After 17 years in America, Worldwide Dental & Cosmetic Surgery Hospital CEO Amy Tran returned home to Vietnam to take the helm of her parents’ established medical business. During her time abroad, she received her bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance and went on to thrive at Deloitte in San Francisco, a ten year tenure that saw her leaving as a senior manager.
Vietcetera recently sat down with Amy to discuss her experiences working in two different countries and the fundamental lessons that have guided her career.
You’ve lived abroad for quite some time. Was there anything that surprised you when you finally came back to Vietnam? What are some recent changes you’ve noticed?
It was not that surprising to me, because even though I lived abroad for 17 years, I come home every year to visit my parents. Every year, I see Saigon change for the better.
I think all the new buildings and apartments are amazing. There are a lot more food businesses. There are venture capital groups, which is great because back in the day, we didn’t have that here. Before, if you wanted to start a business, you’d have to go borrow from your friends or your family. But now, you can actually get funding from experienced investors, who can also give you advice on how to run a company.
When you started working in the U.S., were there any barriers or difficulties that you had to overcome?
From my experience, Silicon Valley has been the best place for women and minorities. Silicon Valley is full of diversity and people are generally open minded. With that said, there were still plenty of challenges.
The first one is, like anywhere else in the world, sexism and racism. Most C-level executives are older white men, and they prefer to work with other older white men — or at least white, or at least male. It’s hard for an Asian woman like myself to find a connection with them. Also, I, like other women, were not invited to some of the networking events, especially golfing with ‘the guys’, which was where you got to know them at a more personal level.
Aside from that, cultural differences are definitely a challenge. Since I’m not from the U.S., there were inside jokes or slang I hardly understood. There were games that I didn’t know, like baseball or hockey, which were great events for networking.
However, those challenges only inspired me to work harder. I was willing to work long hours and take on hard projects. I read the news everyday, learned how to play golf, and showed up at networking events. I watched how bosses behaved and talked to each other and picked out certain traits that I like.
If I got passed over for something, I learned to not blame this on the fact that I’m a Vietnamese woman working in the corporate world in America. Instead, I focused my energy on figuring out what I needed to improve to get it next time.
What’s a core value that you uphold throughout your career as a businesswoman?
I don’t lose myself.
There are so many people that would give you so many different advice, and it’s easy to get confused and lose yourself to try to fit into “the model”. I do not mean that you should ignore all the advice, it’s always good to try to be better, but I do think you should carefully choose what’s suitable for you.
From time to time, I was told that I “act” young, that I should act and dress like a senior manager, that I shouldn’t be easygoing with my staff. I took this advice into account to improve myself, but I would never try to change my core.
As much as I try to dress the part for important events, normally I would dress casually so I can be comfortable for a 12+ hour working session. I would hang out and be really friendly to my staff.
I might not “act” like a senior manager, but at the end of the day my team loves me for it. They feel like they can always come to me, express their opinions and rely on me. Because of who I am, my team is loyal to me, and they would work really hard for me.
You’ve had a very steady work history, considering your time at Deloitte. People seem to be swapping jobs faster than ever before. What’s your opinion on job-hopping?
Personally, I’m not for it, as you can tell from my work history. For me, loyalty is very important. Generally, I would not like to work with someone who has a new job every year.
I can understand why many young people prefer job-hopping. Some expect a higher salary or a better working environment, while some try to run away from obstacles at their current job.
I think everyone should make their own decision. But if I can give them some advice, I would tell them that there is rarely a job out there that can fulfill all of their dreams. There are pros and cons to almost every job. And even good jobs have ups and downs along the way.
If job-hopping helps you grow in a meaningful way, then sure, do it. But if it doesn’t, then I think a better, more sustainable solution would be to stay in your current job, overcome the obstacles, and learn from your colleagues. Once you learn how to acknowledge the good aspects of a job and learn from the bad ones, you’re very likely to feel happy and satisfied.
Professionally, what do you think young Vietnamese can learn from Americans?
After working here for 9 months, I realized that Vietnamese people are not very open to criticism. Whenever I give my staff negative feedback, they either get upset, or they’re stressed because they think they’re going to lose their job. Sometimes they don’t think that they’re wrong, but they don’t let me know, leaving me thinking they already understood my comments.
It’s absolutely important to handle negative feedback well. That’s how you get better at whatever you do.
At Deloitte, every week, we had one-on-one meetings with either our staff or our boss to talk about progress, the good, the bad, and how you were feeling. We discussed openly about what we had done well and where we could improve. And afterwards, we went back to work — no hard feelings.
How about what Americans can learn from Vietnamese people?
One thing that I think American people can learn from the Vietnamese is to be more caring and genuine. To me Americans are friendly and easy-going, but people don’t often truly look after one another. They wouldn’t come up to you asking, “Why are you sad today? What’s going on with your life?”
I was really surprised when I came back and worked for my parents at Worldwide Hospital. All the nurses and doctors care so much for each other and for the customers. I didn’t feel like they were just trying to do their job but they genuinely care about the customers. It does take some time for a Vietnamese to open up to you, but once they do, they would do whatever it takes to help you.
If you could give advice to women in the early stage of their lives and careers, what would it be?
I would come back to my core value and say, don’t try to change yourself completely just to be successful. Consider people’s advice but don’t be extreme with it. Focus on what’s really important to you. Ask yourself, “If I do this, will it make me happy in the long run?” If changing something makes you unhappy, then even though it will help you succeed in the short term, it’s not sustainable.
Another thing I would say is, when something doesn’t go right, don’t blame it on anything. When some of my female colleagues didn’t get a promotion, they immediately thought, “Well, of course, that person’s white, tall and male. He’ll be picked over me.”
For a lot of people, it’s easier to blame it on external factors than to step back and ask themselves, what is the other person doing that I’m not doing. I think a more effective strategy is just analyze what skills that person has that you don’t. Try to learn from that and improve yourself.
Sometimes, the bias could be true. If that’s the case, then your boss truly doesn’t see your value and it’s time to move on.