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Transcript: Leadership Experiences of a Refugee (EP24)


Intro (with music): Welcome to The Culture of Things podcast with Brendan Rogers. This is a podcast where we talk all things, culture, leadership and teamwork across business and sport.


Brendan Rogers: Hello, everybody. I'm Brendan Rogers, the host of The Culture of Things podcast. And this is Episode 24.

Today, I'm talking with Quang Nguyen. Quang is a man who values the time he spends with his family. He believes all business owners should be able to spend time with their families or for doing whatever it is they love.

Being a first generation refugee, he’s grown up doing his best to combine the opportunities and social norms that come with living in a Western society while maintaining and preserving the Vietnamese culture that has been passed on to him.

In wanting to give back to the education sector because it had taught him so much, he decided to be an educator. Within two years of teaching, Quang became an Assistant Principal and started to bring innovative practices into the classroom. After a conversation with his wife, Quang decided to pursue his other passions, starting with his love of Psychology and human behaviour.

From there, it evolved into what he does now, working with business owners so that they can utilise this vehicle to live the life that they had envisioned when they started the business.

Quang works with business owners to provide them with the time, space, insight and strategies to grow their business. Working with him is not about doing everything that everyone else is doing. It's about focusing on the one thing that will make the biggest impact in your business.

Quang exclusively charges his fees after his clients achieve their financial targets. In essence, if you do not meet the financial outcome he set with you, he does not get paid his full fee.

The focus of our conversation today is how his culture and coming to Australia as a refugee has shaped his leadership experiences.

Quang, welcome to The Culture of Things podcast, buddy.

Quang Nguyen: Mate, thank you for having me here. It's, as you read that out, I was like, wow, I've done a fair bit in my lifetime. (Laughing)

Brendan Rogers: Thanks for coming on to the show today and thanks for coming to my home to record it. What we want to dive into, again, your experiences as a refugee, an immigrant coming to Australia and what that's taught you about life, and there's certain expectations in you coming from an Asian-Vietnamese family, about being the first son. I'd love you to share, just start back at that story, back, your parents in Vietnam, and then this journey that took them to Australia.

Quang Nguyen: Thanks for letting me share this story because as we were just chatting before, I've never really had an opportunity to share or get back into it in as much detail as I would now. And to have it in a public forum which is, just strengthens my connection to the story.

So, my parents’s from a small town fishing village, east of Huế, I guess for the English people, that's Huế, H-U-E, the old capital of the country. They grew up in the fishing village. It's known as Phu Nguyen and I'm just, I don't know how to pronounce it in English. And so, I'll just pronounce it with a Vietnamese accent. And so, it's a poor village. And my parents, being in their families, my Dad is, I think comes in number five, five of eight children. The only boy, the only male in his family and my Mum is the third child of a family of four. And she was the only girl in her family. So they both experienced the whole Vietnam war situation.

My Dad told me, you know, one time they were on the beach, being a fishing village, and he was with my Grandad. And I'm fortunate that I'm the only sibling in my family to have met my Grandad before he passed. And he was telling me how they were just on the village, on the beach one time, and all of a sudden, they saw planes flying overhead. So, they started running. They started running and then they pulled this little shell, which type of boat that they use, put it over their heads and just hid. And my dad would say, he's forever grateful because he said, a missile, had kind of a shell, had landed about a meter away from them, him and his Grandad, but didn't explode. So, you know, you can't help, but get goosebumps when you hear stories like that. And I think those moments had planted the seed for him to search better opportunities that Vietnam couldn't provide for them at that moment in time.

Brendan Rogers: Just that small section of the story is absolutely fascinating. And just that moment in history of the missile not exploding, if that did happen, then we wouldn't have been talking today.

Quang Nguyen: Definitely not. It's a butterfly effect, isn't it? It's a series of key moments that my parents and my grandparents had experienced and fortunate enough to survive that allowed me and my family to be here now, you know, living in Australia and, you know, we've the land of abundance essentially, you know. And we're forever grateful that we're here and we're healthy and we're safe. It always comes back to comparison and comparing to how my cousins are in Vietnam now, it's chalk and cheese. And I'm forever grateful that I'm here and able to provide and do what I do now to support my family in the means that I can.

Brendan Rogers: Tell us a bit around how there was that moment and obviously seeking a better life. And you've told me before how your family went from Vietnam to Hong Kong, and then eventually, to Australia. Tell us a little bit more about that journey for you.

