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Tram Nguyen on Transformative Decisions in Business and Life

Tram Nguyen is the Founder of Living Good Candle Co., an innovative company committed to meticulously handcrafting the purest beeswax candles tailored for individuals with sensitivity. With a keen understanding of the significance of empathy in cultivating a thriving workplace culture, Tram offers invaluable insights into fostering empathy within professional environments. In this interview with The Industry Leaders, Tram shares wisdom and expertise on the importance of empathy in driving success and fostering harmonious work environments.

Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself and your journey as a leader in your industry?

After graduating in Chemical Engineering, my career path spanned various customer-consumer industries, exposing me to the significance of clean materials in our daily lives and their impact on human well-being. My passion for candles, cultivated through a lifetime of enjoying them, took a turn when I developed a sensitivity to many market-available options. This personal experience ignited the inception of Living Good Candle Co. My company is rooted in a dedication to caring for customers by producing the cleanest candles in the market. Initially, I assumed I could single-handedly manage and grow the business, but burnout taught me the necessity of a supportive team. Building my leadership style began with learning to care for and listen to my team, fostering gratitude for those supporting my small business. Over time, I've evolved, emphasizing transparent communication to build trust among my teammates. My foundational philosophy revolves around acknowledging our human fallibility and the power of open communication to mend errors. I firmly believe that empathetic leadership is crucial, recognizing that personal challenges impact our professional lives. Demonstrating care and empathy encourages team loyalty, fostering a supportive environment where individuals strive to do their best.

What specific experiences or decisions in your journey do you believe have shaped your approach to business and leadership?

Throughout my career, I've had the privilege of working under various influential leaders who have significantly shaped my professional journey. One individual stands out among them – my very first boss. As a novice chemical engineer, stepping into a complex work environment was nerve-wracking. However, this boss wasn't solely focused on technical knowledge. Instead, they imparted a crucial lesson about being a stellar team player. Their guidance transformed my perception of teamwork entirely. I learned that irrespective of titles, each team member essentially serves as their own leader. This experience ingrained in me the profound importance of teamwork, emphasizing that collective efforts, regardless of magnitude, require a united team. I remain immensely grateful to my initial mentor, whose leadership showcased that being an effective leader entails not only recognizing skill sets but also nurturing the softer aspects within individuals.

Can you share a story of a pivotal moment in your career that led to a significant transformation in your business or personal life?

One pivotal experience that significantly influenced my approach to business and leadership was the hasty hiring decisions I made when desperately seeking assistance for my warehouse due to severe burnout. In my rush, I overlooked proper research and interviews, resulting in hiring individuals who weren't the right fit. This mistake cost us several months and taught me an invaluable lesson about the immense impact of poor hiring choices on business performance. To rectify this, I took a step back and decided to handle operations by myself for a couple of months. This deliberate pause taught me the importance of patience and taking a methodical approach. I learned that rushing doesn't yield the right solutions; instead, it's essential to remain calm, patient, and deliberate in decision-making processes.

What factors did you consider when making that critical decision, and how did you weigh the potential risks and rewards?

When making the critical decision to rectify the hasty hiring choices that impacted my business, several factors were carefully considered to navigate the risks and potential rewards. Firstly, I evaluated the immediate impact of continuing with the wrong hires on the business's productivity, team dynamics, and overall performance. The potential risks were clear: prolonging inefficiencies, hampering progress, and potentially damaging the company culture. Conversely, the potential rewards of rectifying the situation included regaining operational efficiency, fostering a more cohesive team, and ultimately improving business outcomes.

To weigh these factors, I conducted a thorough analysis of the current situation and projected the long-term implications of persisting with the wrong hires versus taking corrective action. I assessed the short-term setback of managing operations single-handedly against the long-term benefits of investing time in finding suitable team members. The potential risk of a temporary setback due to handling operations alone was offset by the promise of a more effective and harmonious team dynamic after employing the right individuals.

Ultimately, I prioritized the long-term health and efficiency of the business over short-term convenience. The decision to take a temporary step back and handle operations personally was driven by the understanding that investing time in finding the right team members would lead to a more sustainable and successful business in the future. This deliberative approach aimed to minimize risks while maximizing the potential rewards of building a strong, capable team.

What challenges did you face during this transformative period, and how did you overcome them?

