Here’s an interview I did with the “CEO Forum” program on VITV in May 2011. We discussed the history of Navigos and VietnamWorks, our services, our competitive strategy and, my favorite, culture and leadership.
Mr. Ha, my host, told me he even found his current job on VietnamWorks! I love it.
The interview is in English with Vietnamese subtitles. Transcript below.
Hà: [Vietnamese introduction 00:39 to 1:14] Thank you for coming to our
talk show today. How are you?
Chris: Thank you for having me. I’m wonderful, thank you.
Hà: I heard about a story of an American entrepreneur in 2001, who first
came to Vietnam. One year later, he decided to found Navigos
Group. Can you please tell us about the story at the beginning
Chris: Well, the founder of VietnamWorks and Navigos Group is Jonah
Levey, another American. He was visiting a friend of his,
another American, who lived in Vietnam in 2001. Jonah was an
executive recruiter in New York City. So in his conversations
with people here in Vietnam, everyone kept telling him, “Oh,
you’re a recruiter. We need help recruiting. We need help to
find people in Vietnam.”
So not only did he really like the country and thought it was an
interesting and exciting place to live, but he saw a big
opportunity to start a recruiting business here. So he went back
to New York, and he bought some software, created a website,
VietnamWorks.com, set everything up, and then moved here less
than a year later.
At the time, he felt that it was very difficult, because nobody
. . . “Online jobs? Never heard of that before.” But he knew it
would work, because this model was already working in other
markets, other more developed markets, the US, Canada, Japan,
and others. So VietnamWorks has actually changed the way people
recruit and changed the way people apply for jobs. Now everybody
does it online. Online is faster, it’s more convenient, and
recruiters can reach many more people online faster than through
Hà: Now talk about your story. I heard that five years ago you decided to
come to Vietnam for traveling. Did you fall in love in Vietnam,
and is it motivation for you to come to Vietnam to work for
Chris: Yeah, the first time I came to Vietnam was on holiday. It was
my first time to Asia, and I came with two friends of mine. We
spent a week in Thailand and a week in Vietnam. I love Thailand,
but something about Vietnam just grabbed me, almost from the
moment I stepped out of the airport. I don’t know what it is. It
was the dynamism, the feeling, and the friendliness of people
here that really made me think almost right away, “Hey, maybe I
want to live here.”
Hà: Why did you leave Yahoo and AOL to come to VietnamWorks?
Chris: Well, I left Yahoo to go to AOL to climb higher. I got a higher
position there and more responsibility. After two years at AOL,
I decided that I was ready for a small company, and I wanted to
be . . . AOL is a very large company, and so is Yahoo. I wanted
to be in a smaller company. We say in America, rather than be a
small fish in a big pond, I wanted to be a bigger fish in a
smaller pond. What really I’m passionate about is growing
companies and having real responsibility for making things
happen, and I felt like I could do that in a smaller company. So
I wanted to do that in a smaller company, (A). (B), I wanted to
live in Asia, because Asia is very dynamic and growing very
quickly and exciting.
Hà: And you started your career in Navigos with a position as the
Director of VietnamWorks and Caravat.com.
Hà: And did you think that your success in the position of CEO of
VietnamWorks pushed you to the position as CEO of Navigos?
Chris: I think so. I was really honored to be invited to become CEO of
the company, and I think that is a reflection of the success
that I had in growing VietnamWorks. While I was at VietnamWorks,
our revenue grew about nine times from 2006 to 2011. So yes, I
Hà: Eight years ago, me myself and Vietnamese people had a habit to apply
for a job by reading newspapers or to meet the employee in
person. It took a lot of time. One day, I discovered that oh,
there is a very prodigious website like VietnamWworks, and it’s
very comfortable for the employee to apply and to find many
opportunities. Do you think the appearance of VietnamWorks
changed the way to apply for a job of Vietnamese people?