Quang Nguyen: So, the Vietnam war had ended. And I can't remember the exact date because back then, my parents didn't deal with exact dates. The calendar didn't exist for them, but it was sometime after the Vietnam war. And my parents had started seeing each other. And my Dad had decided, I guess he decided with my Mum that they had to leave. They had to leave if they wanted a future, not only for themselves, but for the children that they planned to have. My Dad's best mate organised a boat, and they had decided to leave in the middle of the night. And before I'd share with you about the action of them leaving, so because my Dad is the only male in his family, so, you know, he's got seven or eight sisters. A lot of the responsibility would have fallen back on him because, you know, it's a very hierarchical, patriarchal culture, the Vietnamese culture.

So, there was a lot of expectation on him to continue to provide for the family and my Mum, being the only daughter, they wanted her to marry someone, find a good husband to look after her, make sure that she was fulfilling her duties as a woman. So, when they had snuck off, because they were the, both the only boy and girl in their family, the families didn't talk to each other for a while because they blamed each other. “You took my only son. You made my only son leave.” “Your son took my only daughter away.” So, there was a bit of a family tension for a while, but on to that night, they decided to leave at night and I can only share the stories that have been passed on to me from both my uncle and my parents that they left in the middle of the night. And as they were running, they were being shot at to get on to this boat. I think they worked out at the time. It would have been like a three day, three night journey to Hong Kong, just going off the landmarks that have been shared to them to keep an eye out for. They're not sailors. Yes, they grew up in a fishing village, but they hadn't planned to travel all that journey, you know? So, they had the, just the basics.

And one night, and this is shared by both my uncle and my Dad. One night, my dad, for whatever reason, had fallen into the ocean in the middle of night, no lights, no nothing. And my Mum was hysterical. Her partner, lover, falling into the ocean. And they were circling for about three times and my uncle, he was the captain. He was in charge. He said to my Mum, “I love him too, but my responsibilities to all the people on the boat.” And he was about to take off and continue the journey with my Dad still in the water. And as they were redirecting the ship to go towards Hong Kong again, my Mum just yelled out and there was my Dad, and they pulled him on board. And as they pulled him on board, he didn't even say anything. He just collapsed from sheer exhaustion. And then from that moment, I would hope it was smooth sailing for the rest of the time, but they eventually ended up in a refugee camp in Hong Kong where they spent a couple of years and where I was born.

Brendan Rogers: You've made it to Hong Kong. Well, you haven't made it to Hong Kong...yet.

Quang Nguyen: Not yet. Not yet.

Brendan Rogers: Your parents have made it to Hong Kong and you were born in Hong Kong, as you said. What do you remember if anything about that time in Hong Kong for you and growing up those early years in a refugee camp?

Quang Nguyen: Yeah. So, my parents were there for a couple of years, I think 3 or 4 years up all together. And I don't have any recollections. I just have stories that have been passed on to me. So, during that whole time, they have been seeking asylum in different countries. And for them, Australia would, it was like the pinnacle because they heard so much about it. They heard about all the boat people who had come by boat and cross the treacherous oceans and had made it. So, Australia was where they wanted to be, but they would have taken anywhere. So, they were applying. And friends were getting allocated to countries like Norway, other parts of Europe. My uncle, who's like I mentioned before, my Dad's best mate, he got accepted into Canada. And right after he got accepted into Canada, my parents had got accepted into Australia, and I was about 10 months at the time.

And we all wanted to be together. To help paint the picture, my parents hadn't been overseas to any other country besides Vietnam once they've been here. Yeah. And I was fortunate enough to go to Canada to finish my last year, my studies there. And when I was there, he was just sharing everything with me because he was there. He sees me as his own son. And he was like, “I was desperate to come to Australia with you guys, but I couldn't take the risk of waiting around and not getting anywhere.” So, he took Canada and he set a beautiful life up for himself in Canada.

And I was born in Hong Kong. I was born in an English-speaking hospital. I don't have any memories. I have lots of photos. I have a scar on my leg because my Mum had accidentally dropped some boiling water on me, you know, as a kid. And the story’s they took me to the doctor in the compound, and they had blamed the neighbour upstairs. They just thrown, you know, a cup of hot water off the balcony just to avoid any blame, avoid me getting taken. But you know, that's, you know, it wasn't all doom and gloom. There were funny moments. And you know, there's photos of my parents in the 80’s wearing flared jeans and flannelette shirts. And me, pictures of majors sitting in a stack of hay with just socks on. I think that we were just really grateful that one, that we're on this path to seek a new opportunity, but they just had to be patient and wait for that opportunity to arrive, which it finally did. And we arrived here when I was 10 months old in Australia. So, that was March 1984.

