The Soul of a Corporate Woman

〝It is well with the man who deals generously and lends, who conducts his affair with justice〞 Psalms 112:5


Since Tuesday, I have been busy interviewing Mrs. Yen, the Chairwoman/CEO of Tan Tao Group and her management team in Ho Chi Minh City. It is a fascinating story of a poor family who built a conglomerate of corporations that is now publicly listed and worth billions in US dollars. And they did it in 13 years. It is a story I need to tell because this wonderfully generous lady exemplifies in a very corrupt society what one person of integrity can accomplish for a country.


She started out as a civil servant in the ministry of foreign trade and did so well that she was designated to become a high ranking officer. But she chose to resign in order to strike out on her own because she said that staying in government would have changed her character and she feared that she would not be able to live with herself should she accept the position. The most important thing in her life is integrity and she feared she had to compromise that to succeed in government.


When she set up her own company in 1996, she was the first woman to head up a construction company. It was a huge step for her to take and she took it against the advice of her siblings. She was compelled to take the risk because she was driven by a vision of the good she could do for her country. Her strategy was a simple one – to build industrial parks all over Vietnam and to woo foreign investors to her parks. With foreign investments, there will be job creation and technology transfers. It will lift up the standard of living of the poor people living in the vicinity of the parks. Over time, a new community with better infrastructure will be created. As there will be more disposal income for the workers to purchase consumable goods, the local economy will be stimulated and more businesses and jobs will be created.


With $1 million dollars she managed to borrow from the bank secured by a huge

443 hectares of land in Binh Tan that was granted by the government, she proceeded to build the Tan Tao Industrial Park. The group turned a low-productive saline land soaked in 3 meters of blackish water into the largest industrial park in southern Vietnam with modern infrastructure and amenities like wastewater treatment plant. It created more than 30,000 jobs. During 13 years of operation, the Tan Tao Industrial Park always took the lead in attracting foreign investors in several sectors. It has driven Binh Tan, an impoverished village, into the fastest-growing tax-paying district in Ho Chi Minh City.


In registering the company, securing the land from the government and the loan from the bank, this company scored three firsts in the commercial history of Vietnam since the revolution. It was the first time that a private construction company is headed by a woman. Never before had the government granted land to a private company for development. And securing money from the bank with land as collateral was never done before.


Today, this company through its 40 industrial parks created hundreds of thousands of jobs for the Vietnamese people. It is in the process of building a deep sea port and the largest oil and gas plant in Vietnam. Her group of companies has donated tens of millions to build schools in poor districts. She is involved in a joint venture with Rice University of Houston, Texas, to build the Tan Tao University in HCMC. She provides 1,500 university scholarships to needy students every year.


〝So, how important is money to you?〞I asked.〝It is very important as a means to do good. What is important is not the money in and of itself; but what I can do with the money,〞she replied with passion.〝What gives you the greatest joy and satisfaction in your business?〞I pressed on. Her reply:〝To see my country healed and developed for the benefit of the people; to see my people gainfully employed; to see the poor admitted to universities on merit; to raise the standard of living for the all the people in Vietnam; and to let the world know that there are people here in Vietnam who can succeed without being corrupt.〞


I wrote her a note to thank her for her time. In it I said〝I am truly inspired by your purposeful corporate vision that goes beyond mere profitability. Your love for your country and your people, your concern for the economic wellbeing of Vietnam; your determination to make a social and economic difference to this beautiful country is simply inspirational! I have interviewed a good number of industrial leaders but your grand vision tops them all〞.


She certainly conducts her business with justice. Would to God that we find many more like her in every country, not least of all in Malaysia! There is much we can learn from her. That is why I find myself still engaged in the marketplace. God works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform. All truth comes from Him; and His sovereignty means that that He can and does use people outside the Kingdom of God for His good and just purposes, as He did Cyrus the Persian (Isaiah 45).