Chris: VietnamWorks has been successful because it solves a problem
that people have better than the old way of solving the problem.
What is the Internet? It allows you to communicate very quickly.
It allows you to communicate instantly and to give information
instantly. This is important, because the advantages of being
online allow people to look for jobs, and they can search very
fast. You want to find marketing jobs? All marketing jobs in
Hanoi requiring more than three years experience, boom, you can
find it online. You click apply. The company has your
Employers can put a job posting on VietnamWorks. It’s there for
30 days. In the newspaper, it’s only there for one day. On our
site, it’s there for 30 days, and they can receive applications
instantly from anyone in the country. So there are a lot of
advantages of online over newspaper, which is why, over time,
more and more companies are discovering the advantages of online
and putting their jobs online. In the United States today, 80%
of money spent on recruiting is spent online. In Vietnam, I
don’t know what the number is, but it’s probably 15%, 20%. We
have a lot of room for growth.
Hà: Yes. It creates truly business by network. What do you think about
the benefit and income you get in your business from network or
Chris: Well, we get benefit, but I also like to focus on the benefit
that we create. I believe business is not just about making
money. I believe business can be a great force for good in
society. In our company, we like to focus on the value we create
for job seekers and also for companies. So we help people find
new jobs and find the right opportunities for them and climb
higher. We help companies find suitable talent so they can grow
their businesses and do even better. I find that mission that we
have very exciting and very meaningful, and if we do that job
very, very well and we help a lot of people find jobs and a lot
of companies find talent, then we’ll make money too. So the
benefit for us is creating value in society and also being
profitable and helping our own people grow in our company.
Hà: And it’s easier for other people to find their chances.
Hà: What do you say about the difference of VietnamWorks?
Chris: Well, at VietnamWorks, we focus on solving the customer’s
problem. Our number one objective is solving the customer’s
problem. We have two kinds of customers. We have job seekers and
we have employers. So we’re focused on solving the problem.
That’s why we’re focused on . . . we market our service to job
seekers, because we know the more job seekers we get, the more
benefit that employers will get when they post of job on our
website. We also focus on things like being honest. We report
the real number of jobs on our website. All the jobs on our
website are 30 days old. They’re fresh, less than 30 days old.
We never sell information that job seekers give us. So we focus
on value, and we believe when we focus on the value, then the
profit will come and we’ll be successful. And so far, it’s
Hà: Do you think recruitment online is different if you compare to other
Chris: Yes. The structure of an online business is very good, because
if you look at the cost structure of our business, we have high
fixed costs. We have to build a website. We have to have an
engineering team. We have to have customer care. We have to
spend money on marketing. But once we get to a certain point,
each additional 100,000 Vietnam dong in revenue, more of that
becomes profit. So it’s a very profitable model, which is why
you see some of the most profitable companies in the world are
online companies. Google is the most famous example.
Hà: Yes. So many companies are very successful in business online. How
about the advantages and disadvantages of that business?
Chris: There are a lot of advantages, and it’s hard to think of big
disadvantages. Actually, no, there are some disadvantages. The
advantages are the things that I mentioned. Once you get past a
certain point, growing your business bigger, you don’t have to
grow costs so big. For example, we have 4,500 jobs on our
website today. If we had 10,000 jobs on our website – that’s my
goal, 10,000 jobs – that’s 100% more jobs. I don’t have to grow
my costs 100% more. But in an offline business, say I have a
store, I might have to open new stores. My revenue goes up a
lot, but my costs go up a lot. So in the online business, my
costs go up less, and my revenue goes up more, like this.
Now a disadvantage of online is it’s very easy for people to
copy you and very easy for people to begin to compete with you.
That’s one big disadvantage.
Hà: And now we have to face the financial crisis and the inflation in
Vietnam. Has it affected your business?