Brendan Rogers: What sort of qualities did you, on reflection, see in your Dad from a leadership perspective? He was the leader of the family and making some pretty significant sacrifices to raise a bit of life for this family that they were growing.

Quang Nguyen: Yeah, mate. That's a really great reflection question there. I mean, first and foremost, you need to really have kahunas. And I say that because in the Vietnamese culture is very hierarchical and respectful of elders. And in the fishing village, it's very like a village hierarchy. So, my Dad's family had ranked high in that hierarchy. And so, to help even paint a picture now, when I go back to Vietnam and into my village, there will be people who, other men who are like 60, 70 years old calling me Big Brother, you know, and that's just how that particular village worked. So, for my Dad to go against everything that had been instilled in him, that, you know, “This is how we do it. This is your role”, not only in his family, but also in the village to say, “No, I actually want something different. I actually want better opportunities. I want a better life for my future family.” and to not only go against the grain of the village and the culture of the country, but to also risk his own life and not just his own life, but to take responsibility for the life of my Mum essentially as well. You need to have kahunas, you need to be brave, you need to be tough to make that decision and run with it, to then also have the patience and not give up the resilience, to wait for that opportunity.

I can't even imagine what it'd be like to be in a refugee camp. We hear about the conditions that they go through. We hear about the conditions at like, you know, Villawood Detention Centre and all these other camps around. To have a newborn and to kind of have your hands tied and knowing that everything that's waiting for you is in the hands of others, it would just take so much restraint to not one, not blow that opportunity, but two, just to hold tight and be tough for myself, the newborn at the time, my Mum, who was no doubt, probably missing her Mum.

So, the support that you have with a newborn, but also for the other friendships that he's created in that time, especially with how people look up to him because of that status. So, to have that toughness, the resilience, that assuredness that, you know, you need to do this, especially in that time where you couldn't like, now, if we need something, we can Google it. We can have an understanding of how to do something, how to find something, how to get to somewhere. But to do that blindly, to jump on a boat in the middle of the night, know that you're going to get shot at, blindly travel through the ocean, not knowing the currents, not knowing that you could potentially run aground somewhere, run into pirates, all those things. It's a whole different level of bravery that I personally can't comprehend because we have a good life here. And that is something I’m forever grateful for.

Brendan Rogers: What do you think of these characters? You, as the, can I say, the leader in your family, again, and we're not saying that, you know, because you're male, you have to be the leader, but there is a cultural significance in Vietnam and the Asian culture where you are the first-born son. And then you're the leader of your own family as well. What has really rubbed off and resonated with you about your parents and particularly your Dad and what you've just explained and how you live as a man in your family?

Quang Nguyen: Upon reflection, it's all of those traits that I've articulated there about my father. So, in the Vietnamese culture, the male figure is the breadwinner, the decision-maker, all of those things that we take for granted. For me, I'm the eldest of five siblings. So, the onus was on me to one, would help look after my siblings, but two, help support my parents whenever I could. And ultimately, as time progressed, it would have been my responsibility to look after them in old age. So, I know we're moving away from the question a little bit, but the leadership traits that I've learned from my family there, are that things just need to get done at the end of the day. It was, I guess, an enforced leadership on me, but I've learned so much that it just needs to get done. So, in regards to getting my siblings to school, you know, I had to make their lunches, get them dressed, gather them up.

We all walk together, gather them up, and make sure that we're all together waiting at the gate so we can walk home. Ensure that they were fed ‘cause that's the responsibility that was bestowed on me. And it was accepted. I didn't argue it. I didn't, it's just all I knew. And then, I would help out with my parents at the fruit shop as well. And then, other things like that. And then, as we, me and my siblings, all grew older, I was able to help delegate some of the responsibilities. I would say to my sister, “Can you help get the youngest one ready?” or “She needs to have a nappy change” or whatever it is. So, leadership in getting tasks done and looking after, supervising, but also being able to learn how to delegate appropriately as well. I think they've been a key component, but just communication. I think from an early age, I learned how to communicate in a way that allowed me to, manipulate’s the wrong word, but to justify my request for the actions taken or to justify the delegation of work so that we could share the workload because I also learnt it's tough doing everything yourself. So, in a family of five, if we can share some of the workload, it'll make it a lot easier. And I guess being in that situation has allowed me to learn leadership from a very young age.

Brendan Rogers: Quang, you mentioned before that you were 10 months when you came to Australia. I don't imagine you remember a lot about at that 10-month timeframe and arriving into Australia, but what are your first memories of coming to this new country?

