Hanoi-based Chu Thi Thanh Ha, Chairwoman of FPT Software, talks about her experiences as a woman in tech and her ambition to create a billion-dollar company.
Running a global software company is arduous, especially during a pandemic. For Chu Thi Thanh Ha, Chairwoman of FPT Software, an average working day during the past two years has been 14 to 15 hours.
“Sometimes I have worked for 40 hours non-stop,” she says.
The long hours make life difficult for women. This is particularly true in Vietnam and Asia for those with caring roles, Ha says: “Because of the high service culture and the need to work across time zones, at FPT Software and other IT outsourcing service providers, both business leaders and employees expect to work round the clock to meet customers’ requirements.”
FPT Software powers the IT of some of the world’s largest companies in automotive; banking and finance; logistics and transportation; and utilities. With more than 700 customers in Asia, North America and Europe, its sales grew by 23% in 2021 to more than US$500 million. Ha’s goal is to double that to US$1 billion by 2023.
Growth needs to be durable and sustainable, looking up to 10 years ahead, she says. The task will demand all the resilience and determination she has shown since joining FPT Corporation, FPT Software’s parent company, as an economics graduate almost three decades ago, when she rejected more typical female careers such as teaching or marketing.
“I set a goal for myself to overcome the prejudices of society and my family, to venture into a difficult but attractive field,” she recalls. “Perhaps I saw in FPT the image of a next-gen organization where talents are appreciated, and superiors and colleagues will act as teachers to help you grow no matter who you are or your gender.”
FPT has many member companies spanning telecoms, Internet services, FinTech, insurance, smart manufacturing and logistics. Ha has held a number of senior positions across the group; in 2011 she became Deputy General Director at FPT Corporation, and in 2019 she was appointed chairwoman at FPT Telecom, a position she held until 2020 when she took on her current role.
In 2015 she was listed among the Top 10 most outstanding businesswomen of the next generation by Forbes Vietnam. Two years later Forbes Vietnam named her one of the Top 50 most influential businesswomen in Vietnam.
Women in IT
In her early days at FPT, IT was not a common career choice for Vietnamese women due to its heavy workloads and low Internet penetration rate. But Ha toiled away not minding if the work was hard or easy.
“I was not afraid to knock on every door to market computers and IT equipment,” she reflects. “I even crawled under desks to install computers for customers, anxiously waiting for the Internet connection signal to the computer.”
Over time she has seen huge change in the role of women in IT. “Back in the early 1990s when I attended a conference in Singapore, there were very few women in the hall. But in recent years, the number of women at such technical events has increased dramatically.”
Similarly, at FPT, the share of women is now 39%, compared to 36% a decade ago. “This represents progress in our organization towards encouragement and motivation of women in the IT field,” Ha says.
One role she has noticed senior women taking on in new tech is creating sustainable growth for their businesses. This includes environmental protection, reducing CO2 and green manufacturing processes.
Even so, Asian women have fewer opportunities, she says. “In North America and Europe, there are more female leaders, and they also hold higher positions.”
The trend towards working from home during the pandemic has added to challenges for women. “They have to fix their internal clock and sleep schedule while maintaining their own health and taking care of their family,” said Ha. “It is hard, but we have to sort things out and try to adapt, there’s no other way.”
Compared with other industries, there is now less of a gender divide in IT, Ha says. In fact, one of FPT Software’s big automotive customers said that it chose to work with FPT Software partly because the company has a chairwoman.
“They explained that women leaders are better at risk management, which is extremely important during the global crisis,” said Ha. “The key to success here is to know where your strengths are, to focus on and nurture them to perform better at work.”
Driving Digital Transformation
The biggest challenge in driving global Digital Transformation and IT services, says Ha, is understanding complex business processes of different vertical industries such as manufacturing, healthcare or utilities. “This is essential to provide tailor-made products and services that solve business pain points.”
The fact that FPT Software has applied Digital Transformation and automated management to its own business processes has reinforced its credibility and been highly praised by its customers.
The plan is to expand and upskill the company’s current workforce of 20,000 and gain more customers in additional countries and vertical industries. “This is to optimize our mix of offshore, nearshore, and on-site delivery models to assist our clients 24/7 with competitive costs,” Ha said.
While many companies had to lay off staff during the pandemic, FPT Software has established more development centers and offices. “And I believe that we can achieve more and move faster forward,” said Ha.
FPT Software’s female leaders have contributed greatly to this Digital Transformation and management process, said Ha. “During the COVID-19 phase, they worked really hard to maintain the health and safety of other employees through coordinating vaccination campaigns and supporting activities for employees’ families.”
Ha believes that effective leadership depends on setting an example. “When you are the head of an organization, people look to you for guidance, so you must role model the thoughts and actions that you would like to see in others.”
Leaders should think far ahead, prepare for whatever may come, and navigate their organizations, she said. “You also need to care about the people who follow you. Are they capable enough? Are they happy? What problems do they have in life? How do you help them?” Leaders with vision can drive the organization to go far, she says, while empathy makes sure employees are in it for the long haul.
Consistency and determination have also played a major role in her achievement. “I stick to my goals and promises. No matter how difficult or boring the task is, I never leave it undone and always do my best to fulfil my commitments.”
Ha loves the dynamic environment and unpredictable nature of being chairwoman. “It has inspired me to adapt to any unexpected circumstance. That’s why although the job is tough, I’m still ready to take on any challenge it brings. Every morning I wake up feeling lucky and enthusiastic as I’m doing my favorite and meaningful work.”
Asked what she is most proud of, Ha says she is glad to see FPT Software people, in every location and market, working as one team to overcome the tremendous challenges of the past two years. “Those efforts have brought us to success in delivering many projects, won us positive feedback from customers and opened up more growth opportunities.”Click below to share this article