Sylvia Nguyen: Modernizing Vietnam's Hospitality Vision
As we continue to search for the thought leaders of the new Vietnam, the team at Vietcetera tracked down the elusive road-warrior Nguyen Ngoc My, also known as Sylvia Nguyen.
After making the Forbes 30 Under 30 People to Watch list, Sylvia is back in Vietnam after several years abroad. She’s already hitting the ground running on new initiatives that we’re able to share.
Focused on building the family real estate, manufacturing, and investment business at Vietnam-based Alphanam Group, Sylvia has begun to dip her toes into hospitality and writing.
We sit down with Sylvia to learn about her goals over the next few years and her perspective as a Vietnamese woman who has lived most of her young adult life overseas.
You’re involved in a lot of different projects. What’s your favorite?
Choosing a favorite is difficult as they all inspire different feelings and emotions.
Each project has the potential to change the way of life for a lot of people.
One of the current projects that’s going to put Vietnam on the world tourism map is Sapa. However, if you would ask me which one I am looking forward to most personally, then it would be the serviced-apartments & hotel project in Da Nang. I’ll be moving there next year due to the hands-on nature of hospitality. The tower, with views of the sea and the city, will be a great step in the new direction of Alphanam.
The prospect of working from a new city, building a new team, and walking on the beach after work is really exciting! The next project will also be in Da Nang and people from the company are already calling it the poster project for the city. The project is centrally located, meaning we’re taking great care in delivering a design and presence that will influence the Da Nang skyline for many years to come.
Why is hospitality so important to you?
When you come to Vietnam it’s easy to forget that the country has consistently been in conflict for the past two centuries. Work ethic and a need for good service are what is going to make this country excel further and faster than neighbouring countries. All the country needs is a bit of guidance and the Vietnamese themselves will do the rest.
Think of “Banh Mi” for example. Whenever you order a Banh Mi from a roadside vendor, what you will remember is not how great the baguette tasted, but the smile the vendor had when he or she handed you the baguette. The fact that it tasted great is a nice addition. In that one moment you see the dedication of the Vietnamese people, doing something simple with great care. This leaves a lasting impression that will make you not want to leave.
People tend to make a comparison between Thailand and Vietnam. It’s often said that Vietnam is at least 5 years behind in terms of service. The difference in experience might be accurate, but Vietnam is currently board on a bullet train to hospitality excellence, given its unique charm and abundance of resources.
Alphanam’s mission has always been to offer a Vietnamese product of international quality.
Aside from the business side, what are some social impact projects that you’re passionate about?
In terms of corporate social responsibility, I’m excited to be launching the Alphanam Foundation. Its focus will be to lead environmental initiatives in each province that we’re operating in. Our goal is to make cities greener, cleaner and more beautiful. We’re also working in collaboration with local youth groups.
For the past decade, I realized that my life’s calling is to create better lives for girls and women in Vietnam. I’m particularly interested in women’s health. I believe that early awareness and education can help girls understand more about their power and potential. It can help them make better choices if they believe themselves to be worth more than society tells them to be, especially in the rural areas.
I’d like to help create programs that address gender violence and inequality throughout Vietnam. Programs that teach principles like body-ownership and the different choices in life that young women can make.
Thank you for your sharing your story and perspective! Now onto some lighter, fun questions.
What restaurants and cafes can someone spot you in Hanoi?
In the evening, you can find me at Angelina in the Hotel Metropole. In the afternoon, I can always depend on Cafe Runam to deliver the coffee, food, and ambiance. I’m happy they’ve also recently opened in Da Nang.
What’s an ideal date night in Vietnam for you?
I had to give this some serious thought. The first thing that came to mind was somewhere so quiet in the countryside that you can’t hear any sounds and no one can find me. Wherever this would be, it has to have good connection with Netflix.
What are some nice-to-knows about you?
- I move from one extreme to another. One year I’ll go deeply into studying how to make cocktails. The next year, I’ll stop drinking. One year I’ll study fashion design. The next year, I’ll completely abandon trends.
- I’m always on the road and writing. Six months out of the year, I’m not in Hanoi. When I need the space to write and think, you can find me at a great hotel bar with legendary cocktails, like the Park Hyatt Tokyo. I get my best inspiration from looking at the skylines of the world’s biggest cities. It’s strange and exciting to envision how Vietnam’s skyline will change over the years.
- I’m short-sighted. I never smile and say hi from far away. I’m half-blind without my glasses. When I go to events, I don’t wear glasses. Often I won’t recognize people that aren’t already in front of me. You’ll find me most comfortable in smaller settings.
What are you writing about?
I’m preparing to write a novel about understanding the world dynamics from Europe to Asia. This topic triggered my curiosity after I spent a year living in London, being exposed to more Old World concepts. Today, Asian are defining the art and fashion trade. More than 80% of all luxury goods sold in the world are being purchased by Asians. I want to explain the Old World to New World and “old money to new money” shift using personal stories and real characters.
It’s fascinating to see the changing world order unfold. It’s incredible to see how fast a country can move forward.
What are your favorite travel destinations in Vietnam?
My answer changes throughout the year, due to Vietnam’s many seasons and climates. Most of the time, I would say Hanoi, because I love being a tourist in my own city.
For the summer time, I would escape to Da Nang. Da Nang has great food, is not so touristy, has friendly people, and is host to plenty of sights around to keep me entertained. That combined with an all year round great climate makes for a great combination. Day trips to Hoi An also never ceases to give me inspiration and serenity. The small town is called the Venice of Vietnam for a reason!
Who should I talk to next?
Minh Beta. He’s doing everything he is passionate about. He executes his vision when he says it.
He grew up in Vietnam in 1983, when the country was still on food stamps. Food was a pleasure and pain at the same time. He’s now working in the food industry to develop new concepts. I really admire his work!
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