Quang Nguyen: My first memories were just walking around with my parents, playing with my neighbours. That was a key memory of mine. And the funny thing is, upon reflection, I didn't learn the language. I didn’t learn English until I started school. So, I was playing with my neighbours even before I started school. But for me, my memories really kick in when school started. And, I think, that probably, learning the language probably helped me make sense of the world a lot more. Learning the language was also important for my parents and a skill for me to have for my parents because they saw me as the bridge between them as a society. Because at that time, in the early 80’s, adult education wasn't available or what was available was very limited in what they learned. So, they learned the basics, but they didn't learn the lingo if you know what I mean. So, for me, learning the language was really key. So, they pushed me to study really hard. They pushed me to read a lot, write a lot. They really wanted me to understand what was going on.

I'll share a funny story of how my lack of language got me sent home from school one day. So, at the time, we were buying our clothes from the markets because, you know, that's what you do. And if you remember the 80’s, you could get really cool matching bottoms and matching top fleecy track pants, track suits. So, and the kindergarten I went to, we didn't have a school uniform. It was just a free for all. One time, I turned up to school, and my jumper, I was rocking a brand new track suit. Nice top, nice bottom, my jumper said, and this shows how far we've progressed since the 80’s. My jumper said, “I'm the boss and I don't take shit from anyone.” So I was like, “Oh, my teacher wanted me to take my jumper off.” I was like, “Yeah. Okay.” But still, no comprehension of why, I took my jumper off. And my shirt said the same thing. (Laughing) So, three-piece matching suit. And from there, like, you know, you can't take your shirt off. So, my parents got called up and I had to go home from school because I had an offensive school uniform on. (Laughing)

Brendan Rogers: (Laughing) That's a great story, mate. Isn't it funny, how, when we're learning languages that I think one of the things that people always want to learn first is a couple of swear words or something just to throw in. (Laughing) Is it, you did that without even knowing, is that right?

Quang Nguyen: That's it, that's it. That's probably what attracted my Dad to the shirt. (Laughing)

Brendan Rogers: I guess, thinking about that moment, and I know education's a really important thing for you, and I'd love you to share some linkage or what you perceive as the linkage in that upbringing and education, your parents challenging you and pushing you to learn. And then, you took that. You eventually became a teacher and an Assistant Principal. Tell us a little bit around that journey and why that was really important to you. You felt like you wanted to give back to the education system which is part of that journey you took.

Quang Nguyen: Yeah, most definitely. I mean, I wouldn't be sitting here now communicating with you or anyone else because I didn't have the skills back then, but it was through my educational journey and I'm forever appreciative that I went to school here in Australia because they took the time to help me learn the language. When I say learn the language, not just read, write, but to also develop key language skills like public speaking, communicating with adults, the different forms of speaking and writing. And we were poor, so having access to the school library at any time to be able to borrow books and read all those things had helped me develop my capacity to do what I do now.

And even a quick story on that, like the teachers that I worked with at the time had, you know, left a great impression on me that so much so that when I started teaching, and I was talking to them about, you know, where I went to school and all that kind of stuff. And there's one teacher who we mentioned that we'd come across and kind of pinpointed that perhaps, more likely than not, that she probably would have been teaching me English at that time, in year 1 and year 2, which was, which kind of blew my mind. Being in the education system here, being in school here, they talk about, you know, you need to learn this so you can do this so you can have this opportunity, do that opportunity. And so, it kind of started to filter through my mind that, “Hey, I can do many things if I wanted to. I could be a teacher.” Being Asian, my parents pushed me to be a doctor or a lawyer, you know, fulfil the Asian prophecy. (Laughing) But, you know, I was really keen for a little while to be an astronaut. But to see all those things, those opportunities be presented in front of you was very eye opening.

So that's the Western society component, you know. You can do anything you want provided that you learn what you need to learn. And then on the flip side of that, my parents had kind of wanted to keep and preserve the Vietnamese heritage within us, because it was really their only link back to their homeland. Back in the 1980s, for them to communicate with their families back home, it was mail which took weeks. There weren't many Vietnamese shops or the population wasn't as big as it is now. So, whatever traditions and customs they had kept in their mind, they wanted to push on to us. So, I went to school, but also went to Vietnamese school to learn the language, to become familiar with the language, to speak it properly, to learn to write it so I can communicate with my family back home.

