The movie Crazy Rich Asians released to a frenzy of buzz not only about Asian representation but also, about the wealth and opulent lifestyles on full display. The cars, the fashion choices rivaling those in The Devil Wears Prada and of course, the ring! Clearly, the world has a voracious appetite for fantasies of billionaire bling. And as home to the world's highest number of billionaires, Asia is fueling a lot of this fascination.
Of course, stereotypes can reflect a slice of reality. But as a second-generation business owner from Vietnam, where my parents built our family's company Tan Hiep Phat from a mom-and-pop yeast business that my father ran in the 1970s out of a tiny room at home into Vietnam's largest privately-owned beverage company that turned down a $2.5 billion buyout offer from Coca-Cola, I know that there is another side to the story. One that holds priceless lessons for anyone aspiring to achieve and maintain large-scale success.
That is the far less glamorous but infinitely more important aspect of hard work, dedication, sacrifice and, especially, rigorous values that it takes to achieve and sustain wealth. This has been the story for many of Asia's wealthy individuals and families who have risen from humble origins and grueling socio-economic conditions. (Chinese billionaire Zhou Qunfei, head of Lens Technology, a former factory worker who often works 18-hour days and “keeps living quarters in her office," is just one example.)
As I discuss in my new book, Competing With Giants, how my own family founded its business and ultimately built its fortune against a devastating backdrop of war, crippling trade sanctions and record hyperinflation. In the face of deprivation my father learned not only to be innovative but to always stay humble and grounded. This has provided the foundation for our company's and our family's culture of hard work.
The long-term viability of THP is directly tied to my family's values and worth ethic. This ethic is driven not by dreams of grandeur and glamour, but by a set of principles and core values that are light years away from those brandished in Crazy Rich Asians.
It is these principles that have made our success a reality and keep it real so that it remains sustainable. If you are an entrepreneur or an aspiring entrepreneur, adhering to these principles will increase your chances of reaching your business goals:
View wealth-building as a journey, not an objective
Always remember that the real value of money is the path one takes to achieve it. It is not an end in and of itself. For entrepreneurs, this means mapping out a clear vision for the company that aligns with its core identity and establishing granular business plans that project into the future - even as far as 10 years out. My family's company, THP, has a vision to expand throughout Asia and beyond with new and exciting brands. Next, commit to the plans, modifying as needed in response to external changes while resisting the temptation to get diverted by promises of sudden, short-term gains if these do not align with the company's fundamental goals. This was my family's mindset when turning down Coca-Cola's $2.5 billion buyout offer in 2012.
Strive for results, not personal riches
Personal riches come and go. That's why results and growth that endure over time must be the primary goal of any entrepreneur. But results are not just about numbers. They encompass a broad range of areas such as the success of strategic partnerships, the strength of relationships with suppliers, the quality and efficiency of production methods and employee satisfaction. Focus on designing and Implementing systems to list, track and monitor all areas of activity, from sales and operations to employee and client relations, and on analyzing the data day-to-day rather than on counting cash. Material wealth may well follow, but the satisfaction of seeing results is far more real.
Never take success for granted
Having riches today does not mean we are entitled or guaranteed to have them forever. There are two things I believe can help entrepreneurs stay grounded in this reality. First, maintaining a humble lifestyle - quite the opposite of the lifestyle presented in Crazy Rich Asians. My own family lives in an apartment above one of our factories.
When traveling, we often take Ubers and stay in AirBnBs. The second is to take action each day to achieve your goals. This means taking chances and always learning from both your successes and your failures--which are inevitable and should be embraced as a source for valuable lessons. The more chances you take, the more opportunities you will ultimately uncover.
Know your values and put them first
Integrity is priceless, and will carry you much farther than the promise of “big shiny objects." When Coca-Cola offered to purchase THP in 2012, the conditions clashed with our vision for the company. We rejected the offer, walking away from a $2.5 billion payday. If the deal had gone ahead, it would have been the largest-ever foreign acquisition in Vietnam's history by deal value. It still would be the second largest today. But it was far more important for us to uphold our values and respect what our company stands for. Values should be the ultimate foundation of entrepreneurial decision-making.
Understanding and upholding your company's values is essential to its long-term viability. THP rigorously adheres to and is guided by a set of 7 core values, including; customer satisfaction, responsibility to the community and society, the spirit of business ownership and believing that nothing is impossible. We have no regrets about passing on the Coca-Cola opportunity: time has proven us right.
Serve your customers diligently, even in challenging times
Owning a company means, above all, serving the customers who depend on you to provide reliable, enjoyable brands that are delivered on time. Every interaction with them matters, no matter how small or big. When problems or challenges arise, it is incumbent on you, the business leader, to rise to the occasion and find a way to meet your customer's needs. Very often, this will mean putting your own needs last. For many people, staying humble and grounded becomes ever more difficult as success grows. They start to believe their own hype, a breeding ground for arrogance and the kind of hubris that leads to mistakes. So keep dreaming big. But as you do, keep your focus and your aspirations in the right place.
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.