Hyundai Glovis set up its very first Southeast Asia corporation in Vietnam. As a country showing rapid economic growth, Vietnam is becoming a bridgehead for Hyundai Glovis as it expands into the global market. This article looks at Hyundai Glovis Vietnam through the eyes of Gu Ja-won who is in charge of the Ho Chi Minh branch and is working steadfastly even today in an unfamiliar but promising country.
Responsibilities and Pride as General Manager in Vietnam
Q. Please introduce yourself.
Hello, my name is Gu Ja-won and I’m the general manager at the Ho Chi Minh office in Vietnam.
Q. What are your responsibilities at the Ho Chi Minh branch?
Hyundai Glovis first started business in Vietnam through a joint venture with the Hyundai Motor Company in 2017, and we have continued this venture for five years now. I have been working in Vietnam for two years and eight months now. I was in Hanoi for the first six months, and I now work at the Ho Chi Minh branch which is in the center of the city in District 1. I not only manage the branch but also oversee global forwarding sales and operations in Ho Chi Minh City and southern Vietnam. I also drive forward new businesses and look for strategic partners for the continued growth of the company.
Q. What have been the major issues for Hyundai Glovis Vietnam recently?
I think the biggest news is that we can now go back and forth from Korea without having to self-quarantine. I couldn’t visit Korea because of Vietnam’s strict quarantine measures and entry restrictions. In fact, I haven’t been back to Korea for over two years now, so I’d like to go back as soon as possible and see my relatives who I miss very much, as well as my colleagues at the company. The company moved the head office since the last time I was there, so I’m a little worried whether I will be able to find the new location without much trouble.
Q. Are there any points of concern and rewards to working at an overseas office?
Since I’m representing Hyundai Glovis in Ho Chi Minh, I tend to be more careful with my words and actions. I also feel proud working here. As our business expands, it is most rewarding when I see our company name gaining greater recognition and awareness both in the market and among the locals. Since our Ho Chi Minh office is a new branch established just two years ago, Vietnamese people working at local logistics companies did not readily know Hyundai Glovis when I first met them. I had to emphasize and repeat “Hyundai! Hyundai!” and only then would they respond by saying “Ah, Hyundai!” However, with the significant growth of Hyundai Glovis Vietnam and the branch offices, along with the expansion of our businesses, more and more people are coming to realize what a tremendous company we are. As a Hyundai Glovis manager, I feel proud that I can contribute to promoting our company name, even in small ways. It is also a great joy of mine to see my colleagues, who have worked at the branch since the very beginning, develop a sense of loyalty for the company and take pride in their work.
Q. Have you experienced any changes in yourself before and after coming to work in Vietnam?
When I was working at the headquarters in Korea, it was not easy to appreciate the accomplishments of the company since I was mostly working within the boundaries of the head office. But now that I have been working overseas, I’ve witnessed many achievements that Hyundai Glovis pulled off that other companies couldn’t even though they have been here longer. I can see and perceive more clearly the businesses and capabilities that are possible for us as Korea’s leading logistics company. As a result, I feel greater affection and pride in the Hyundai Glovis name.
Working from the position of overseeing the whole branch, I have also been able to observe the overall areas of branch business and management such as performance and expenses, staff and office management, and the practical sides such as sales and operations. Through all of this, I realized that the role of a manager is never an easy job, and I keep reminding myself that I need to follow in the footsteps of my leaders and become a manager in whom the staff can trust and take pride.
Q. What is a typical day at the office like?
It’s not that different from any other office worker. My typical day would involve holding a meeting with headquarters if an issue arises, meeting and consulting with shipping and partner companies, and going out for sales calls with customers whenever I can. Unlike Korea, in Vietnam people prefer to meet and talk in person, so instead of making phone calls and sending emails I often have to step out of the office to meet and consult in person. Since most of our clients are located in industrial complexes that are about one to three hours away, I often see myself traveling around the southern regions of Vietnam. These are probably the only real differences. Also, to me, the greatest difference is that when we have a busy day in Korea, we eat gimbap and ramyeon, but in Vietnam, it is rice noodles.
“Watching the growth of Hyundai Glovis Vietnam and the branch office is rewarding, and I feel proud working as overseas staff! My affection for my company is growing even stronger.”