That Vietnamese language, if you ever tried to learn it, it's so hard. I would say, growing up, English was my second language. I would say now, Vietnamese is my second language, because like most things, if you don't use it, you lose it. So, there was starting to become this kind of tear in me in trying to fit into Western society, Australian culture, but also try to preserve my traditional Vietnamese traditions and customs, because we get told here, “You can do anything you want. You can be what you want.” And then, there's my parents. And I understand that now, but they're like, “Nope, you study. You do this because we sacrifice our lives to come here so you can have a better opportunity. So you can be a doctor.” My understanding of it now is because my parents didn't go to school. My Mum left school in Year 6. My Dad left school like Year 3 to help bring whatever income they can into their family. So these opportunities that they missed, that they want us to take so much so that it's kind of being forced upon you, which then kind of tears at you because you want to do your best to, you’re like your eyes have been opened saying, “Oh, yep. Oh man, I would love to be an astronaut. I would love to be a pilot”, but my parents are forcing me to do this. So there's kind of that dilemma that most, I would say most, a lot of refugee children who are growing up here kind of get torn between East and West.

Brendan Rogers: Yeah. I imagine that would be quite a challenge, and talking around challenges as an Asian boy growing up in the 80’s and 90’s and going to school, what were some of those challenges that you had?

Quang Nguyen: First and foremost, well, it was just the language. You would always get picked on because you couldn't speak. So, because you couldn't speak, you wouldn’t join in socially, all those kinds of things. And so, my earliest memory is from about Year 2 to Year 3, I started having friends beyond Asian people because I could communicate with them. Before that, it was just one or two, either it was an Asian person or two or someone else who was learning the language like myself because we were doing it together. But in saying that, if you were good at something, a particular sport, a game, then you kind of a shoe in. But if things go wrong, it would always come back to your race. I'm glad to say I haven't experienced that kind of racism in a long time.

My last bit of racism that I clearly remember experiencing was when you finish Year 12, you go on a schoolies trip. Me and my mates drove up to Queensland, Noosa, you know. And we’re at the airport car park waiting to pick a friend up ‘cause he flew and we pulled into a parking spot. We legitimately found it first and this car just drove past and he goes, “That's my spot. You nip.” And so, what's that, 2000. But so, that's the last bit of racism that I've personally experienced. But at the time, you know, that's definitely one of those things that if you were from an ethnic minority, that you would have experienced it in a lot of ways. There's also the poverty factor. So, you know, just wearing clothes that were old or being boys, you would run around and wear them out and put holes in them. But then, you know, getting picked on because of that, but also, school’s a funny place, going for like, you know, those leadership positions, like the SRC and whatnot, but people were saying, “Nah, don't go for it because you can't speak properly.”

Little things like that kind of impact, you know, impact your confidence to apply for other things moving forward. It was kind of like I was living two lives. So there was the school persona. I was able to run around, play, aspire to do things, learn about cool things like how airplanes work, how helicopters work. And then, there's my home life where, “Go home”, oldest-son hat on again. Look after my siblings. Help my parents if they needed me. Otherwise, I would be just, they would just be getting me to read, write, study, do maths. It's funny, it's stereotypical. I guess, home-life for an immigrant, if you wanted to say that. So, I was kind of like living two lives and I wasn't sure, I kind of felt drawn towards the school life because I was free. I was able to express myself more. I was becoming more confident. I was wanting to pursue other things just beyond the mundane push towards just study, study study. And that's the conflict between the Western society, but also the pressures from your parents who have sacrificed so much. And they wanted to make sure that you take these opportunities. So, the only way they know is to make you sit in a room to do textbook after textbook and read book after book until you can do no more and get jack of it.

Brendan Rogers: Can you share the positive side of you looking different, culturally different, in an Australian school where you actually felt like maybe, somebody or a group of friends have actually seen the cultural diversity and really embrace that and love the differences in it?

Quang Nguyen: Mate, definitely. And there's a couple of key things here. One, because I was forced to study at home. Everyone knew me as a clever maths kid. (Laughing) So, a smart Asian Math kid - tick. (Laughing) So, when you do group work, they would want to be with you because you're able to carry them along. The food. Food was a big thing. Where we grew up was very multicultural. It got more multicultural as I progress through primary school. And so, food was a key component. We had multicultural days and as you know, food ties people to their tradition, but it's also a great way to share traditions because a lot of cultural food is shared food, shared meals. So, whenever our school had a multicultural day, the parents from all cultures will be cooking all night to come and share their food, share their traditions.

