Startup Lessons from a Veteran

4:14:01 PM | 9/10/2019

Entrepreneur Le Van Kiem, Chairman of Business Association Vietnam Veterans (BAV), is popularly nicknamed “Mr. Kiem of Long Thanh Golf”. To reach his current success, he has gone through ups and downs in the market with the sharpness and gallantry of an intellectual, the courage and resolve of a warrior and a burning desire to truly contribute to national construction.

Starting a business with soldierly virtues

On June 18, 2008, the Dong Nai Provincial People’s Committee hosted a solemn ceremony to hand the Labor Hero title in the renovation period, awarded by the President of Vietnam, to Mr. Le Van Kiem, Chairman and General Director of Long Thanh Golf Investment and Trading Joint Stock Company, for his outstanding achievements in national construction in 1998-2007. This is a recognition of his efforts, intelligence and perspiration on the market. Never being afraid of failure, he is persistent with everything. He can find out opportunities in difficulty, comply with the law, and keep credibility in business. Starting a business from scratch, he experienced fluctuating economic cycles, and regional and global economic crises. His name is linked to golf, real estate and resort projects, including Long Thanh Golf Course (Dong Nai), Thuy Duong Resort (Ba Ria - Vung Tau), and Long Thanh - Vientiane Golf Course (Laos). Three core business activities of his family-run company are real estate, golf and mining. Mr. Kiem is currently Chairman of KN Group and Long Thanh - Dong Nai Golf Investment and Trading Joint Stock Company.

Labor Hero Le Van Kiem was born in 1945 in Hue. When he was one year old, he followed his parents to the war zone. When he was 9, he moved to North Vietnam to study. After graduating from Thuy Loi University (Water Resources University), the young engineer volunteered to join the army with a letter written in his blood. On April 30, 1975, he was in the army to take over Ho Chi Minh City, an unforgettable moment in his life. Recalling these days, he usually says with tears in his eyes. “On my trip, I saw many fallen warriors with bloody scarves tied around their necks. I always think I am indebted to my teammates. I am lucky enough to have survived the war and I am determined to do something meaningful for life,” Mr. Kiem said. After the takeover, engineer Kiem was appointed Deputy Director of Southern Bridge and Road Construction Department.

When he built and restored bridges and roads, he learnt a lot of methods and experience from contractors. He found that the private mechanism was flexible and effective, and doing business was the only way to be wealthy. In 1979 or so, to have a better life in hardship, Mr. Kiem was determined to do his own business. He sold his only motorcycle for one tael of gold to fund his business. With this money, he bought motors and grinders to manufacture animal feeds. He hired more workers for good business performance and earned good profit. Then, his goods were counterfeited and the brand that he and his wife had worked hard to develop was deprived. Realizing that he could not continue with animal feed business, he sought to shift to other work. From a very fortunate occasion, as a chemical engineer, he collected rubber seeds to produce oil for paint companies. He and his wife conducted research on their own and found formulas for pigments which were only known to them.

In 1986, Mr. Kiem visited some countries and decided to shift his business to high-class apparels. He imported complete machinery and equipment to build the most modern factory in Vietnam at that time. His Huy Hoang Company had 2,000 workers and its satellite companies employed 20,000-30,000 workers. Moreover, he invested in real estate business and established banks.

The regional financial crisis in 2007 wrecked on his company. He recalled, “I tried to withstand for two years and sold my gold little by little to deal with business hardships against my company, which was on the brink of bankruptcy. But, I was never late paying wages to my employees because I was totally moved to watch them working in the night time. I swore to myself that I could not fail and I could not let my company collapse. I did business with the soldierly spirit and I never accepted to give up.” Bearing that in mind, Mr. Kiem wrote a letter to the Party Central Committee to present objective reasons that caused bad consequences on enterprises and recommend not criminalizing cases of enterprises in difficulty caused by objective circumstances. The letter illustrated realities in his company and was accepted for solution by the Party and the Government. Troubles against his company were gradually addressed with effective solutions. After three years of effort, he and his family paid off his loans to banks and helped the State avoid a loss of over VND500 billion.

Building world-class golf courses

His name is linked to the well-known brand Long Thanh Golf. He is now the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Long Thanh Golf Investment and Trading Joint Stock Company based in Dong Nai province.

