Graduating with distinction from RMIT University at just over 20 years old, working for two multinational companies for nearly nine years, then founding her own advisory firm at 29 – Binh Le Vandekerckove found her true calling as an entrepreneur for sustainable growth.
Working with over 250 companies to advise for more than 110 projects with a total value exceeding 4.5 billion USD – numbers that any professional business consultant would be proud to add to their resume.
For ASART Deal Advisory Founder and CEO Binh Le Vandekerckove, these numbers are not just testament to her successful 14-year career in business advisory. They also tell a story of finding her true self and overcoming biases directed at young working mothers.
Ms Binh recalled: “In my twenties I was working for big corporations, participating in important projects and making more money than most of my peers. I had a dream profile and everything I had wished for, but something was still missing. Now looking back, having an early and well organised start didn’t mean I was prepared well enough for life.”
An inflection point came when Ms Binh and her husband were expecting their first child. Their doctor told them to prepare for a very difficult decision due to a risky implication.
“Everything that we thought were problems before suddenly became nothing compared to what we were facing,” she said.
“During that time I also realised that despite how much we talked about gender equality and fairness, most of us still didn’t think that pregnant women and young mothers could do their jobs well.”
Leaving a stable career behind while being a young mother with a four-month old baby, Ms Binh started her own company, doing what she knew best with a vision that she truly believed in.
“I decided to build my own ideal place to work where sustainability is the core of everything we do.”
In the beginning, the biggest challenge for her was to reimagine and disrupt the consulting business model. Consulting is regarded as one of the oldest industries and where multinational brand names already dominate the market.
“So, for me to build an advisory practice, it would be like a little kid fighting sumo wrestlers,” Ms Binh joked.
Inspired by Elon Musk’s story of how he founded SpaceX, Ms Bình added: “Often it will be the sumo wrestlers who win but sometimes the kids will manage to prevail, and I think this will be one such case.”
“We now hear a lot about sustainable business and ESG [environmental, social, governance], but five years ago when I started ASART these were still very new concepts in Vietnam.
“Sustainable growth is a founding principle for our own firm as well, and we have practiced it since day one in everything we do, so it was a double challenge.
“Luckily, great work pays off and sustainable growth has become one of our biggest competitive advantages today.”
Ms Binh explained that putting the sustainable mindset to practice can start with very small and simple concepts. For example, not buying social media followers to inflate your firm’s reputation, not misleading employees by offering high monthly salary and nothing else attached for their wellbeing and quality of life, not quoting small fees to win a package proposal then later charge extras, using as many sustainable materials as possible for buildings and events, etc.
“We were probably the first advisory company in Vietnam built based on the founding principle of sustainable growth, and my worry was that whether our principles of strictly following sustainable growth would work and receive support,” she said.
“Today, ASART is much bigger than just me – we are a solid team, with a very strong network, and have been recognised as one of the best advisors with leading transactions and projects in Vietnam. If our firm is successful – meaning continuing to last longer than our lifetime – this will also be a legacy that not only me but all of my team can be proud of.”
Besides managing a company and raising two young children, Ms Binh also volunteers her time to be the Vice Chair of two committees under the American Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam in addition to being a member of the RMIT Alumni Advisory Board.
She admitted she did not pay much attention to connecting with the RMIT alumni community upon graduation. Occasionally she came back and contributed here and there but was not very active.
“But in recent years, the alumni community has come together much more closely thanks to the outreach of the university. Alone in the last couple of years, from our RMIT alumni community I got multiple employee candidates, a new client, a new supplier, and a great group of peers who are willing to support each other when in need,” she said.
“I think the alumni community is a very safe and useful place for all graduates including young and experienced professionals to not just find good opportunities, but also build support systems and expand their circles of friends.”
Together with her network of friends and colleagues, Ms Binh is also advocating for a fair system that no longer puts expecting and working mothers at a disadvantage.
“Expecting and working mothers should not be discriminated against or viewed as liabilities. With a right supporting system, becoming a mother gives a woman a greater sense of ownership and all the right motivation to be a much more valuable asset to any company and organisation.”
(By Ngoc Hoang, RMIT University)