It was only in, about Year 5, I remember I was wearing a traditional Vietnamese outfit for the first time. Actually, it felt quite proud to wear it because they had, I guess the processes started early, but to embrace everyone and their culture and their background and not just limit them to just being a student who is learning the language or who looks a bit different. I remember that was a proud moment because I was able to wear my outfit. People would ask me questions. My Mum had made a, excuse my language, had made a shitload of spring rolls to share. (Laughing) And everyone loves spring rolls. So, I was like handing them out like a hundred dollar bills. So, food was the key component in breaking down barriers. Once that barrier's kind of broken, people become more accepting of you because they see you for not just the stereotypical, you know, Asian that's being portrayed in the media. They see you as a person, which is cool. And the only difference was you just eat different food or you may have a different accent. I mean, my accent, hard to believe at the time, was a bit ‘Asiany’, if that's a word and that's what we all want to experience, we all want to be treated as an individual, as a person, not just your skin colour, not just because of your food, not because you dress in a particular way or your parents are from a particular place. Ultimately, when I started to be treated like a person, an individual, like it just made me more receptive of everyone else as well.

Brendan Rogers: Mate, I think this one is the million dollar question. You went to school in Australia and us Aussies, we're really good at nicknames. (Laughing) You know, people call me Brendo, or I've got some other nicknames, which probably I won't share on this episode. What was your nickname?

Quang Nguyen: My nickname. Oh, here we go. Here in Australia, we always extend the nickname. So, it's not, you know, you don't make it shorter. So, in primary school, it was Quangy. So, “Come over here Quangy. Pass the ball here, Quangy.” And then, as time progressed, we learned that nicknames should be shorter. So, now everyone calls me Q. I think probably because if you say my name in Vietnamese, it doesn't actually translate to how it's written down in English. So, my name in Vietnamese, if you say it, it's actually pronounced /kwa:ŋ/. That was the struggle of my primary school life, because I only ever heard my parents say it. So, they will go Quang, Quong. I'm like, “/kwa:ŋ/”. And so, eventually, it settled on Quong or a while in primary school. And then, in high school, it converted to Quang and then primary school was Quongy, Quangy. And then later on, towards the end of high school, uni, it was Q just to make it easier for everyone. (Laughing)

Brendan Rogers: I know you when we first met, pretty sure you mentioned, “Just call me Q”. I had these visions of Quango actually, ‘cause we seem to put this O on the end of everything. So, you didn't mention that one, but Quangy, Quang, Q, what do you like to be called?

Quang Nguyen: Mate, I would like to be called by my full Vietnamese name, thank you very much.

Brendan Rogers: (Laughing) Please share.

Quang Nguyen: Five names now. I'm just kidding. So nah, Q is just easy. It's what I go by now. All my high school mates call me that. That's how I'm just known to the world now. Part of the reason for that was when I was traveling, but the Australian accent didn't do my name well in other countries. So, they just couldn't wrap their head around it. So, just Q was easiest.

Brendan Rogers: Mate, I want to go back to the educational side of things. ‘Cause it was a, I know from past conversations, a big part of your life. How do you think that shaped your own leadership style, leadership experience in that stage of being an Assistant Principal and even now in your own business? ‘Cause you're a leader of people, you're coaching people in business and your own style around that.

Quang Nguyen: I wanted to get into education because when I had left high school, I'd realised that I needed to pursue something for myself and my parents had pushed me down that path. And I think I’ve chosen to do Computer Science, but at the time, I'd also wanted to do teaching because I kind of had an epiphany moment. My dad said, “No. Just go into Computer Science because there's more money to be made.” So, naturally, you listen to your parents. You show that respect to your elders, but it wasn't for me. So, in that time away, I did some volunteer youth work, all that kind of stuff. And it made me realise that school had a massive influence on me because it taught me so much. And I wanted to give back then to help others who, probably, in similar situations growing up, whether they're refugee status or not, or low socio-economic status, people who were just doing it tough to show that, “Hey, I had a similar experience and you know, if you do make the effort to learn, these opportunities will be there, but you've just got to be ready to take them.”

So, I got into education for that reason. And I had made it a note of mine to work in underprivileged areas because those schools, like just the simple gesture of a teacher making a sandwich for me because I couldn't have lunch one day, that really like stayed with me. That someone, a teacher who was there to teach me, looked after me beyond the classroom for a kid 8, 9 who was starving. It just leaves a great impression on you. So, I wanted to do that and I'd purely gone into teaching just for the idea of teaching, helping my kids in the classroom, nothing more than that. And I was fortunate enough to have some great Principals that I worked under, who were, had a great presence in the community, first and foremost, did what was best for the kids. And it was only after two years where I got appointed at a school, and the Principal tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Hey, what do you think about stepping up to be an AP?”