Balancing Work and Life Overseas
Q. What was your first impression of Vietnam?
While Hanoi has four distinct seasons, it frequently gets foggy, so my first impression was that it was a “grey city.” It also felt very unfamiliar because of all the Communist Party promotions and red signboards seen all over the streets. In contrast, Ho Chi Minh City to me was a more developed, livelier, sunnier city.
Q. What are the cultural differences you experienced while living here?
Vietnam has a culture that places great importance on afternoon naps. So, during lunchtime, I see local employees laying futons and quilts on the floor to take a nap. At first, I was rather surprised at the scene, but now I enjoy seeing their beddings that come in all sorts of colors. Also, Vietnamese people love to eat rice noodles. They enjoy rice noodles not only in soup, but also mix them with seasoning, fry them, roll them, and wrap them with vegetables. I think people have them for lunch during most of the week. The noodle culture here is so prevalent here that it sometimes makes me wonder how they never get tired of eating them
Finally, in Vietnam, all food ingredients are sold unprocessed to emphasize that they are fresh and whole. So, at the supermarket, chickens are sold in one piece from head to toe, and you can even see some unplucked feathers left over. When I first came here, I bought a fresh chicken because I wanted to make samgyetang and had the shock of my life. Now I don’t even think of cooking it at home.
Q. What are the pros and cons of working overseas?
The good thing is that I can experience diverse cultures, and also feel a sense of accomplishment as I start a new business and watch it grow in a place where we previously had no foundation. Also, since I’m living in a tropical country, my body is full of vitamin D because I’m exposed to plenty of sunlight. The hard part is the constant worrying about getting sick. Since Vietnam is still lacking in medical technology and facilities, my biggest concern is about my family becoming ill.
Also, I haven’t been able to visit Korea for more than two years due to the prolonged COVID situation, and this has made it more difficult for me because I miss my extended family. The other day, I had a long-awaited video call with my parents, and I felt sad for a while because I felt like they had become so much older during the time that I haven’t been able to meet them. But now that the quarantine requirements have been lifted, I’m looking forward to seeing them soon.
Q. What else have you learned about Vietnam since coming here?
Since coming here I’ve realized how friendly and cheerful Vietnamese people are. I love how they approach strangers and foreigners first and kindly help out when needed. They also call you “brother” after sharing a few drinks and even bring you food during the holidays. Personally, I like their strong drinking culture. Of course, there is the “test” of surviving until the end of the drinking party to show that you are strong enough to be their “brother.”
On the other hand, they have such a strong sense of pride so much so that they rarely apologize. This felt very strange to me. From something trivial like bumping into each other on the street to work-related issues, they hardly ever apologize. Even when there’s a car accident, they would rather just pat each other on the shoulder, shake hands, and leave instead of arguing and blaming each other. This is because apologizing is seen as a sign of acknowledging that it is all your fault and that you will take responsibility for it. Thus, I take care not to hurt their pride. If one of my staff makes a major mistake during work, I call them privately and quietly assess the situation.
Q. How do you spend your weekends?
Since Vietnam has a six-day work week, we go to the office on Saturday mornings just like on weekdays. After that, I usually go shopping or visit nice restaurants with my family. The biggest difference from Korea would be that since it is summer weather all year in Ho Chi Minh, people often spend the weekends swimming. I also spend about an hour or two every week swimming with my kids. I’m not a good swimmer though, so while it is fun it can also be exhausting.
Q. What restaurants or parks do you frequent here in Vietnam?
The place that I visit frequently is a Japanese street called Retanton. Every alley is filled with so many Japanese restaurants and pubs that sometimes it feels that you’re actually in Japan rather than Vietnam. When I go there occasionally for a glass of cold draft beer with simple skewered food after work, it washes away all the fatigue of the day. I also enjoy going to a Korean restaurant called Pig House that specializes in grilled pork rinds. This is the go-to place when I need something that can only be satisfied with soju—a taste that can’t be replaced by beer, the local alcoholic beverage of choice here. Imagine washing down a well-grilled pork rind covered in bean powder with a gulp of soju! I think we all know the feeling well enough that it needs no explanation.
“Vietnamese culture and food, which are vastly different from Korea’s, felt unfamiliar at first but I’m adapting and discovering the little pleasures of everyday life in Vietnam with my family.”
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