INTERVIEW | Jenni Võ, Co-Founder of BusinessWoman Magazine

INTERVIEW | Jenni Võ, Co-Founder & Production Director of BusinessWoman Magazine: Life is a leisurely walk

The journey of life is full of unexpected turns, and businesswomen who have come to accept it as a fact are, above all else, the quickest to adapt to these changes. Today story tells of businesswoman Jenni Võ and the leisurely walk on her career path, which turned out not a bed of roses, but one marked by life-altering twists.

Behind every page of the latest BusinessWoman Magazine issue you are holding in your hand is the collective effort of a huge production crew. And behind that crew is a humble-looking woman, her face ever smiling and her feet ever moving, by the name of Jenni Võ – Director of APH Media Company and Production Director of BusinessWoman Magazine. 13 years has passed since the day she decided to give up a promising career to pursue a start-up in media and press, marking the birth of BusinessWoman Magazine, an unexpected deviation that no one, even her family and closest friends, could understand at that moment. Having been through the high and low notes, sometimes to the extreme, today she still jokingly says that her career journey has been a stroll, for there is no problem that can’t be solved, nothing that can make her stressed, and even if she has to start all over again, she is willing to. To celebrate the 13th year since the first BusinessWoman Magazine issue was published in Vietnam, we have invited her to an interview to reveal the story behind the scene.

Jenni Võ - The story I tell

Greeting Ms. Jenni Võ, how did you come up with the idea for BusinessWoman Magazine?

My education background was in business and marketing, and not journalism. And although as a child, I enjoyed reading romantic literature and writing poems, which my teacher highly praised, I found myself more interested in a business career. That’s why I had never thought that one day I would take up a writing career and even run a magazine.

I finished my Master degree in Marketing in England under a scholarship program of a telecommunications corporation, and spent the next 10 years working for it in a position fitting my training, which provided me with both ample experience and a promising future in this career. During this time, I also fiddled around with a few small start-ups in husbandry and tourism, which, although not highly profitable, were enough to reinforce my will to build a greater business for myself. As a result, I stopped seeking to move up the ladder in my current job, waited out for an opportunity, and saved up money for my business (Grinning). Then when I was invited to take part in the content development of a brand-new magazine, I didn’t think twice. Within that year, I officially became broke, spending to the last penny of my savings over the years to establish my own media company at the age of 28. It was also the year BusinessWoman Magazine officially launched its very first issue, in October 2008.

At such a young age, how did you gather the confidence to take part in the making of such an innovative magazine?               

During time when I was media manager for the aforementioned telecommunications corporation, I was fortunate to be in charge of PR and Advertising in the HCM City area, which allowed me to conduct business with numerous newspapers in this lively market. Through my observation, there wasn’t any newspaper exclusively designated for businesswomen, while as a woman, I too yearned to become a businesswoman. Unfortunately, when it came to businesspeople in those days, the featured character would always be male. The content for business articles would almost always be on strategies, orientation, figures…, while there’s much more to it for women. Despite being the head of the business, they also have concerns for their family and children, for their appearance, beauty, style, for the indulgence of life…. Therefore, upon learning that there was a new magazine by the name of BusinessWomen, I was extremely excited, and wished to do my part in creating a world that celebrates women – who are gaining more and more standing both in their social and business status. In such a world, I endeavor to illustrate, honestly but also beautifully, the mind and thoughts of the new businesswomen generation, so that one day when people think of “businesspeople”, they will envision both a man and a woman in unbiased balance.

You had a strong faith in your vision, but what about your expertise, skills, and experience, how did you manage to acquire them?

I’m sure you know, when we are young and inexperienced, we are braver than ever. Although I had written a few articles as a freelance writer, I never actually took charge of content production for an entire magazine. But such is youth, I had faith in my instinct and aspiration for knowledge, for even if we failed, it’s alright, we could just do it again, right? (Grinning)

I went on to learn a great deal of things from every member of the magazine staff, from the accountant, the designer, the editor, the publisher, the protographer… I learned everything, how to “structure” a magazine, the rules when choosing photos, setting up photoshooting sessions, page layout, coming up with a topic for each issue, establishing the network of freelancers… And though I could proudly say I had mastered my skills in office programs, the new job at the magazine forced me to learn how to use specialized programs such as Illustrator, InDesign, Photoshop… that I had never previously thought I would need to use. Now I had to work for the telecommunications corporation, and manage the content production for the magazine. It became a common sight for me to stay at the office until 10pm and continue the work at home until late at night or even throughout the night during publishing days, and it went on for months, even for the first few years. In retrospect, I must say it was a rather “crazy” period, but all the hard work didn’t feel tiresome to me, and quite the contrary, made me happy and excited, for I was able to learn quickly and thoroughly, and put production in orbit in a matter of months.

