INTERVIEW | General Manager, Seashells Phu Quoc Hotel & Spa, Anh Nguyễn: “Giving” comes before “Receiving”

INTERVIEW | General Manager, Seashells Phu Quoc Hotel & Spa, Anh Nguyễn: “Giving” comes before “Receiving”

The service industry has always been harsh for women. Yet, with her confidence and professionalism, Seashells Phu Quoc Hotel & Spa General Manager Ann Nguyễn has proven herself against such odds, having taken long strides in her career and procured a senior management position at the mere age of 30.

Relinquishing her dream career as a physics researcher to pursue a service major in Switzerland, for the sole purpose of “making everyone around me happy”, Ann Nguyễn is living proof that women can perform just as well as men in whatever they do, if not better. Choosing Seashells Phu Quoc Hotel & Spa as an important “harbour” on her career journey, she realizes that this is an opportunity for her to not only enrich her knowledge, but also get to know the corporate culture in Vietnam. In all, such efforts are aimed towards her goals of determining the best management methods and becoming an esteemed and respectable leader.

Ann Nguyen, GM Seashells Phu Quoc Hotel & Spa

Subtlety is a woman’s best weapon

Greetings Ann Nguyễn! Taking the responsibility of General Manager (GM) at a major 5-star hotel at such a young age, what are the difficulties that you’ve encountered when assuming this position?

One of the earliest challenges that I realized was the personnel matter. Competitive as the field already is, when having a new recruit, you need not only become their boss, but an inspirer and companion. This means showing them how far you are willing to go with them. In order to do this, a leader must be able to share, guide and support his or her subordinates, as well as proposing solutions whenever a problem emerges. In addition, due to the high community spirit in Vietnam, the bigger a company gets, the greater its interpersonal conflicts become. It is my duty, then, to appear both fair and sympathetic, so as to avoid such possible conflicts. Only in a dispute-free environment can each and every staff member cast away their worries and focus on the task at hand, which in turn helps improve our customer service quality.

Amidst the ever-expanding “jungle” of hotels and resorts in Phu Quoc over the past few years, what are the distinctive traits that set Seashells Phu Quoc Hotel & Spa apart? And what is your strategy towards boosting the brand’s recognition among the leisure tourists community?

Unlike a number of hotels who focus only on a certain market segment, we aim to cast our net out to the entire market while tirelessly promoting our brand and heighten its recognition through cooperation with several agencies, both domestic and international. It’s been almost three years since I embarked on this journey with Seashells, and now the resort can proudly claim to be one of the most profitable local 5-star hotels. We have been reaching peak earnings on almost every online booking channel while offering a stable rate instead of going “seasonal” just to sell a few more rooms. Besides quality improvement, we also strive to enrich the guests’ experience during their stay, to provide them with unforgettable memories that they can hardly find elsewhere. One of the most notable examples of this is our effort to turn the resort into an event hall for our own exotic festivals, such as the Snow Festival, Year End Party, Lantern Festival… These recent activities have drawn a lot of attention from our guests and become a glowing memory during their leisure journeys. It’s not an overstatement to say that, despite being invested and operated by a 100% Vietnamese crew, the Seashells hotel is still on par with other international hotels in the same market segment in Phu Quoc.

Unlike men who are always tough and strong, women have their soft and sentimental moments. Does Ann Nguyễn consider this a disadvantage for the fairer sex on their career journey?

In my opinion, being soft or sentimental is not the same thing as being weak and indecisive. As the exact opposite, I believe that such subtlety is a woman’s prevailing strength. As a leader, I prefer not pointing fingers and enforcing my own rules. Instead, my approach is to patiently point out to my employees what they lack, then go with them through the entire process. Regardless of the issue, I always keep the habit of putting myself in the other person’s shoes, be it a staff member or a customer, in order to propose several solutions from different approaches. Straightforwardness can, at times, put you at a disadvantage in this line of work, while sympathy can help you harmonize the opposing elements and, thus, minimize the damage. Moreover, one of the biggest perks as a woman is that I can avoid any unwanted communication, which helps me remain sharp and wise in every decision.

Ann Nguyen, GM Seashells Phu Quoc Hotel & Spa

Contribute more than you are expected to

As a manager, Ann Nguyễn must have your own set of principles in administration. So, what kind of a leader are you trying to become?

As mentioned above, being a sharing and supportive one. Of course I’ll still be the one giving the direction for lower-level management to carry out, but under my command, they do not have to do it alone. For those associates who meet the job’s demands, I always give them maximum authority, which requires them not only to get a full grasp of their responsibility and scope of work, but also to refrain from overstepping such authority. I’ll work hand in hand with any head of department should they encounter a problem in any stages. My leadership perspective is that everyone should dare to try, and should have the right to a second chance. To be exact, my style is to be gentle at first, but get rougher and tougher along the way (laughs). This only means that my employees will be able to advance further on their career journey, which in turn acts as a leverage to help their boss – me, improve and perfect myself.

Having granted your employees the right to a “second chance”, what will be Ann Nguyễn’s first reaction to their mistakes?