Teed off in 2001 on a pristine plot of 350 hectares, Long Thanh Golf Course was put into operation after just three years of construction by skillful hands and clever minds. The course, featuring amazing landscapes, is the first 5-star world-class golf course designed and operated by Vietnamese people with 18 golfing lines on Hill Course and 18 golfing lines on Lake Course. The world-class lighting system helps golfers play in the evening. Long Thanh Golf Course was voted the best, most beautiful golf course in Vietnam and one of the most spectacular courses in Asia. Luxurious services and amenities are serving thousands of members, including more than 60% from Europe, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, China and Thailand.

Following the success of Long Thanh Golf Course, the Long Thanh - Vientiane Golf Course and Real Estate (Laos), which costs US$1 billion for construction, was considered a major stride forward of Long Thanh, as well as Laos as a whole. Long Thanh - Vientiane Special Economic Zone is the first project invested by a Vietnamese entrepreneur in Laos, licensed for establishment by the Government of Laos in January 2012.

This was the largest special economic zone in Vientiane and the largest foreign investment project in Laos at that time. This special economic zone consisted of a 5-star hotel, a 36-hole golf course, high-class villas, schools, an international hospital, a business center and a resort covering a total area of over 557 hectares in the first phase.

In October 2018, KN Golf Links, a 90-hectare 27-hole golf course in KN Paradise Cam Ranh Project, was put into use. The golf course was immediately voted the best new golf course in Asia - Pacific 2018 by the Asian Golf Awards.

Currently, his big projects are located in Ho Chi Minh City, Dong Nai, Ba Ria - Vung Tau, Lam Dong, Khanh Hoa and Laos, with remarkable ones including Bien Hoa New City in Dong Nai province, KN Paradise Resort and Entertainment Complex in Cam Ranh and Long Thanh Vientiane Economic Zone in Laos.

Prestige in every activity

Mr. Le Van Kiem recounted, “The most touching moment was the toughest time. When the company was in trouble, some employees came to see me and gave their residence ownership certificates to help me repay debts but I turned down their offers. I will never forget them in this life. Keeping reputation is very important. I always keep my promise if I have ever made it.”
Experiencing ups and downs, sometimes seeing failure on the horizon or facing lawsuits, veteran Le Van Kiem now wants to pass the flame of enthusiasm to young entrepreneurs on the way to start a business with his valuable lessons that will be never old to anyone. For him, in order for a business to grow, the leader himself must make every effort and pass that flame of aspiration to every employee. He must personally learn from others and keep promises to customers, to the government and to his employees. He must pay attention to training human resources, building solidarity and passion among employees. He must live with a kind heart and take care of others.

Messenger of compassion

Believing that “Giving is taking,” Labor Hero Le Van Kiem and his wife, Ms. Tran Cam Nhung together with their family have donated over VND1,100 billion to many charity and thanking programs and activities.

He added that “I have been able to live till today because of the Party, the State, and the northerners who brought me up childhood to adulthood. My father died in action in 1949 when I was just four years old. In the warzone, warriors cooked porridge from mixed rice for me. Growing up, I studied at a school for southerners and studied as an engineer at university. I grew up with that passionate upbringing and I am thus very grateful to them. I am fortunate to be successful in business and we want to spare a part of our fortune to help persons in need. We see this as a great joy in life.

With that thinking, he and his family have brought joy and happiness to many unlucky families and children by financing cardiac surgeries for more than 50 children with congenital heart disease, funding eye surgeries to bring light to over 7,000 poor blind people, supporting and assisting victims of natural disasters and floods, helping orphans and disabled children, building more than 350 houses for policy beneficiaries, fostering 20 Vietnamese heroic mothers, presenting money savings accounts to mothers, donating study promotion funds and funds for the poor, and building schools and clinics for poor localities.

Since 2005, Long Thanh Golf has also actively taken part in philanthropic activities in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Cuba, Japan and other nations. On April 11, 2019, Labor Hero Kiem, Member of the Vietnam Veterans Society, handed about VND10 billion (US$450,000) to the Lao Veterans Association. A Laotian representative said that the money would be transferred to the Lao Veterans Economic Development Fund and the principal would be kept forever and 60% of its interests would be used to support Lao veterans and their families and take care of veterans’ offspring infected with toxic chemicals.

Van Luong