Chris: Yes. Inflation affects every business. It makes managing a
business more challenging. When your costs are increasing a lot,
your costs generally increase faster than you can raise your
price. Not only that, but when there’s inflation, your staff
begin asking for higher salaries, because it costs them more to
go to the market. It’s very challenging to manage all these
moving parts at the same time.
Hà: And so many difficulties and challenges for the companies. A lot of
people are out of work. Is it good for you for recruitment
Chris: No. Yes and no. You might say yes, because more people are
looking for jobs. But no, because companies are a little bit
uncertain, and when companies are uncertain about the future,
they stop hiring or they hire fewer people. It would be better
for our business if there were lower inflation.
Hà: But you are in the position to connect the companies and the people
who find a job. So I think it’s good for you. There is a lot of
work to do.
Chris: Well, in one way it is good for us. But think about our
business. We get paid by the employers when the employers put
ads on our website. If employers don’t need people and there are
no jobs, it doesn’t matter how many people want jobs if there
are no jobs. So it doesn’t help us. What helps us the most is
when employers really need a lot of people and are hiring a lot
of people because the economy is growing quickly and because
employers have more certainty about the future. Right now,
employers are a little bit uncertain about the future, is what
we have been hearing from our customers. So hiring is a little
less than it would be, although hiring is still good.
Hà: There is one thing we have to talk about. So many international
entrepreneurs working in Vietnam say the policies in Vietnam are
very hard for them to drive the company. What do you think about
the policies in Vietnam?
Chris: Well, the policies in Vietnam, for our business, haven’t really
affected us much. We’ve been able to do business well, and we
find this is a good environment for doing business. My
understanding from speaking to some other people in different
businesses, other business leaders, is that sometimes
regulations are unclear. Investors in business love clarity, and
they need to be able to know, if they invest some money here,
what are the rules and are those rules going to change? I think
if Vietnam can improve, it’s for policy makers to make policies
more clear and more certain so investors can be more clear
before they invest.
Woman: [Vietnamese 15:24 to 17:31]
Hà: VietnamWorks is very famous, and a lot of people believe in
VietnamWorks for finding a job, including myself.
Chris: Thank you, great. Wow.
Hà: What can you say about the reason for success of VietnamWorks?
Chris: Number one, thank you, Hà. That’s great. I love meeting people
who have found jobs through VietnamWorks. It’s a really good
feeling when you meet somebody and they say, “I found my job
through VietnamWorks.” Wow, we helped that. I really like that.
So thank you for telling me.
Number two, I think the reason for our success is two things.
One, we focus on the customer and we focus on solving problems
for the customer. We are the highest price online job solution
in Vietnam, and there’s a reason for that. We solve the problem
much better than anybody else. If you need someone for your
business, let’s say you need a marketing manager, every day you
don’t have that marketing manager, you’re losing business maybe.
You can’t advertise. You can’t do things. You’re losing money.
If we can help you find the right person and find the right
person faster, that is incredibly valuable to you.
So that’s what we focus on. We focus on helping you find the
right person and helping you find them very fast. If we can do
that well, the value for you is thousands, maybe tens of
thousands of dollars, maybe more. That’s what we focus on, and
that’s why I think we’ve been successful, number one.
Number two, we focus on our people. I really believe that
treating our people well and creating a dynamic, fun environment
with passionate people enables us to deliver great value.
Hà: And I think now, the most important thing is if someone wants to find
a new job, the first thing they think of is to type
Hà: I think it’s the most success that you achieve.
Chris: Thank you. I hope so.
Hà: I heard that you are interested in leadership, and please tell us
about your opinion.
Chris: My job at VietnamWorks, when I started five years ago, was my
first general management job, and I have learned so much over
the past five years about how to lead people. To me, business is
about people. Business is not about strategy. Yes, that’s
important, but number one, business is about people. Leaders are
the ones that create results, and they don’t create results by
themselves. Leaders create results through others with teams. So
to me, learning how to motivate people, learning how to lead
people, learning how to select good people, it’s been an amazing
journey for me. This is what leadership is about. Leadership is
about leading people, and that’s what I’m excited about, and
that’s what I’ve learned a lot about in the last five years.