Once a mistake has been made, laying the blame will not be necessary. For me instead, reflecting upon the incident and drawing a lesson from it is of greater and utmost importance. My first priority is to determine the root of the problem, the ultimate reasons that have influenced my staff’s decision. What I hope to achieve when training staff is that I’m not only giving, but also receiving something from them. This can be the professional knowledge or different viewpoints that the staff has garnered, which when combined together will help us build a better company and complete the big business development picture.

With your experience in management over the years, what does Ann Nguyễn think are the must-have qualities for a woman to become a GM in the hospitality field?

First and foremost, the aspiration for knowledge and willingness to work in any given job. There’s a long list of departments and duties in a hotel’s operation, and the higher you want to advance, the more knowledge you need to acquire from those of other areas that might not be your forte, while being prepared to admit your shortcomings before your staff. This is because, no matter how talented a manager may be, he or she cannot possess all the knowledge and skills required in every area to make it run smoothly.  In addition, as a female manager, you must establish a leading style that would earn the respect of the collective, display your sense of responsibility and build your trust among others. The confident and comely stance often helps men enhance their persuasive ability, so in order to be as respectable a female leader, you must be both tough and tender. This means showing your strength when the time requires and becoming a worthy “captain” of the corporate ship.

And a piece of advice for aspiring women who want to become a manager in the future…

Accept to climb the hierarchical ladder from the lowest step and beat yourself to your work, regardless of time or rest. Most people believe they just need to work as hard as their salary pays, but such a mindset will not get you far. Work more than you are expected to, not for anything else but the exploration of your limits, to understand how far you can push yourself. Success never comes to those who tread a wide and easy path.

The final outcome is as important as the process

Knowing that the advance in one’s career must be traded with one’s passion, how does Ann Nguyễn find happiness in life under the pressure of the daily grind?

I have earned the title of a workaholic who has little concern for time and not the faintest idea of a “day off”. Yet, everything has changed ever since I got married and had a baby. No longer putting myself in the center, my focus now shifts to the care of my family and my little baby. As your children grow, they’ll always need your rearing and caring, so it’ll be a huge regret if I cannot be by their side. Therefore, in my current position and despite all difficulties, I’ve been trying to arrange my work in order not to “trade” my family’s happiness for it. Indeed, setting a clear line between work and life is impossible, so I’d depend on the stage and time to determine which is more important and adjust my priorities.

People often say that a business career is a lonely one. Does Ann Nguyễn feel that way?

Solitude is an old friend to me (Laughing). As a business owner, you definitely won’t lack hardships, but those you can share them with. Indeed, sharing sometimes only raises doubt and concern for others, but if you keep it to yourself, you’ll be crushed by the pressure and burden. However, for an entrepreneur in the grind of work, this may, at times, help you forget about the solitude (Laughing). Whenever I feel overloaded with pressures and not able to find confidence in anybody, I often hit the pause button and think. This is my way to view things in a simpler, less demanding way, to evaluate the issue from every aspect, and to allow myself to slow down and get a clearer view. There are times when sacrifices must be made, which affect more than my own benefits, but I believe that I’ve given it my best and if I truly have to let go, I’ll have no regret whatsoever. Just as in relationships, people come and go for their own reasons. Be it your companion, supporter or rival, each and every one of them will teach you a different lesson and help you improve yourself day by day. Let’s just believe that every story has its good and evil sides, and when “evil” seems to prevail, all we need to do is think positively and look on the bright side to find the solution and avoid any pessimistic thoughts. When one door closes, another opens for you.

Ann Nguyen, GM Seashells Phu Quoc Hotel & Spa

“Let’s just believe that every story has its good and evil sides, and when “evil” seems to prevail, all we need to do is think positively and look on the bright side to find the solution and avoid any pessimistic thoughts.”

To obtain such a mild and calm mindset at such a young age, what is the secret to Ann Nguyễn’s mental strength?

I always believe that one must give more than what one expects to receive in return. Sometimes we shouldn’t even expect to get anything in return, but good things will surely come to you when you least expect them. Give it your all, but if you still have your family behind you, and failure no longer falls only upon you, I’d suggest leaving yourself a way out. And I believe that on the path we have chosen, be it smooth or rugged, full of turns or just straight ahead, each one of us will have a choice for ourselves. And as long as you persevere, you will get to the end of it.

In Ann Nguyễn’s opinion, how do you imagine happiness?

Happiness to me is being able to do what I love most and live a life of my own, since I’m not the type to fancy restrictions. I believe that happiness is not about reaching the final destination, but enjoying the process of it, how many friends I’ve made, how many experiences, valuable lessons and novel knowledge I’ve acquired. And once you’ve realized how happy you are, what’s even more important is to preserve such happiness, and nurture it day by day so that it becomes more fulfilled and spreads out to your beloved ones.


3 words to describe yourself?

Stubborn – Jolly – Decisive

A weakness that you wish to improve?

Being overly competitive.

Your favorite time in the day?

The time reading stories and playing with my kid before going to bed.

Exclusive article of BusinessWoman Magazine | Text: Jenni Võ, Hồng Đặng | Photo: Thạc Trường Giang

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