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From crew to general manager: An inspiring journey with Jollibee Vietnam

Published Sep 29, 2023 11:00 am

Jollibee Vietnam is one of the most successful ventures of Jollibee Group outside the Philippines, with not only the largest number of stores outside the country but also impressive employee retention and high engagement rates. Its general manager, Lam Hong Nguyen, is one of the driving forces behind this success.

As the Jollibee Group marks its 45th anniversary this year, the food company celebrates Lam Hong Nguyen as one of the people behind Jollibee Vietnam's inspiring story—from his beginnings as a crew member to his current role—alongside the growth of the local food industry, culture, and community.

Hailing from the Mekong region in southern Vietnam, Nguyen took up business administration at Ho Chi Minh University. “During this time, Vietnam had just reopened its economy and information on economics was limited,” he recalled. “We studied newspapers for cases and that’s how I had the opportunity to read about Jollibee in the Philippines. It was very interesting.”

Lam Hong Nguyen is one of the people behind Jollibee Vietnam's success, from his beginnings as a crew member to his current role as Jollibee Vietnam's General Manager.

This was in the 1990s as the business was expanding in the area, with the Far Eastern Economic Review listing the Jollibee Group in 1993 as one of the top businesses in Asia.

In between classes, Lam Hong Nguyen worked to support his family and studies. “I decided to work at Jollibee because the bee, the brand’s icon, is hardworking,” he fondly shared. “Jollibee takes care of its people and the communities, so it’s not just business. It's one of the things that inspired me to work for the brand.”

In 1997, he began working as a crew member on the side. “I had several functions,” he recalled. "Dining, counter, and then kitchen as well." After two years, he decided to join the company as a full-time employee, moved to the commissary the following year to handle logistics, and was then promoted to commissary manager after another two years.

After the Jollibee Group opened an office in Vietnam in 2005, Nguyen soon joined the team to oversee purchasing, logistics, and warehousing. He also worked one year in network development and a total of two years in the supply chain unit.

"Vietnam was still a young country and in terms of development, it had a lot of potential," Nguyen said. “The population was receptive to the new eating habits introduced by quick service restaurants (QSR). They also saw the value that the business brought to the community, including providing jobs that help the country’s development.”

Becoming a market leader

Nguyen's leadership was crucial in making Jollibee a reputable brand in Vietnam's cutthroat food market. It's important to note that there aren't many Filipino communities in Vietnam, yet Jollibee is still successful.

In addition to helping introduce QSR as a new food culture, the company also had to make sure its food would be palatable to the Vietnamese market.

“We worked very hard to fit the local taste, even for the Chickenjoy,” Nguyen said. “We don’t have gravy; rather, we have sweet chili sauce which the customers prefer. For spaghetti, we had to adjust the sweetness.” They also amplified their offline and digital marketing campaigns to increase brand awareness.

The Jollibee Group opened an office in Vietnam in 2005. Today, Jollibee Vietnam boasts an impressive network of 164 stores as of June 2023—Jollibee’s biggest foreign presence.

As a graduate of the Leadership Enrichment through Accelerated Development (LEAD) Program, Nguyen gained invaluable knowledge on marketing, finance, and economics that he applied in growing the Jollibee Vietnam operations.

To learn new things, sharpen JFC values, and inspire employees and the younger generation, Nguyen has enrolled in an MBA from Andrews University in the United States, which he is going to complete this year.

“I’m very lucky to have the opportunity to work with Jollibee Vietnam. With the company’s values, I’m driven to improve every day,” he said.

Jollibee Vietnam boasts an impressive network of 164 stores as of June 2023—Jollibee’s biggest foreign presence. In terms of market share, Jollibee is now third in the local industry, but Nguyen thinks that because of its consistent growth, it will soon overtake the competition and become the nation's favorite QSR.

Caring for employees and the community

In 2021, Jollibee Vietnam was severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with many stores temporarily closing. As the leader of 4,000 employees during a time of great uncertainty, Nguyen managed to remain strong. “I had to be calm, agile, and active. This was how I could provide support to the team,” he said.

Jollibee Vietnam sought to protect its employees’ health first, and then the business, to survive. In return, the employees also showed their solidarity with the company. “They knew the situation,” explained Nguyen. “All of them agreed to do salary deduction to help the company during this tough situation.”

This collective act was made possible by the trust that Nguyen has cultivated among the employees. “Without trust, you cannot do anything. You must earn trust from your employees. Make them know that they are heard,” he said.

Nguyen also fosters an environment that values the well-being and satisfaction of both employees and customers. He proudly shared their employee engagement and retention rates are very high, even achieving a 100% retention rate for key talents in 2022.

Nguyen aims not only to achieve market leadership but also to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those in need. He envisions Jollibee Vietnam as a force for positive change that can reach out to underprivileged communities across the country to offer employment and development opportunities.

This would bring his journey to a full circle, with Nguyen hoping to inspire the next generation. His achievements remind us that success is not only measured in profits but also in the joy we bring to other people’s lives.

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Editor’s Note: This article was provided by Jollibee Foods Corporation.