Few entrepreneurs have the ambition to change their whole industry—but sometimes women have the skills to achieve what men think is impossible.
Visionary Vietnamese entrepreneur Madame Le Hoang Diep Thao comes to Dubai to champion closer business relations between her country—the largest coffee exporter in Asia—and the original home of coffee, the Middle East, Her plan to shift the balance of the global coffee industry back to its point of origin and bring fairer prices to all coffee producers and consumers is described in the final chapter of her biography The Queen of King Coffee, soft-launching at Dubai Expo 2020 in the Vietnamese pavilion, December 29, 2021.
What is the importance of the UAE to your coffee exporting strategy?
King Coffee is one among several strong Vietnamese brands involved in the export of our high-quality robusta coffee. Vietnam’s relationship with the UAE is very important in building relationships for the coffee industry in selling bulk commodity coffee through Dubai as a trading hub. This will give Asian coffee producers more control over the trading price of coffee and result in a more equitable and balanced coffee market globally.
How will King Coffee affect the coffee market in the Middle East?
King Coffee is a leading Asian coffee brand and the Middle East is the original home of coffee culture. Through stronger trade in this region, King Coffee will support refocusing the coffee industry away from the Western hemisphere and back to our region, strengthening the Middle Eastern coffee market with produce from Asia’s largest coffee bean supplier.
How will trading Vietnamese coffee through Dubai affect prices for consumers?
De-Westernising the coffee industry will bring fairer prices on the global market not only for consumers but importantly for the producers who have been suffering under controls imposed by US and British commodity exchanges. Consumers will pay fairer prices for the beverage and coffee farmers can set better prices for the raw coffee beans they grow.
What would be your advice for people who want to enter the coffee market?
It’s now much harder to build a coffee business than it used to be. Everything happens fast and the market is changing all the time. In my book I show how every startup now needs to go through several key stages until you can hold your market, and then you have to adjust continuously to maintain market position and growth. Following the strategy I share in the book, I managed to build my second coffee business to export in 190 countries within five years of doing business. Any newcomer to the coffee business should walk that same path.
How can King Coffee compare with Starbucks and Nescafé?
Starbucks and Nescafé are among the world’s most famous coffee brands although their success has traditionally relied on artificially low prices paid to third-world coffee producers. Starbucks is a US brand and Nescafé is a Swiss brand, but neither the US nor Switzerland is a coffee-producing country. King Coffee is from Vietnam, and we have our own coffee plantations and produce our own raw products. We also produce uniquely delicious forms of coffee drinks that originate from Asian culture, not European. We believe we are in a very strong position to compete on the global stage once fairer conditions in the global market are established.
How can Vietnamese coffee compete in the saturated Dubai coffee market?
Our key selling point is the unique taste of Vietnamese coffee that offers different coffee-drinking experiences than any other brand on the market. Vietnamese drinks such as caphe suada iced coffee, phin coffee and egg coffee are only found in Vietnam and are always loved and appreciated by visitors to our country. Our brand brings these extraordinary drinks to this part of the world.
What are your immediate plans for Dubai?
King Coffee is not only a coffee trader, we are also a coffee shop brand in our own right. We plan to roll out our own franchise here in Dubai selling our strong, flavoursome coffee drinks based on the wonderful robusta coffee from our country, which Emirati coffee lovers are sure to enjoy. We are therefore seeking a few key partners – especially women entrepreneurs like myself with the passion and creativity to forge new opportunities in our industry. So I’m looking forward to finding and mentoring these key female partners in our Dubai operation.
Vietnam has the highest proportion of female executives in the region. What is the character of Vietnam’s women entrepreneurs and what makes them stand out?
Vietnamese women lead with compassion and we manage our businesses like a river that flows onward and around obstacles in its path. This gives us a flexible, gentle power that brings depth and fullness to our management style. This approach is part of what makes female leadership so effective—and often feared—in our part of the world.
Why was it important to you to write this memoir?
I’ve had both great successes and terrible hardships in my life, but no matter what happens in life, all women in business should go on bravely. I wanted my memoir to share the truth about my story so as to give women who have experienced similar things as what happened to me the strength to go forward. I hope other women, as well as men in business, can learn from my example.
As a woman leader and a prominent figure in the coffee business, how do you balance family and your personal life?
This is something Vietnamese women have always had to do. In the wartime, our women also fought as well as supporting their families and working their jobs. That’s why Vietnamese women are sometimes more successful than men because in our culture women learn how to achieve this balance.
Madame Thao’s autobiography is an instructive business guide to the mechanics of building a successful Asian FMCG brand just as much as it is a revealing memoir that unveils the strategic mind of a gifted businesswoman and tells of the advantages and obstacles to female entrepreneurship in a country still beholden to traditional patriarchal values.
The English digital edition of The Queen of King Coffee is now available for preorder on Amazon at https://amzn.to/3supFpt.