said: “An unmissable insight into how and why Vietnamese businesses are quietly growing into global players.”

About author Phuong Uyen Tran

Working as a powerful businesswoman, Forbes published author, Phuong Uyen Tran is a model of success in Vietnam. Phuong Uyen Tran is also a special contributor for Vietnam Times. Her writing, including “Competing with Giants" book, and her latest articles are to advise and inspire young people to start-up, overcome challenges and reach out to the world. It is the story of a little girl taking the great responsibilities for a corporation and devoting herself to society.

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