Throughout these many years working as production director for BusinessWoman Magazine, what did you get from the content creation work?

I got dazzled and overwhelmed (Grinning). I can never understand how the young these days are able to come up with so many ideas. I honestly respect the young generation in the media field for their adaptiveness and find myself fortunate to be surrounded by a crew of young and creative staff. This motivates me to never be complacent and urges me to keep on moving and changing if I don’t want to become obsolete in a world where a new idea is born every passing second.

Over the years I have nurtured a habit of being excited to handle a client or partner’s constantly changing demands instead of being irritated. With it, I get to refresh my mindset and thinking all the time. Having the chance to work with a new problem every day makes me smile, and although the result might not be 100% satisfying, if the client is happy with it, I’m happy with it, and that’s just the dopamine boost I enjoy.

But with your own media company to run, does it pose any difficulty to you having to handle both business management and content creation?

It does, a great deal in fact. Just as anyone who is taking on two different lines of work, I have to find a way to harmonize between the two extremes. A business mindset gives me the will to overcome any obstacle with sheer strength, while a creative mindset guides me towards the less traveled paths that may allow me to circumnavigate those obstacles. The two mindsets may seem mutually exclusive, but together they allow me to keep a leash on my creativity so that it doesn’t stray too far from the ground, therefore helping me come up with what we’d like to call “sellable” ideas, instead of “make a difference” ones that may forever remain an idea. I still prefer specialized work, creating new ideas instead of occupying my mind with figures like revenues and profits. Whenever I get the time to sit down and think of something interesting for the upcoming article or event, the ideas just keep coming out and I honestly just want to keep typing forever (Grinning).

Jenni Võ - The story I tell

Over the past 13 years of meeting and writing about countless other businesswomen, what is your take on the current Vietnamese businesswomen generation?

13 years is a long period, though not quite long enough to say anything definite about a generation, but I have recognized a few changes. Vietnamese businesswomen are becoming younger and more confident to “step out into the light”. By saying that, I mean that Vietnamese women have been doing business for a long time, and many generations of seasoned businesswomen and their amazing success are undeniable proof, but the majority of whom, I realized, were focused mainly on their work and rarely enjoyed any publicity. Their outer appearance, as a result, was formal at most, lacking beauty and a little stereotyped, and didn’t say much about their personality. But now things have changed dramtically. Women who work in management and business are becoming more youthful, both in their age and their mindset. The flat world today has opened more opportunities for career training and development, and young women nowadays are also equipped with decent education and knowledge, allowing them to nurture their passion for a remarkable business career at a young age. Even those of the old generation have become more open-minded, not just towards others but also themselves. As a result, every decision, every step they make in business and even their style, beauty and indulgence of life have become more liberal and diverse, and of course they will appear younger, more “up-to-date” and approachable.

Recently however, with start-up becoming a widespread trend, many women seem to be rushing into it after taking some random advice. Do you suppose that with more information available, they should be more selective to find the right way?

As someone working in media, I have to admit that we are flooded with information in this day and age, which sometimes causes us to be overloaded and overwhelmed, and therefore prone to make the wrong decision. This is particularly true in start-up, with a maze of talkshows, training courses, conferences, articles… and a crowd of experts, coaches, mentors… offering consultancy on this subject. Young people who find themselves lost in this sea of information should stay alert and look for reliable and experienced consulting sources who do not only talk the talk but have actually walked the walk. As we often say to each other in banter, it’s not what’s being talked, but who’s talking that matters. A person’s credibitlity, experience, and achievements may somewhat guarantee the authenticity of what they say. A start-up entrepreneur should consider themselves fortunate to receive accurate consultancy from the beginning, for failure would not only devastate them mentally, but also … financially. Therefore, finding a valuable source of information and advice will increase their chances of success while minimizing their risks of failure.

As a businesswoman yourself, how daring do you think women are in this field?