Hà: And what have you learned from leadership?
Chris: How much time do you have? I’ve learned that, number one, this
sounds a little funny, but it’s true. Leadership is about love.
Chris: Yes. Leadership is about loving people, loving your people. A
leader, a real leader wants to love his or her people, wants to
help them move up in their careers, and really wants what’s best
for them. Because when a real leader is like that, people know
and people respond to that. People think, “Wow. He really wants
to help me. He wants to help me become more successful. I want
to work for him.”
Let me tell you a story. I used to work at Yahoo, and I had two
bosses at Yahoo, completely different. My first boss, he was a
nice guy, a good guy, but it was clear to me and the other
people on the team, he didn’t really care about us. He was nice
but didn’t really care about my career or helping me achieve my
objectives. He really cared about how we could help him go
higher. That was clear to us.
Then I had a second boss, and the first day that second boss
started the job, he had a one-on-one meeting with me. He said to
me, “Chris, I want to talk to you and develop a plan on how to
make you a director in this company.” And I was like, “You want
to help me?” Wow. Which leader do you think I worked harder for?
I worked harder for the second guy, because he wanted to help
me. To me, leadership is all about lifting your people up.
Hà: Love people and lift them to develop in their career.
Hà: But most of the bosses in so many companies I see are just interested
in what he wants to do, what will lift him to a higher place,
what gets him to be richer. I think it’s very happy for the
staff who have leadership like your second boss and like you. I
can imagine people in Navigos love each other in a very nice
Chris: We work very hard to create . . . I have a vision. I talk about
this a lot. My vision is to be the most challenging, most
rewarding, and most fun place to work in all of Vietnam. What do
I mean by that? I want it to be fun to work at our company. I
want people to walk into work every day and have a good time. We
spend a lot of time in the office, all of us. You spend time
working. I spend time working. Why does it have to be so
serious? Why? This is business. This is very serious. It doesn’t
have to be like that. Why don’t we have fun and relax at work?
At Navigos and VietnamWorks, we like to have fun. We’re serious
about our work, but we’re not serious about us. We like to have
fun and relax, and I encourage that.
Hà: Can you see there is one problem for people who want to change jobs
immediately? He or she can jump to another job quickly. What do
you think about that?
Chris: That’s a big challenge here in Vietnam. If I were to point out
a weakness in the labor force here, not of everybody but of many
people, they think more short term. They don’t think far. They
don’t think long term. So if they have a choice between two jobs
and they say, “This job pays a little bit more, but this job, I
can learn more and there’s more opportunity for me to go up,” a
lot of people will choose the job that pays them a little bit
more now, but it will cost them in the long run. I see that a
lot. Job hopping, I call it job hopping, is not a good idea,
because you’re not going to learn a lot if you job hop a lot.
Hà: I’ve interviewed some people like that. They think when they jump to
another job, he or she will create value and improve his or her
talent. Do you think so? It’s easy to find another job.
Chris: It is easy to find another job, but you don’t want to get a
reputation as a job hopper. If you’re in a job for six months,
you haven’t learned anything. You have to be in a job, at the
very minimum, one year before you learn anything. So I always
tell people, early in your career, you can afford to switch jobs
once a year, once every other year. Later in your career, as you
get older and higher level, you should stay longer and longer in
Hà: So many directors say it’s a big challenge for them to keep talented
people in their company. Can you say some secret to attract
people into the company?
Chris: Yes. I’m glad you asked this, Hà. Many people ask this
question, and the answer is very simple. How to keep great
people? The way to keep great people, give them more value than
they can get somewhere else. Treat your people like your
customers. I’m going to teach you a way of thinking that’s
different. For example, let’s say you’re a manager, Hà. Working
for you is a product, and you are selling that product. When
you’re selling any other product, coffee or tea, you want to
make sure your product has more value than another product. As
long as your product has more value, people will keep buying
So managers, I’ve found this a very useful way for me to think.
I think of my people as my customers. Every day they wake up and
they decide, are they going to continue buying my product or
not? Are they going to continue working at my company? Because
the second they think that another product will give them more
value, they will go to the other company. I can’t stop that, but
I can give them more value.
So how do I think about value? Value is salary, of course.
That’s important, but there are other things that are very
important too – opportunity to advance, responsibility. Talented
people, they love having responsibility. They love being able to
make decisions. Give them decisions. Give them opportunities for
training. Make it a fun place to work. Those are all elements of
value. As long as they get more value from you than they can get
from someone else, I guarantee you they will never leave you.
Hà: I think that’s the point. What did you mean about the culture of
enterprises to keep staff?
Chris: By culture is what I mean. Culture is one of those hard to
define words. But what I mean by culture is when you walk into a
company, you get a feeling, don’t you? You look at the people.
You look around. You get a feeling for how they are. Are they
happy? Are they sad? Are they having fun? Are they bored? Are
they very serious? That’s culture. It’s a way of doing things
and a feeling. We try very hard in our company to make it fun,
give people a chance to express themselves. For example, every
month we have a meeting we call the All Hands Meeting. We ask a
different group every month to do a little show. People think
it’s fun and enjoyable, and they like that. So that’s some of
the things that we do to try to make our culture fun. Many
people have left our company, and they tell us later, “Oh, I
really miss the environment at VietnamWorks,” and that makes me
Woman: [Vietnamese 30:33 to 33:05]
Hà: Do you think you can create a theory in that field?
Chris: A theory?
Hà: Yeah. I think it’s very different.
Chris: Yeah. I’ve read a lot of books about leadership, and then I
combine . . . I get ideas, and then I try these ideas in my job,
and some of them work and some of them don’t. And over time,
I’ve developed my own theories of leadership. So yeah, I have
some ideas, and I love talking about it.
Hà: Why don’t you write it?
Chris: I started a blog, a management blog, but I only have two
entries. I’ll be writing more. It’s www.chrisfharvey.com, and
I’m going to be writing more about my ideas about leadership and
show, not just theory, but show practically how I use these
ideas in our company. Eventually, yeah, I do want to write a
Hà: Yes, I wait for it. People say there’s only one thing that never
changes. It’s the change. So do you think there will be change
in recruitment in Vietnam?
Chris: Oh sure, yeah. Change is always happening. The market is
becoming more competitive all the time. We have to change in our
business all the time to stay ahead. History is full of examples
of companies that did not change. They were number one, did not
change, and then they died. I just read an article yesterday
about Barnes & Noble, a big bookseller in America. In 1995,
Amazon.com was new, and Amazon.com was small. Barnes & Noble was
big. Now, today, Barnes & Noble is small, Amazon is big, because
Barnes & Noble didn’t change. The recruiting business will
continue to change and become more competitive. We have to find
ways to deliver more value to our customers, help them more, and
find ways to become more efficient ourselves.
Hà: Yes. Can you foresee about the development of the recruitment market?
Chris: Well, the future is always hard to predict, isn’t it? But I do
know there will be change. I do know that things will become
more competitive. I do know it will be harder and harder to find
a job and compete if you’re a job seeker. That’s the bad news.
Now I have good news, too. It will be easier and easier to
differentiate yourself as a job seeker. Let me give you an
example. Most people who look for jobs are very lazy. It’s easy
to show the employer you’re different. For example, I get
approached by a lot of people. People know I’m CEO of the
company. They say, “Chris, can you help me find a job?” And I
say, “Okay. What kind of job would you like?” “Oh, I’m not
really sure, but can you help me find a job?”