During the transformative phase of rectifying hasty hiring decisions and reevaluating our business approach, we encountered several challenges that demanded careful resolution. Inefficient team dynamics resulting from hiring missteps hindered productivity, requiring realignment towards common goals. Operational disruptions ensued as we shifted personnel and recalibrated hiring practices, demanding a delicate balance between managing workflow interruptions and ensuring consistent service delivery. Time constraints were evident as we dedicated substantial efforts to rectify hiring mistakes while juggling operational tasks. Transparency and communication were vital to overcome potential impacts on team morale due to the necessary changes. Additionally, managing the financial implications of these adjustments without compromising the business's stability posed a significant challenge. Simultaneously, handling operations independently during the hiring process added personal stress and potential burnout. To overcome these challenges, we adopted a culture centered around learning from our mistakes and ensuring organizational transparency. Recognizing the impact of our hiring missteps, we initiated open discussions within the team, emphasizing the lessons learned and the necessity to avoid similar errors. Transparency became a cornerstone of our approach as we openly addressed the challenges and potential delays in production resulting from the hiring process adjustments. By fostering an environment where everyone was aware of the issues and their implications, we encouraged proactive problem-solving. Transparent communication channels were established, allowing team members to voice concerns, contribute ideas, and collectively work towards solutions. This approach not only facilitated smoother transitions but also empowered our team to actively participate in overcoming obstacles, fostering a culture of shared responsibility and continuous improvement.

Looking back, what advice would you give to your younger self at that time, or to entrepreneurs and business leaders who might find themselves in a similar situation?

For those venturing into entrepreneurship, I've distilled three essential considerations that were pivotal in my own journey. Firstly, understanding the distinction between having a business idea and actively building a sustainable business is crucial. It demands relentless dedication, often requiring round-the-clock commitment. At times, the initial phase may seem overwhelming, but overcoming this tumultuous period paves the way to discover one's managerial style and the need to enlist a supportive team. Secondly, anchoring your entrepreneurial journey with a clear, definitive end goal is paramount. For Living Good Candle Co., our vision revolves around becoming synonymous with clean candles. This unwavering goal guided our product launches, ensuring that each candle comprises solely beeswax and non-toxic fragrances crafted in-house. Consistently aligning decisions with this overarching objective kept us on the right trajectory. Lastly, achieving balance is indispensable. While driving a business to its pinnacle, it's imperative to remember that success extends beyond professional accomplishments. Striking a balance between work and personal life ensures that your loved ones remain integral parts of your journey. I often emphasize the significance of nurturing relationships outside of work, as life's richness truly lies in maintaining harmony between career aspirations and personal connections.

How has that pivotal moment influenced the way you make decisions today, and what lasting impact has it had on your business?

The experience of hiring individuals who weren't the right fit was a pivotal moment that significantly influences our decision-making today and has a lasting impact on our business. This taught us the critical importance of meticulous hiring. We've since implemented rigorous vetting processes, emphasizing cultural fit and alignment with our values. It highlighted the need for a cohesive team, leading us to prioritize both skill sets and cultural resonance in our hiring approach. This pivotal moment reshaped our decision-making, focusing on quality over urgency when expanding our team. It also taught us the value of taking our time in decision-making processes, ensuring thoroughness rather than haste. This approach has helped instill in our team the significance of doing things right rather than rushing, fostering a culture where everyone values making informed and correct decisions.

In your opinion, how important is it for entrepreneurs and business leaders to have these transformative moments, and how can they best prepare for and learn from them?

Transformative moments are invaluable for entrepreneurs and business leaders as they often serve as catalysts for growth, learning, and long-term success. These moments provide critical insights, shaping leadership styles, business strategies, and decision-making processes. To best prepare for and learn from these moments, fostering an open mindset is crucial. Embracing challenges as opportunities for growth rather than setbacks is key. Entrepreneurs and leaders should encourage a culture of adaptability, where failures or setbacks are viewed as stepping stones toward improvement. Actively seeking diverse perspectives, whether through mentorship, networking, or continuous learning, allows for a broader understanding of various approaches to handling transformative moments. Additionally, fostering an environment that encourages reflection and introspection after such moments aids in extracting valuable lessons. Embracing these experiences as learning opportunities enables entrepreneurs and leaders to adapt, innovate, and make informed decisions crucial for business development and sustained growth.


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