By Selene Alcock

Minh Nguyen, Country Lead, Vietnam, Allianz Partners, has a decisiveness that belies her charming nature. She says the time is right for leaders like her; those who aren’t afraid to make bold decisions while showing their vulnerable and authentic selves.

I never regret any of my decisions,” Minh Nguyen, Country Lead, Vietnam for Allianz Partners, says. “I need to make decisions as a leader. I know there will be wrong decisions. But we can adjust them after, when more insight or factors come to light. So, if I make a decision, I will be responsible for that. I’ll follow that decision through til the end.”

Second to her decisiveness is her indubitable self-belief, then there’s the enthusiasm to share her life story. She leans in, “Behind every leader and their success, there’s always an interesting story to be told.” Part playful puppy dog, part whippet at the starting gate ready to bolt to the finish line, Minh jumps headlong into her life story.

Apart from Buddha and mentors who showed her “how to be the best underwriter ever” at her first job with AIG, it becomes apparent that Minh’s greatest influence and role model is her own father. She credits him for her courage, perseverance, humility, and love of her home country. Even though Minh works for a US-based multinational and both her mother and sister live in the US, Minh says she will never leave her “forever city,” Ho Chi Minh City.

Minh’s parents’ roots began in Nghe An, a poor province in north-central Vietnam and the birthplace of Ho Chi Minh. When her parents came to HCMC some 43 years ago, her father gave Minh – his firstborn or ‘chị hai’ – the namesake of his revolutionary hero, Ho Chi Minh, in the hope that she too would one day become a great leader.

Until her early 20s, Minh had never been on an airplane. After graduating from the Foreign Trade University, she won a scholarship to study in the UK and traveled to Hanoi to get a visa. “My father took me to visit Uncle Ho in the mausoleum,” she recalls. “He said to me, ‘You know, this is the man who gave you your freedom.”

Minh’s father, not unlike Minh, is a beguiling mix of deeply nationalistic and traditional Vietnamese family values – he still has an Uncle Ho statue in his office – with an open and international entrepreneurial spirit. At just 30, Minh’s father retired from his government job, during the Doi Moi economic reforms, to explore opportunities in infrastructure development and construction in Vietnam’s first true wave of entrepreneurialism.

Minh on her morning bike ride in her “forever city”

“When I was a little kid, he took me along the country to a lot of construction projects such as bridges, hospitals, and resorts,” Minh reminisces. “I gained a lot of experience traveling with him. I remember at that time, trade was very limited. I remember one American apple could be traded for 10kg of rice.”

“I learned how to negotiate and be diplomatic from an early age,” Minh says. She witnessed her father achieve success by building strong relationships with his stakeholders. “Relationships in Vietnam – it’s not about I invite you for one meal and that’s it. It has to be repeated every day, it’s a non- stop investment.”

Hinking, Minh’s favourite sport, helps her to conquer her own mind. Ha Giang Loop, VIetnam.

Minh’s mother impressed upon her the need to “study really hard to get away from poverty” in order to have a better life. She says, “The Vietnamese mother is sometimes seen as a tiger; she controls the kids in a very strong way, but she was also a caring and humble mother.” For years, Minh would wake up at 4 am every day to study and rarely socialized. “I knew my priorities, and I put a lot of investment into my priorities, and I focused on that until I achieved my checklist.”

This checklist is the reason Minh holds the top position at Allianz Partners Vietnam today. But Minh’s role is a delicate balancing act between the globally focused and transparent insurance brand and the more austere and hierarchical Bao Viet – Allianz Partners’s underwriters and Vietnam’s largest insurance company.

As a leading health insurance specialist with 20 years experience, and as Vice Chair of Private Insurance with the AmCham Healthcare Committee, Minh is spearheading big industry changes in Vietnam; notably, as a valued partner to the government in bringing global best practices to the healthcare industry; legal and regulatory changes to new technology adoption with diversified distribution channels as Vietnam embraces digital transformation; fostering sector growth and Vietnam’s medical tourism industry; and lastly, highlighting mental health and wellbeing, both as an active leader of a team and within the industry.

Good health, well-being, “loving yourself” and following the principles of ‘Ikigai’, the Japanese concept of purpose, are key to Minh’s happiness. She loves painting, cooking and meditating, and tested her resolve to conquer one of the mountain peaks in the Karakoram ranges, Himalayas, as well as treks through Son Doong cave and the Ha Giang loop. Highly ambitious, she states, “If you want to be the best version of yourself, you always need to compete with yourself. I will never compete with other people.”

But good health wasn’t always a given for Minh. She recounts, “I almost died. I had a very serious complication when I was about to give birth to my first daughter. I had a pulmonary embolism in the middle of delivery.”

Lack of blood flow meant Minh couldn’t give birth naturally. After performing an emergency C-section, she was operated on and sent to intensive care, where she fell into a coma for two days. At the time, the doctors at Saigon’s Tu Du Hospital didn’t think they could save her; she had a 10% chance of survival.

“I remember saying bye-bye to the world. I remember walking through a very long, dark tunnel and seeing the light. And then I heard the warmth of my father’s voice calling my name. So, I turned back.”

Minh was separated from her daughter, with no other family members allowed access. “I told myself, I must recover quickly to meet my daughter.” Within a miraculous seven days, she was discharged from the hospital as if she’d undergone a standard C-section. She smiles, “That’s why I love my daughters so much, and it’s also why I love and value women so much because we are the birth of creation.”

Although her near-death experience caused trauma, it strengthened her resolve to be a good mother and to be kind to others. “I love people. If I can do anything kind, or if I can help someone, I will.”

As an active advocate for women and diversity and inclusion, she works to drive changes and create platforms to support opportunities for women in the region. Co-founder of the AmCham Women in Leadership Committee, today she serves as co-chair. She says, “Women don’t need to try harder. They just need to have more confidence and know that they are more than qualified to do the job”.

The eternal optimist, Minh dreams “of a day when we don’t need to do a lot about diversity and inclusion, and gender. Where everybody is equal, and where we don’t need to say male or female, Asian or foreigner, or anything. Where maybe we will just say their name.”

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