I said, “Oh man, I haven't really thought about it.” He said, “Look. First and foremost, I wouldn't speak to you if I didn't think you could do it. Second, the kids love you. They respect every word that comes out of your mouth. And the staff respect you because you do the hard work. You're not a guy who comes in, just teaches, and then goes home. You're there, you're planning. You're having that conversation with them to ensure that they can incorporate some of the cool stuff that I was doing into their teaching programs.” So, without that shove, I wouldn't have been here. So, the education fostered my desire to give back the leadership skills I kind of portrayed in a way from my early age and which I naturally brought into the classroom.

And then, from there, the one thing that the Department of Education does really well and this is just my opinion is they do provide some good training. In that role, I was able to go to a lot of good training on not just teaching practices and teaching pedagogy, but also leadership practices and leadership pedagogy. From there, I was able to lead a team of teachers as well as all the students under their supervision, but I wasn't doing it on my own. And that's one thing I learned. I wanted to make it a real team effort because we all had to be wrong in the same direction. And the thing is, each classroom has their own set of kids. And the kids in each classroom are not only different to each classroom, but they’re different to each other. For me to ensure that I was doing the best job, I would have to rely on the teachers to know their kids, to trust their kids, to give me the appropriate and the most accurate feedback so that we could make the best decision. It purely was a collaborative effort because I was relying on them to give me the best insight into their classrooms, the school on their side, to ensure that we were rowing in the same direction.

Brendan Rogers: With all this experience you've shared today, what legacy do you want to leave for your immediate family, your kids, but also your siblings, being the first-born child and thrown into the leadership side of family?

Quang Nguyen: Legacy is a question that I've been toying around with because we all know that we all are working towards a bigger purpose, a bigger picture. And so, my legacy now, because it's changed over time and it's changed because the context of how I'm living my life has changed. My legacy now, with, as you mentioned, with more my young family, our two young boys, would be to help my kids fulfil their opportunities. Part of that is one, making sure they grow up to be decent human beings. ‘Cause first and foremost, they're people, they're humans. And as a father, I see that right now, the most pressing role is me being a father and me being a husband. And my legacy for them is for them to know that they're loved by me. Period. So for them, first and foremost, to be loved, feel loved all the time and then is for them to fulfil and take the options that they want to take.

Part of that is helping them see what's required and instilling those traits in them. So one, hard work always wins. So, I want them to be hard workers. It doesn't mean they're gonna be hard workers forever, but to achieve something, there's an amount of work that needs to be put in there. And I want them to just be grateful. And I don't want to say that as like, “I grew up with nothing. They've got everything here. They need to be grateful for what they have.” I want them to come to their own understanding of gratefulness and appreciation because they have to see it themselves, but I can help show them what it takes to be grateful. And I can model that to them myself.

With my, I guess my family, that we will always respect our traditions and our culture. It's who we are. That's a part of us. There's no getting around that. I mean, first and foremost, our skin tone is there. You can't hide it. But living here in Western society, we can successfully live here and take advantage of all the opportunities that we are exposed to without feeling any angst or any resentment towards our culture. We can respect it. We can acknowledge it, but we can also use it to push us towards our lifestyle here, which is great. It's ‘cause my siblings, they all, it's funny. We all got pushed in towards, “study, study study”, but they're all business owners now. They're either business owners or they're subcontractors. We're all highly educated. We're articulate. We're doing well financially. And what we've done is we haven't disregarded our culture. We're still there. We respect our parents. We respect our culture. We eat culturally-appropriate foods when we need to. We, you know, we pay our respects at the temples because that's who we are, but it doesn't stop us from pursuing what we want to achieve in this society.

Brendan Rogers: I want to finish by taking you back to your parents. And this moment, this opportunity they've given you, which has enabled you to give the opportunity to others and your family. What's the greatest thing that your parents have given you to enable you to do what you do today?

Quang Nguyen: There's no one thing. There will never be just the one thing, because it's a series of different things. First and foremost, to bring me to life, the chance as we know, like the chance of conceiving and giving birth is, you know, minimal. So, just to have life is awesome. So that. But then, for them to take the risk that they did sacrificing everything, they literally sacrificed everything and they were prepared to sacrifice themselves as well, because they didn't know they were going to get off that boat safely at the end. They didn't know what was going to happen once they reached the other end. To sacrifice all of that and make that decision in hope, I'm forever grateful that they've decided to act out of hope. And last but not least is Vietnamese people show love very fleetingly. It's just a culture thing. But I know that my parents loved me because they showed it in their way and they showed it in their way through the hard work that they did and through their words of encouragement. And so, I am forever grateful that they showed me the love that helped me put in the efforts and make the decisions that I needed to be here.

