Divorce of Vietnam's coffee royalty gives rise to a new 'king'
The most read Vietnamese newspaper Edition: International | Vietnamese Home News Debate Perspectives Business Economy Finance DataSpeaks Travel & Life Food Culture & Arts Travel Whatâs On Video Business Travel & Life News World Contact Us Â© Copyright 1997 VnExpress.net. All rights reserved. Business Divorce of Vietnamâs coffee royalty gives rise to a new âkingâ By Lam Le, Nguyen Nguyen  April 15, 2018 | 08:00 pm GMT+7 Coffee beans in the palm of a person. Photo by Reuters
With the multi-million-dollar Trung Nguyen divorce unresolved, the fate of Vietnamâs âKing of Coffeeâ has taken an unexpected turn.
Social media was abuzz in early April when the estranged wife of Vietnamâs 'Coffee King' spoke to the press for the first time about their lengthy divorce.
Before the relationship took an ugly turn in 2015, Dang Le Nguyen Vu, founder and chairman of Trung Nguyen, had the country and international media in awe as his coffee brand became a household name and subsequently conquered 60 international markets.
Little did the public know about Vuâs wife, Le Hoang Diep Thao, who stayed out of the limelight as she ran the company as its deputy director and minority shareholder, until Vu ou sted her in 2015.
What ensued has become a costly legal battle over Trung Nguyen Groupâs ownership, and with charter capital of VND1.5 trillion ($65.85 million), each side is accusing the other of obstructing the companyâs operations.
A shot of Dang Le Nguyen Vu, CEO of Trung Nguyen Coffee. Photo courtesy of Dang Le Nguyen Vu's official Facebook fanpage
The rise of Vu and Trung Nguyen Coffee
Vuâs was a classic âfrom zero to heroâ story, Forbes quoted economist Nguyen Viet Khoi as saying in its 2012 feature, which first dubbed him Vietnamâs 'Coffee King'. All Vu had when he start ed the company in 1996 was a bicycle and a strong will, which 20 years later transformed into a company that earned $260 million in revenue, according to Forbes.
But the Coffee Kingâs influence went beyond his entrepreneurial feats. Vu was represented by Vietnamese media as a source of national pride, argued Dr Nguyen Thu Giang in her essay Personal Wealth, National Pride published by Palgrave Macmillan, where she analyzed how national television show Contemporaries showcased Vu and many other entrepreneurs as nationalist businesspeople.
According to Giang, Vuâs background of childhood poverty was shared by many viewers, thus allowing them to see a part of themselves in Vu, particularly when he stressed the importance of daring to dream big and trusting oneâs creative ideas to overcome difficult situations.
Coincidentally, or not, Trung Nguyenâs slogan is âExplore Creative Inspirationâ, while inspirational quotes and i mages of famous people, from French novelist Honore de Balzac to Vietnamese beauty queen turned businesswoman Mai Phuong Thuy, grace the walls of its signatory cafes.
Trung Nguyenâs success internationally was also promoted by the media as the personification of a âViet Dreamâ and an inspiration to other Vietnamese in a country that remained largely insecure as it opened up to the world, Giang added.
Battle of the kings?
As Vietnamâs coffee royalty continues to battle over Trung Nguyenâs ownership, Vu has literally disappeared from the spotlight, ignoring media requests for comment.
Instead, over the past few months, news has emerged of a another coffee royal, headlined by local media as the new coffee brand developed by âVuâs wifeâ after she was ousted from Trung Nguyen: King Coffee. The brandâs instant coffee was already present in 60 markets worldwide before it made its debut in Vietnamese shops last year.
But Thao was still seen by the media as just âVuâs wifeâ until last March, when she agreed to give an exclusive interview to local news site Soha. In the two-part series, she pleaded for Vu to come out of hiding and talk to her like husband and wife.
Thao repeatedly said she needed Vu as a husband and business partner, and their four children needed their father. To her, founding King Coffee was her way of preserving the Vietnamese coffee brand as she fears Trung Nguyen is going downhill.
Le Hoang Diep Thao stands next to a coffee grinder at a King Coffee launch event. Photo courtesy of Le Hoang Diep Thao's official Facebook f anpage.
Media reports following the interview said that Trung Nguyen is âdoing wellâ, without naming their source, and many saw Thaoâs claims as a direct attack on Vu and the brand.
âWhatâs the point of âtearing apartâ Trung Nguyen like this, who benefits,â asked respected economist Pham Chi Lan in an interview with Lao Dong newspaper. âWhatever happens, Vu and his colleagues should continue to focus on preserving and nurturing Trung Nguyen for the coffee bean, for the Central Highlands, for the countryâs agriculture, for millions of Vietnamese, just like he has always done.â
Thao, however, said sheâd never want to compete with or take down what belongs as much to Vu as it does to her.
"It took me two years to bring it [King Coffee] to life, and I consider it my child. My first son was named Trung Nguyen. I don't plan to compete with Trung Nguyen! King Coffee is aimed at real izing my dream of building a strong made-in-Vietnam coffee brand. I want Trung Nguyen to continue its success together with King Coffee,â she told Forbes.
She repeated the message in a recent interview with the Khaleej Times after King Coffee officially entered the Dubai market. In the article, which called Thao a Coffee Queen, a cover picture shows her smelling the aroma of the beans wearing a traditional dress from an ethnic minority group in the Central Highlands, the countryâs most famous coffee region.
Thao also spoke about her coffee background and her will to support Vietnamese farmers, who collectively are the worldâs second largest coffee producers.
"I was born on a coffee plantation,â she told the Khaleej Times. âEvery day was spent in the company of coffee growers. My parents were coffee growers too, and they taught me everything about coffee.â
Comments on social media that show support for Tha o often came from women who sympathize with her. Explaining the issue, Dr Giang told VnExpress International: "Many Vietnamese mothers that I talked to liked the (Soha) interview, possibly because they could see a part of themselves in Thao, who presented herself as the virtue of sacrifice and care. They might also enjoy the sentimentality that comes with this husband-and-wife dramaâ.
Amid the million-dollar divorce drama, Thao has emerged unlike the typical story of a successful businessman leaving a trophy wife. Whether Thao will become a new role model for Vietnamese women as âexcellent in business, responsible at homeâ, as she presents herself on local media, remains to be seen.
But in a country where women are expected to stay behind and support their husbands; where women remain outnumbered by men in managerial positions, Thao has already managed to stand out.Source: Google News Vietnam | Netizen 24 Vietnam