I think that the word “daring” in business should be more clearly defined. If it means daring to take the challenge, to step up to the “big game”, then I believe that when the time comes, all businesswomen in their sharp mind are willing to go in. Fairly speaking, of course, businesswomen may be a little more “prudent” than their male counterpart. Once they’ve achieved a certain level of success, women rarely decide to go for it if the stakes are something of great value to them. I am a challenge-seeker myself who is not afraid to play in the big league, but if “daring” comes to “going all in” and “the winner takes it all”, I do have to make calculations. Oftentimes, a businesswoman has to take into consideration not only themselves, but the whole company and its staff as well as their business partners, those who might be affected by their decision.

Businesswoman is a desirable and respectable title, but what do you think one has to prove to be worthy of that title?

We do not to do anything to prove ourselves as a businesswoman. We just need to act in the way that we feel confident enough to use such a title. A woman who steps into the business field, establishes, or runs a company is already a businesswoman. But to introduce yourself as a businesswoman with confidence, you have to equip yourself with knowledge, skills and relationships, you have to run a business of high standards, professionalism, and repute. The more you accomplish as a business owner, the more confident you are to call yourself a businesswoman.

Jenni Võ - The story I tell

Those who have come to know you see you as a jolly person who always seems to be smilling, but how do you keep up such a frame of mind with all the workload and pressure from your current responsibilities?

They didn’t do anything wrong so why can’t I be happy with them (Grinning). I only become harsh when the situation warrants it, but I never get upset for too long, and most of the time I tend to sympathize with others. At this age and with my experience, having been to many places, met many kinds of people, stumbled upon many failures and witnessed many life stories, I know that no matter how serious things may seem, they soon will pass. What matters is the undying character, wisdom, determination and … the little budget to start over. Then why do we have to put too much pressure on everything?

I’d like to see my life as a leisurely walk. Love, children, family, career, and so on on, they’re all beautiful sceneries that I love to feast my eyes upon and bask my whole self in. They may not seem so beautiful to others, but they are to me, just like some people enjoy sunrise while others prefer sunset. It cannot be explained. These sceneries may not be perfect, gorgeous or glamorou, but they allow me to be myself, to freely wander and find peace within them. Therefore, it doesn’t matter where and when I am, whether working, attending an event, or playing with my son, I always enjoy what I do and keep a smile on my face, and always forgive and forget any displeasure with ease.

I see that you often share beauty tips on your Facebook, is this a kind of passion and a way of letting some steam off for you?

It is indeed, who doesn’t love beauty and seeing themselves becoming more beautiful, right? And so do I. When I see an improvement on my skin after using this skincare cream, or see myself more beautiful in that dress, I feel much better about my life (Grinning). Perhaps that’s why I often smile because that’s when I feel most beautiful! People often tease-calling me the “beauty blogger” among businesswomen, since most beauty bloggers are younger and I maybe the only one in this age range, but I only see myself as an inspirer for beauty. Back when I was studying abroad, I was fascinated by how foreigners made it an effort to dress well and put on make up, and I saw it as a sign of civilization and higher living standard, and life just seemed less difficult. Now the same transformation is taking place in Vietnam, women are becoming more beautiful, looking younger and taking better care of their body and skin, and it makes me happy. Partly because it shows that the society is developing, and everyone can attend to other aspects of life than mere daily necessities, and partly because I am no longer alone, but now have a whole community who also enjoy being beautiful and fashionable. (Grinning)

So as of now, what are your goals in life?

People often say that we will have different goals in life at different ages. In the flower of my youth with a budding career, I strained myself working day and night, not only to earn money, but to build a pride-worthy career. Then when I became a mother, my goals shifted to raising my child to become a person of dignity and competence. And in recent years, with the Covid-19 pandemic sweeping over everyone’s life, I have reconsidered my goals and set out to achieve some new ones, including health, balance, and peacefulness…

It doesn’t matter if we have many or few goals in life, or whether they are solid or changeable, what matters is that we are serious and determined to see it through to the end. The outcome may be a success, and may also be a failure, but as long as you have put your mind and body into it, we will never have to suffer the most uncomfortable feeling in the world – regret.

Thank you for sharing!

Text: TỊNH YÊN, HỒNG ĐẶNG – Photo: THẠC TRƯỜNG GIANG – Translated by HÒA TÔN Graphic Design: TRINH PHẠM  Stylist: THUẬN TỪ  Makeup & Hair: VIỄN DƯƠNG, THY TRẦN – Outfits: SIXDO, PINKO

Read more: