A Rose in the Mountains
Growing up in one of the poorest rural areas in Vietnam, Bui Thi Suu realized early that education was the best way out of poverty and devoted her youth to studying. With her strong will, determination and her good heart, she became the successful woman she is today.
Known to her friends as Rose, the svelte woman with a smile like sunshine is currently the general director of Hoa Binh Co. Ltd., a construction materials trading company with 14 branches in Vietnam. She divides her time between supervising over 250 workers and taking care of her two children. On top of this, she is the chairperson of a women business association in Yen Bai province.
A steep climb ahead
Her journey is an amalgamation of efforts and tears over more than 20 years.
Living in Yen Bai, a mountainous area located far from the capital, Ms. Suu had a difficult childhood. Her seven-member family struggled financially, but she stayed resolute to escape her poverty.
At 15 she was already searching for alternative sources of income. Cultivating land was the normal occupation in her community, but she set out to deviate from the regular path and explored a business idea: she collected different items from her neighbors, and sold them to merchants. She enjoyed the trade especially because she realized that it was benefiting a lot of people. This was the start of her entrepreneurial story and her dream to reach the top wasn’t for herself alone.
She pulled through her university studies in spite of the grueling race to find money for her tuition fees. In the end, she was able to complete her bachelor degree from the National University of Economics. Ms. Suu had become stronger than the mountains she faced.
Ms. Suu values education and shares this creed to everyone she encounters. She recognizes the importance of learning to improve one’s value to society. She consecrates her life to accumulating immaterial wealth – mainly knowledge, which she believes is the best way to improve yourself. For a woman like Ms. Suu, education is the key to earning leadership roles and achieving equality to men.
A woman marching on
It is not easy for a woman to run a business in Vietnam, especially in Yen Bai. Traditional views on submission and male superiority leave women stuck in household chores and constrain them from aiming for greater roles in life such as becoming business leaders.
Ms. Suu tries to change this. She employs her own hiring and promotion process. As a woman herself, she understands the demands of being a wife, a mother, and a daughter. She gives additional leave days to allow female employees to take care of a sick child. In reviewing job applications, she does not look at the gender information and aims to instill a more neutral approach by focusing on one’s qualifications. “Doing something that contrasts with conventional ideas makes me so tired sometimes. Battling questions and rumors even from acquaintances can be exasperating,” she shares.
Emotional and physical fatigue cannot overwhelm Ms. Suu, but she admits that the impact of calamities sometimes can. Natural disasters like heavy storms and ice rains, as well as quarterly droughts are part of the business climate in Yen Bai. “I can manage people, but nature can be more menacing. It isolates cities. It destroys livelihood. It pushes businesses to bankruptcy,” she laments.
Then what makes her stay in Yen Bai?
Giving back to the community
Ms. Suu wants to pay forward, her busy schedule does not keep her from doing charity work and she gives back to the community that helped build her inspiration.
She is a sponsor to nearly 50 disabled children housed in a center that she had renovated for them several years ago. She provides for their meals and their education. What Ms. Suu especially ensured was the availability of infrastructures for learning – there are bright classrooms, and courses like vocational training.
Ms. Ha, the center’s manager, tearily describes Ms. Suu as a warm-hearted businesswoman. She narrates how Ms. Suu and her colleagues at the Yen Bai Women Business Association never fail to send gifts every month to the families that lost their children to wars, and to the poor kids of the Mu Cang Chai ethnic group. Ms. Ha then shows off the beautiful flowers made from papers and wax, an exhibit dedicated to Ms. Suu and her many contributions to the center.
It was Ms. Suu’s aptitude that opened the doors for her success. It is her empathy and kindness that make her thrive. This has allowed many more roses to bloom in the midst of mountains.
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