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Meeting with Prime Minister Mark Rutte Through My Eyes as a Saleswoman

I am Lan Tran, the CEO and founder of AnTo Tea, known for the Hibiso brand, which combines Hibiscus and Shiso. As a member of the Dutch Business Association Vietnam (DBAV) and thanks to R2E (Ready to export) 2023 by Netherlands, I recently had the opportunity to meet Prime Minister Mark Rutte. This meeting took place in a setting that evoked the essence of Hanoi, alongside other female leaders representing small and medium enterprises (SMEs)..

How did I prepare to meet the Prime Minister?

Preparing to meet the Prime Minister was a challenging task. The discussion was centered around the topic of female-led SMEs, and we had limited time to present our companies to the Prime Minister. This was an unfamiliar experience for me, and I had a multitude of information to convey. I needed to talk about why I ventured into business, my choice of Hibiso, my collaboration with my team, suppliers, and buyers, the point of readiness for exporting, and the potential placement of my product in the Netherlands and Europe.

My team and I brainstormed various ideas, including designs for a limited edition Hibiso to be presented to Prime Minister Mark Rutte, selecting key points to address, and devising a plan to obtain his signature. However, as I received updates from the Dutch Embassy, I realized that meeting these expectations would be a considerable challenge.

The initial information suggested that we might not make it to the shortlist, as priority was given to the last R2E attendees. Furthermore, it seemed unlikely that we would have the opportunity to present the limited edition Hibiso to Prime Minister Mark Rutte due to changes in his schedule. Adding to the difficulty, I was one of the last to address the Prime Minister, with other key points already covered by my predecessors.

Prime Minister of Netherlands – Mark Rutte took photos with female founders in Hanoi

What did I really do?

To prepare adequately, I rehearsed my script multiple times with my daughter, my mirror, and even the driver of my Grab bike. Despite concerns from my team about the designs, I had to make a last-minute decision after consulting key individuals to solidify the main ideas. Although the Dutch Embassy recommended against creating the limited edition to save costs, I persisted, believing that there would be no second chance.

I set alarms to ensure I arrived earlier than usual. This extra time allowed me to go through security checks for my belongings and Hibiso before joining the meeting. Recognizing my efforts, the Dutch Embassy acknowledged that placing some Hibiso boxes on the table alongside other materials could generate interest. This acknowledgment validated the effort I put into my preparation.

The Prime Minister of the Netherlands discussed with the founder of AnTo Tea

What comes from the heart, reaches the heart

During my interaction with Prime Minister Mark Rutte, I sensed his interest in various challenges faced by female entrepreneurs, such as the level of support or opposition received from family and friends, the ability to sustain oneself solely through the business, and the impact of business on personal relationships. Reflecting on my own journey, I shared with Prime Minister Mark Rutte the risks involved in running a substantial business that involves working with farmers, factory workers, and global distributors. I emphasized the difficulties faced by women like me, as well as those within my community, and recounted the support I received from my spouse during my initial failed startup nearly two decades ago.

The Prime Minister of the Netherlands enjoys Hibiso tea

After the meeting, what did I get?

Following the meeting, I received encouraging words from Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who expressed his belief in my capabilities. He, along with my husband and my team, signed on a Shiso leaf, symbolizing a new era of sustainable living and future-oriented practices.

I was elated that my opinions, as well as those of my peers, had been recognized by the Dutch Embassy and expressed my commitment to contributing more to activities that support SMEs, especially women-owned businesses, in the coming years. I also mentioned that despite the brief 30-minute duration of the meeting, the insights gained would provide significant mental and professional support.

During the event organized by the Dutch Embassy, five businesses had meetings, discussed various topics, and shared their experiences. From these exchanges, I gained valuable insights that further enriched my understanding of the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs in the business world.

Furthermore, the meeting gave us an experience of not closing our doors to our hopes, even when everything was not in control and it encouraged us to continue striving and aiming for our goals, continuing to work for the community and sustainable development.

All businesswomen involved in the event were pleased with the outcome, as their ideas were collected by the Dutch Embassy and they will go along with the Embassy to promote community of SMEs with female – owned – enterprises in future.

The Prime Minister of the Netherlands signed an autograph on the limited edition Hibiso tea box

– Lan Tran –