How Chairman Trần Hùng Huy Breaks Down ESG To A 5-Year-Old | Vietcetera
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Dec 22, 2023

How Chairman Trần Hùng Huy Breaks Down ESG To A 5-Year-Old

Why is ESG seen as the solution for future challenges?
How Chairman Trần Hùng Huy Breaks Down ESG To A 5-Year-Old

Source: Khooa Nguyen for Vietcetera

This is a special edition of “Have a Sip.” After over 150 episodes, host Thuỳ Minh’s long-held idea has come true - an episode called "Have a Ship," inspired by how many Vietnamese listeners say the word “sip.”

Uniquely, this episode happens by the riverbank. Sometimes, you might hear boats passing or see the frame slightly move because of the waves. The crew jokingly agreed that this was really a ‘Have a Ship’ episode. Adding to its uniqueness is the guest; this time, “Have a Sip” had the chance to talk with ACB Chairman Trần Hùng Huy. Interestingly, the chairman also got to the filming location by boat.

The setting of Have a Sip took place by the riverbank. | Source: Khooa Nguyen for Vietcetera.

Speaking of Chairman Trần Hùng Huy, many may remember his impressive performance at the 30th-anniversary celebration of ACB. However, when asked about it, the chairman admitted that he's introverted in real life and is the least skilled dancer among the leadership team.

The performance was actually a role-reversal. Usually, employees might take part in artistic shows, but this time, as the ‘captain,’ the chairman wanted to personally thank the generations who contributed to ACB.

Everyone guides their own life ship, but in a leadership role, that ship isn't just oneself but also the collective members of the entire organization. So, what are ‘Captain’ Trần Hùng Huy's thoughts on the ‘ship’ of ACB?

Leading is like guiding a ship

If we consider ACB a ship, what’s the most important thing for its captain?

It’s key to know what you want and your company’s values. It's also good to realize that you’re not always the best at everything. At ACB, I’m proud to have team members who aren’t afraid to tell me they’re better than me at certain things. This helps me, as the person steering the ship, to make sure we’re going in the right direction.

Between the ship’s direction and destination, which is more important to you?

The direction we’re going and where we end up are both important, but if I had to choose, I’d say the direction is more crucial. If you think about life, everyone’s final stop is death, and that’s not very exciting. So, what really matters is the journey itself.

In business, the end goal can change. For instance, if our business goal for five years is reached in just 3, our end goal will naturally shift. But no matter how the goals change, it's important to keep moving in the right direction and not get lost.

“If you ask me which is more important, the direction we’re headed or the destination, I’d say it’s the direction.” | Source: Khooa Nguyen for Vietcetera.

How do you know you’re heading in the right direction?

By paying attention to feedback. It’s easier to tell when you’re going off track because there’s always someone pointing it out.

I use a lot of everyday skills in running a business. Like how I listen to my family and friends to keep my life on track, I do the same at work. My colleagues, no matter their position, give me feedback that helps guide the business in the direction I want it to go.

When you get feedback, how do you know if you're going off track or if your idea is just really new?

Understanding your own and your company's core values helps you figure out which feedback is helpful and which is just resistance to change. Change always faces some pushback at first.

A decade ago, ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) seemed like a far-off idea, and even ACB's big investors didn’t align with it. I knew convincing them and proving ESG's worth would take time. This isn’t a short-term project; it’s about planning for 10, 20, 30 years into the future, even longer.

ESG – Planning for Future Challenges

How would you explain ESG to a 5-year-old?

In simple terms, ESG means making sure that when you grow up, everything will still be there for you to enjoy. It's about taking care of the future, not just the present.

ESG has three parts: Environmental, Social, and Governance. The “Governance” part makes sure a company stays on the right path. “Social” isn't just about welfare and charity; it also includes taking care of employees and promoting gender equality at work. The “Environmental” part focuses on how a business affects the environment and natural resources.

Why is ESG important right now?

To be honest, we’re already a bit late. In developed countries, they’ve moved past ESG to focus heavily on Environmental concerns. The Social and Governance aspects are now basic expectations, and companies are challenged to go beyond the norm.

Even though we’re catching up with the global trend, ESG remains a relevant and practical concept for businesses in developing markets like Vietnam.

