The popular movie “Crazy Rich Asians” may be a hit at the box office, but the over-the-top opulence portrayed by some of the characters does not accurately reflect the majority of the affluent Asian culture.
Certainly, not my family.
The fact is, you can come up with lots of examples of people with wealth all over the world behaving extravagantly. It is not something that is inherently Asian.
Instead, in the Asian culture, you can find innumerable examples of people using their wealth in positive and worthwhile pursuits. Chasing after money or status is not what’s important. Instead, it’s what you do with that money to help others.
Many Asians who achieve wealth got that way because of hard work, perseverance, dedication and strong family support after starting out in low-wage, menial jobs.
My family, for example, owns the THP Beverage Group, the leading Vietnamese beverage company, but we did not start out wealthy. There was a time when my parents were down to two rice bowls and four chopsticks and living in an old rundown factory. The only way we survived was because my father was innovative, and he taught me to be humble and grounded.
Core family values are far more important than the trappings of wealth. Instead of putting ourselves as individuals first, we care for the family and for our community.
Wealth is also about having a powerful relationship with money. This means not letting money drive our thoughts and our lives, but instead, using money as a tool for achieving desirable outcomes.
Both of my parents have always been very focused on value. They have no interest in buying fancy cars or clothes. They showed their children that the path to success is to invest every resource into the family business, mentally, emotionally and financially.
Yet the film plays into a stereotype that may be entertaining to think about but does not reflect the reality of so many wealthy Asians’ lives. In Vietnam, I have been called the “billion dollar" girl. But I wear a Garmin watch. I don’t wear diamonds, and I spend vacations at family business training programs.
There is a Vietnamese proverb that says, “The rich do not stay rich and the poor do not stay poor for three generations.” This means that the second generation must work hard to stay as motivated as the first when they no longer have a financial hardship to spur them on. And the third generation has to be especially mindful of not blowing their wealth.
My father always encourages his children to take risks so that we can learn from our mistakes. His view is that if I am not failing enough, then I am not taking enough risk. Another one of his favorite sayings is: “When the boat sets out to sea, it is likely to encounter storms. The challenge is learning to control the boat when the storm comes.”
Phuong Uyen Tran, author of Competing with Giants: How One Family-Owned Company Took on the Multinationals and Won (www.competingwithgiants.net) is deputy CEO of the THP Beverage Group, a leading beverage company in Vietnam that was founded by her father. She is responsible for the company’s marketing, public relations, and CSR programs nationally and across Vietnam’s 63 provinces. She also leads THP’s international marketing programs across 16 countries where THP’s products are distributed including Canada and China.