Now, sitting in this chair, it's monumental. It's, like I said, it's not just the one thing. And it would be too simplistic to put it down to one thing, but a multitude of those things, starting for with what I've said there. And I'm sure as I leave now, there'll be other things that are popping into my mind that, ‘cause yeah, like I'm grateful for that as well. And I really appreciate it that they did this. And I remember the time that they did this and just being as a family, first, they showed what the family unit is when we all work together and we all respect each other. And that's something that I definitely take into my household as well.

Brendan Rogers: Thank you for sharing, mate. And I'd love you to share just the name of your parents. We've talked about them a bit today and they sound like fascinating and fantastic people. And I agree with you, the sacrifice that your parents have made, what are your parents' names and what are they doing today?

Quang Nguyen: Yeah. So my Mum is, in Vietnamese, you say Gai, which literally translates to girl and my Dad's name is Yom. They're still living out in Southwest Sydney. They're just in a, what's considered a hotspot. So, they're just taking the necessary precautions, still working part-time. But, you know, they've just got to have a face mask on and not go out as much, which is a shame because my Mum is the one who is funny because they love their grandkids. They love seeing my boys, but my Mum's the one who's being extra cautious in saying, “No, we're in a hotspot. You look after yourself. We'll see you soon.” So, that's love.

Brendan Rogers: I'm pretty lucky. I've known you for a while and I can get hold of you anytime. I think you take my calls most of the time. Other people will want to get hold of you. How can they?

Quang Nguyen: So guys, if you reach out to me via email, so it's Quang, Q-U-A-N-G, quang@qncoaching.com.au. Otherwise, you can find me on social medias with the handle @QNCoach or QNCoaching. And guys, please touch base. If there's anything that you would like me to share with you, even more elaborate on with my story, more than happy to.

Brendan Rogers: I would love to honestly sit here and say that you are the most famous Vietnamese person, but we've got to give that mantle to Anh Do, I suppose. But you're definitely a close second in my book, mate. I can't tell you how much I appreciate you coming on the show, the vulnerability and the ability for you to share that story is fantastic. I'm really surprised that you said off air that you haven't really shared or taken the opportunity to share this sort of stuff. I think it's fascinating. I think it's part of who you are. And to me, it just creates another level of trust and relationship and strength of relationship around who you are, what you are, how you help your clients. So, I'm absolutely honoured to have you on today, mate. Thank you very much for sharing. Thanks for being a fantastic guest on The Culture of Things podcast.

Quang Nguyen: Mate, and thank you for thinking that my story is worthy of sharing on your platform. I really appreciate it, mate.

(Music plays)

Brendan Rogers: Q’s Mum and Dad sacrificed everything to make a better life for their future family. They risked their life. And from what Q shared, they could have easily paid the ultimate price. I know most parents would do anything for their children. I'm just thankful that we live in a time where many parents don't need to consider sacrificing their life. But also, unfortunately, there are still too many that do.

Listening to Q's story was quite emotional for me. It brought back wonderful memories of a childhood friend I had in primary school. His name was Lim Trin. I was too young to know or even understand his family story back then, but so much of what Q shared resonated, because I also saw these responsibilities play out with my friend Lim. I'm sure Lim will have grown into a fine leader and a decent human being just like Q.

These were my three key takeaways from my conversation with Q.

My first key takeaway. Leaders make sacrifices. This means putting other people's interests ahead of your own. Q’s parents and uncle were shining examples of this. Remember when Q's uncle made the decision to leave his brother behind? He did this because he was the captain and was responsible for everyone on the boat. How many leaders do you know who make sacrifices for the people they lead?

My second key takeaway. Leaders create opportunity. They create opportunity for the people they lead now and they create opportunity for people they will lead in the future. A leader's ultimate responsibility is to create the opportunity for themselves to grow and for the people they lead to grow. Focus on creating these opportunities and nothing can limit you or your team.

My third key takeaway. Leaders take responsibility for their decisions. They have the guts to make the tough decisions in order to help the people they lead and they don't shy away when it gets tough. They have the strength of their convictions to see their decisions through. Taking this responsibility builds trust, which is a solid foundation for performance.

So, in summary, my three key takeaways were, leaders make sacrifices, leaders create opportunity, and leaders take responsibility for their decisions.

If you have any questions or feedback about this episode, please feel free to send me a message at brendan@brendanrogers.com.au.

Thank you for listening. Stay safe. Until next time. 


Outtro (music): Thank you for listening to The Culture of Things podcast with Brendan Rogers. Please visit brendanrogers.com.au to access the show notes. If you love The Culture of Things podcast, please subscribe, rate and give a review on Apple podcasts and remember a healthy culture is your competitive advantage.