What was it like implementing ESG at ACB with thousands of employees?

It was a mix of being firm and sometimes having to enforce changes. Switching from plastic to paper cups and getting rid of plastic bottles for guests increased our costs. This was a big investment, and there was some resistance. People questioned the efficiency of such investments since businesses typically prioritize efficiency (a key value at ACB).

But efficiency has different time frames: short, medium, and long-term. I had to explain how our actions would eventually pay off. It’s all part of the journey.

“In implementing ESG, I faced quite a bit of disagreement.” | Source: Khooa Nguyen for Vietcetera

What's something in this process that even you, as the chairman, struggle with?

In the company, I can use my authority to encourage changes, but at home, I sometimes still see family members using plastic bags for grocery shopping. This challenges me – if I can't convince my own family, how can I expect to influence the mindset of thousands of employees whose lives are not confined to just the office environment?

This situation can be somewhat discouraging, but I’m committed to working with my team to overcome these hurdles.

What motivated ACB to adopt ESG?

I envision ACB as an enduring enterprise, not just for the next 5-10 years, but for centuries. I've observed banks worldwide that have lasted for hundreds of years. For such longevity, focusing on the environment is crucial, and I aim to be a part of the solution rather than a contributor to the problem.

Why do you see ESG as the solution?

I believe there's a solution to every problem. What's important is whether it’s the solution you prefer. Rather than accepting solutions imposed by others, it’s better to be proactive and seek out solutions that align with our values and goals.

To reach the destination, we must start, even if from zero

How can you resolve the paradox between economic efficiency and environmental protection?

There is beauty in this paradox, and it lies in the power of choice. In the banking sector, we have the advantage of choice. Do we want to fund projects that negatively impact the environment, or do we want to support businesses that make a positive impact?

"There is beauty in the paradox, and it is in our power to choose." | Source: Khooa Nguyen for Vietcetera

In business, profit is always a priority, but there's a balance to it, and that's a core value at ACB. Profit isn't just about money but also the value it brings to the community and society. If a bank funds a project with a positive environmental image, it benefits.

After the internal campaign to collect 45 tons of trash for ACB’s 30th anniversary, have you noticed any changes?

It’s not just about the 45 tons. To commemorate our 30th anniversary, we also set a goal to collect 300 tons of trash over three years (by 2025). The 45 tons was just the target for 2023.

For an ACB employee, the most meaningful gift isn't recognition but what each individual contributes to the future. That's why I initiated the 300-ton trash collection activity.

The impact of 300 tons of trash on the environment is indeed very small, almost negligible. However, I recognize that even starting from zero is crucial because if we don't begin, we'll never reach our destination.

With 49% female leadership at ACB, a significant figure that shows ACB’s diversity, do you find being the captain challenging?

I am very proud of this because 49% is a high number not only in Vietnam but also globally. Gender equality has been part of ACB's culture since its early days, and I feel fortunate to have inherited this from previous generations. As a successor, this has come naturally to me, giving me space to develop it further.

“With ACB's diversity, do you find being the captain challenging?” | Source: Khooa Nguyen for Vietcetera.

I don't measure by numbers like 49% or 50% because that would be imposing a certain expectation. Instead, I let equality happen naturally and have policies to encourage it as a strength of the business. Having a mother who was adept at both public and domestic affairs, I’ve observed that women can excel, sometimes even outperforming men, in an open and encouraging environment.

In your view, what is the ultimate goal of ESG?

Though I initially emphasized the journey over the destination, the destination is indeed critical when it comes to environmental matters. Failing to reach our environmental goals can have severe consequences for individuals, businesses, nations, and humanity as a whole.

At the COP26 climate summit, Vietnam pledged to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. With this goal in mind, defining a clear path to achieve it is essential.

What should young people feel and do about this objective?

Young people should see this as their right. The Earth will undergo significant changes in the next 50, 70, or even 100 years. Therefore, they need to assert this right and take immediate action. This begins with small steps, like altering personal behaviors and impacting those around them.

When do you think it's time for you to no longer be the captain?

It's like wearing an outfit that no longer fits. If it becomes too loose, it's time to take it off. Similarly, if I find that the business has grown beyond my capabilities, it's time for me to step down and let someone more capable lead.