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When AirAsia pulled out of a joint venture to launch VietJet in 2011, the company’s MD had a few tough calls to make. Human Resources speaks with Luu Duc Khanh, managing director of VietJet, about making tough decisions, working alongside HR to keep staff engaged, and his best friend – yoga.
As managing director of VietJet, how would you define your leadership style?
My leadership style can be condensed into “trust and encourage”. I always trust my staff and then I encourage them to try their best to fulfil their goals at work. I only entered the aviation industry when I joined VietJet, so I benefited from the trust of our management board, which gave me the responsibility of helping VietJet to “take off” and grow sustainably in Vietnam and across the region.
So, as I was entrusted with this position, I have no reason not to trust my staff in turn. Vietnamese people love learning new things and they are very ambitious. As long as we offer a good and transparent working environment and fruitful training courses, our team will always be motivated to work harder and move forward.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
The aviation industry offers many amazing and interesting challenges. Just imagine – every new route requires us to thoroughly learn everything from our customers’ perception to the specific culture or attractions of the new destination. This is a fantastic feeling and a great opportunity to explore, meet and understand new kinds of people and cultures. These insights can then be applied to things such as our in-flight menu in terms of the cuisine or the content of our in-flight magazine.
What’s the toughest decision you’ve had to make as a boss?
When VietJet had to decide whether to maintain our plan to start operations in December 2011, three months after AirAsia decided to pull out of the joint venture.
What was a valuable takeaway you learnt from that experience?
The great attitude and spirit of our team. Every single staff member of VietJet has always shared the same goal of making VietJet stronger. We also received tremendous support from our partners and the authorities. My decision at that time has been vindicated by our business performance over the last three years and market share today.
It sounds like a stressful job. How do you unwind and re-energise?
The job of a managing director is not easy at all. However, I have a very close friend who helps me greatly overcome such pressure, and her name is yoga!
I practise yoga from 6am to 7am every day. Just 20 minutes of yoga a day can actually help sharpen the mind and boost brain power more than conventional aerobic exercise. Yoga is not just about working out – it’s about practising a healthy lifestyle. Yoga allows us to be still in a world consumed with chaos. Peace and tranquility achieved through focused training appeals to everyone.
And what about your staff? How do you engage and motivate them when they feel stressed?
Even though I am extremely busy, I always try my best to make time for discussions with staff. This way, I can further understand their troubles as well as their concerns and desires in the workplace. By engaging in conversation, I can help solve their problems more effectively.
If the problem is a matter of developing their skill set, we can always look into training courses. If the problem is a family matter, a simple conversation can help relieve the burden through the simple act of talking and sharing. If they feel some sense of relief, they can summon their inner-strength and find a solution themselves.
How far do you think HR leaders can go in their careers? Could many make it to an MD or CEO level?
Everyone deserves the right to reach the position of an MD if they are determined enough and are equipped with the right knowledge and skills. An HR leader’s strength lies in the understanding of people, which is a great advantage to have. Human resources are the core strength of any organisation. In my opinion, if you want to develop your business well, you should focus on the development of human resources first. Investment in products or services can come later.
Even though I am extremely busy, I always try my best to make time for discussions with staff. By engaging in conversation, I can help solve their problems more effectively.
What’s the hardest part of HR’s job at VietJet?
Our HR department plays a crucial role in VietJet. Their job is to understand the concerns and desires of VietJet staff in all departments and develop proper solutions and activities accordingly. They must understand what pressure a pilot endures, and be aware of when the IT team needs to enjoy a vacation after working overtime to improve our booking system, for example.
Separately, HR is also in charge of seeking and recruiting new talent as well as improving workplace policies and inspiring employees to enjoy their job. With a limited number of staff, the HR department has to implement a variety of activities and support programmes to optimise our workforce. One of the most vital tasks is recruiting the right personnel for the right departments. When the most appropriate people are found, both the organisation and the staff will enjoy mutual benefits.
What is your overall view of HR as a necessary business function?
The existence and development of each enterprise greatly depends on the best usage of capital, facilities, advanced technology and personnel. Each of these resources are closely interrelated. Resources such as facilities, devices, machines or technology can all be bought or produced – but we cannot “create” people in the same manner. I believe your people are the most important resource of any organisation.
What’s the best thing about HR at VietJet?
The HR department (we actually call it the “people department”) is well structured and well organised when it comes to the recruitment, training and development of talent. We launched a training centre in August 2012, which serves both internal and external needs of aviation-related training. All the available courses are in line with the certified standards of the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam.
The people department also ensures the organisation employs the right balance of staff in terms of skills and experience, and that training and development opportunities are available to employees to enhance their performance and achieve the employer’s business goals and objectives.
Periodical programmes to commend personnel and give awards to the best employees are also taken into account. We are very proud that VietJet’s training centre earned a certificate of merit from the Ministry of Transport of Vietnam in August 2014. VietJet was also awarded “Top 50 companies to most attract candidates” by Vietnamworks.