Stop. If you come to me and you say, “Chris, I’d like a job in
this kind of industry. In fact, I went on your website, and I
found a few jobs that fit exactly what I want. I think I’m
suitable for these jobs, and here’s why. Reason one, reason two,
reason three. Can you help me and refer me to the company?”
That’s easy. It’s easy for me to help them. So my message for
viewers on your show is that it’s very easy to make yourself
different from most job seekers. Most job seekers don’t do
anything different. You can be different. When you go to an
interview, study the company first. Learn about the company.
Have some ideas about the company.
For example, the best people I interview say, “Hey, have you
thought about doing this in your business? What about this
idea?” And I’m like, “Wow. I never thought of that. Maybe that’s
a good idea.” I think here’s a person who takes initiative and
who prepares for the interview, rather than someone who comes
and says, “What does your company do?” So yes, it will become
more competitive, but it will also be easy to differentiate
yourself if you pay attention and you prepare.
Hà: And I think it’s very helpful for job seekers.
Hà: I heard that someone asked you, why did you choose Vietnam for
working and living, and you answered, “Why not?” Why do you
answer like that? It’s very amusing.
Chris: It’s hard for me to explain why I chose Vietnam. Again, I told
you that I came on holiday, and I just liked it. As an American,
I heard about Vietnam a lot, and I wanted to see this country I
heard about. When I came here, I don’t know, it was a feeling. I
can’t explain it. It was a feeling, and I thought, “This is fun.
This is exciting.” People are very friendly. There’s a lot of
history here. One thing I love about the Vietnamese is they love
learning. They love it. They’re like a sponge. They want to
learn and grow, and it’s really exciting and fun to work with
people like that. I felt it when I first came here. When I
decided I wanted to live in Asia, I just thought, “Yeah,
Vietnam, okay.” It’s been a very good decision for me. I’m very
Hà: Yes. And you see the potential of the recruitment market in Vietnam,
Chris: Yes. The Vietnam economy is growing steadily. The
sophistication of business is steadily growing. I believe a lot
of companies that could use recruiting services are not using
recruiting services, because they don’t understand our value.
They don’t understand yet, and that’s our responsibility to show
them. They don’t understand that if we can help them find
someone who’s better and we can help them find someone faster,
we create huge value for them and help them a lot. I think
there’s a lot of opportunity for growth here in Vietnam, and I’m
very excited about it.
Hà: Do you believe in the development of recruitment online in Vietnam?
Chris: Yes. As I mentioned before, in the United States, 80% of
dollars spent on recruiting are spent online. In Australia, it’s
about 65%. Where’s Vietnam?
Hà: And how about Vietnam?
Chris: We don’t know.
Chris: We don’t have good data. It’s hard to find good data, but if I
were to guess, 15% maybe. But the future is clear. Online
recruiting has a lot of advantages and is very powerful. So (A),
a lot of companies will begin recruiting more and using
recruiting services, and (B), more and more of them will begin
recruiting online. That’s why I’m very excited about the market
Hà: Yes. And last, can you give any message to the viewers?
Chris: Yes. I have a message for the viewers. The message is follow
your passion, follow your dreams. You want to work someplace
where you’re very passionate, that you like to go to work every
day. Here’s why I give you that advice. Because nothing great
has ever been achieved without passion. So follow your passion.
We want our job seekers to be great. We want our job seekers to
achieve their dreams, and you can achieve your dreams if you’re
following your dream and you’re passionate about what you do. So
follow your dream.
Hà: I think that’s the secret of the success of VietnamWorks and Navigos
Chris: I think so. Thank you.
Hà: To lead all of the people in the company to develop their skill and
Chris: Thank you, yes. That’s our number one mission, helping our
Hà: Yes. Thank you for coming to our talk show. I wish you more and more
success in your career and in your life.
Chris: Thank you, Mr. Hà.
Hà: Always enjoy life in Vietnam.
Chris: Okay. Thank you, I do.
Hà: [Vietnamese 42:06 to 42:13]