How I Manage: Louise Hawley, Managing Director, Nielsen Vietnam
Your cutting-edge beverage factory is up and running. Retailers are loving the smart branding and sustainable packaging. Bright young things are managing your marketing campaign. Yet the product is not exactly flying off the shelves and sales are uneven across the country.
What went wrong? We ask Louise Hawley, the Managing Director of Nielsen Vietnam, to take a look at our hypothetical scenario and make an educated guess. A Nielsen veteran of 18 years, Louise worked at the global market research firm’s offices in her native UK, as well as in Germany, Spain and Russia before moving to Vietnam in August 2019.
Presented with our scenario, Louise can think of a gamut of reasons ranging from the improbable (to a layperson) to the obvious. After factoring in Vietnam-specific trends and consumer habits, her guess is that consumers in the north found our fictitious beverage cloying, while in the Mekong Delta it was passed over for tastier (read sugary) sodas. Humbled, we make a call to stop the conveyor belt and go back to the drawing board.
Such nuanced knowledge of the reality on the ground is what Nielsen’s clients have come to expect from the global leader in data-driven market research. Big decisions hinge on data and you could argue that launching a business is as big a decision as it gets. And despite the covid-related economic downturn, Vietnam’s entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well. In the past months, Louise’s team’s insights and expertise have been in high demand with clients looking for clarity and direction amid the turbulence of the global pandemic.
In this interview we ask Louise about her responsibilities, criteria she considers when making a hiring decision and, of course, the role of data.
What does your role as MD with Nielsen Vietnam entail?
Nielsen is a business that works to collect data about what consumers are thinking, feeling, doing and buying and turning this into insights and solutions to help our clients from manufacturers, retailers and service providers to drive progress.
I have the privilege to lead over 1,500 people who work across our six offices and many, many more field locations in Vietnam. I see my role as helping to formulate and share the vision for our organization, in the context of our global strategy as well as what is needed for us here on the ground. It’s about helping people remove obstacles that might be getting in their way, setting them up for success by making sure we have a strong industry voice and good connections with our clients and partners, and that as a business we contribute to making people’s lives better –whether through employment, outreach programs in the community or by helping our clients get products that make people’s lives better to market.
In your 18+ years with Nielsen, you have lived and worked in a number of European countries, as well as in Russia. How does your experience in Vietnam compare?
I know you shouldn't play favorites, but Vietnam has been such an incredible mixture of brilliant experiences on both a personal and professional level. I came here on holiday six years ago and fell in love with the country. Everything that makes it such a great tourist destination – the people, the landscape, the food, the beer – also makes it a very attractive place to live. So when the opportunity came up I said yes without hesitation!
From a work perspective, you look at where growth is coming from. I know it's hard to avoid cliches but it really is a land of opportunity. Here so much is moving so fast, with massive growth from Fintech companies and many startups that have grown out of an understanding of what is needed, and the agility to find solutions. The people are amazing - so smart and adaptable, hard-working, keen to learn and with so much energy! Obviously Vietnam's economy is a massive driver for international companies to look to expand or take advantage of growth here, as well as home-grown companies to consolidate and look to expand beyond Vietnam's borders as well.
How would you describe your management style? Coming to Vietnam, have you had to adapt?
I'm definitely not a micromanager, I want to give people the headspace and the opportunity to do what they are really good at, but I do ask a lot of questions! I started my career as an analyst and I think that doesn't leave you – so I like to use data to form an opinion and then to understand what success looks like so we always check back on outcomes. I also get my energy from other people, which is why working here is so exhilarating, and I love to see people succeed, especially when taking a step out of their comfort zone.
In terms of adapting to Vietnam, it was really important for me to be upfront coming in about what I didn’t know, and ask for help from the experts here who know far more than me. In turn I’ve asked them to be direct with me about what’s working or not and not to sugarcoat anything, and help me navigate the culture and working with people so that I don’t make any mistakes.
What are the qualities you look for in an ideal hire?
You can train a lot, but you can’t train passion, energy and curiosity. You can teach many skills but if you fundamentally care about the job you do and keep asking 'what else? what next?' then what you create and your contribution to your team as well as the broader organization, whatever you learn, will be multiplied many times over. People who go the extra mile, who have the potential to become a role model are the kind of employees we want at Nielsen.
In your time with Nielsen Vietnam, what were some of the achievements you and your team are most proud of?
The last year has been something of a whirlwind. Luckily I took over what was already a great leadership team but coming as I do from outside the market (and outside of Asia) we focused a lot on understanding each person's strengths and how we can work together effectively. I remember during our pre-Tet preparation we were all really excited about what the year would bring as we felt in great shape to be able to grow the business, and were really clear on how we would deliver and how everyone would play their role in this.
The COVID-19 pandemic meant that many of these short-term plans needed to be re-evaluated, but I'm so proud of how every single member of the Nielsen team stood up and helped us find a way forward. We decided to move to working from home for office-based staff quite early on, and that required a huge change for many people, for them as well as everyone in crucial supporting functions. Our operational team was able to continue as usual but only because they found flexible solutions through thinking creatively and really pulling together as one team. In addition I'm really proud of how the engagement of our people actually went up, which is a testament to the great work from all the people managers.
What do you hope to achieve in the next 12 months?
Given that Vietnam is in a rebound situation I want to make sure that our business is in great shape to take advantage of this. The fact that many things have changed means many companies are coming to us to ask what still holds true in their thinking and what needs to be adjusted. I want to make sure we are able to grab this opportunity with both hands.
I also want to ensure that Vietnam gets a raised profile from within our global business in terms of highlighting the talent, creativity and innovation that people display here.
Finally I’m looking forward to spending some quality holiday time, probably on one of the many beautiful beaches in Vietnam, as well as doubling down on my Vietnamese lessons – now that’s a challenge, if ever there was one!