This conversation with John Vuong is all about resilience and relationships. John opens our conversation with his passionate declaration for his love of family, friends, community, business colleagues and the relationships he has made along the way.
When he turned 40 last year, John expected to celebrate by inviting family and friends to take a big holiday with him but thanks to COVID this didn’t happen. Nonetheless turning 40 is a landmark for John and, as you will discover, the party idea holds more significance than it would for most.
John was born into a resilient family. He arrived just 2 weeks after his Vietnamese parents and three older siblings had newly landed in Toronto, Canada. Having just liquidated all of their life in war-torn Vietnam, John’s parents had moved the family across the world and start a new life “for the betterment of the next generation”.
It was a tough childhood with four children in small 3 bedroom government accommodation. There was very little support and far fewer resources than there would be now.
So the ethics John grew up with were to work hard, do your chores and support each other. There were very few possessions in their cramped accommodation and John recalls:
“We had one toy between four people”
As a young child this was all he knew, so for him that was ‘normal’. But he remembers the love and care they all had for each other and how he learned to value the importance of family and friends through it.
Back then ‘Vacation’ was a once a year trip to a music festival that was just one hour away from home and came courtesy of free tickets his parents received. But that was ‘their thing’ and it bonded them, so it is still considered as “special”.
Knowing this about John, gives us an insight into one of the reasons he would choose a big family vacation to celebrate his 40th birthday. As his story unfolds, we learn there is even more to it than that.
Work, Education & Life Choices
Work began for John with a paper round when he was 10 years old and growing up he had about 20-30 different jobs to help support the family. However education was important to his parents so they ensured all four children graduated from education with degrees.
His siblings chose Engineering routes, but for John the pull was towards a Business Finance education. It was fun and included an exchange programme that gave him an opportunity to travel for the first time. This is where his love affair with travel began.
Everything was new for him and he enjoyed learning to survive on his own in different countries and discovering more about different cultures.
After graduating, John’s first “real job with a real salary” was in Advertising Sales. It’s a competitive market and he had a huge education loan to pay back, so he had to figure out how to be the best.
He turned to the big sales gurus and started reading and listening to audio’s of all the big sales gurus and following the habits that worked for them.
He learned about the values of showing up early, being present, staying positive, motivated and above all, developing a thick skin.
Over the years, John’s work involved tele-sales and door-to-door cold calling. He had to deal with Real Estate Agents and Insurance people. He says they were hard sales people to deal with but he figured it out and cracked it.
“I stuck with advertising sales for 10 years! Imagine 10 years of just having a thick skin and not worrying about rejection? That’s what I did… to be able to endure it and become one of the top in the organisation…
Fifteen years ago John landed a job with Yellow Pages which required a one year probation period to secure the job. He stayed in this job for five years and says it was one of the best sales training experiences he had.
That was in the days when people still used a physical paper directory for business searches. His daily task was to call business owners about being included in the directory. So, engaging his ever present curiosity, John treated each conversation as an opportunity to discover more about business and life in general.
Passion & Purpose
In the early years, John’s passion to succeed was driven by the need to survive, which involved making money for his family and paying off his loan. As life became more secure, making money was a means for advancement. He considered further education; striving for an MBA, or career advancement; working his way up to Senior Manager, Director, VP etc. But for John, the thing that resonated the most about being in sales was listening to his customers.
John’s job gave him daily opportunities to speak to business owners who were 20-30 years older than him, and they gave him plenty of insight into what it meant to run a business. But more intriguing than that, was what his customers revealed about the values and purpose of life, and what inspired them to continue doing what they were doing.
Not being one to miss an opportunity, John listened, learned and took action. One customer shared their passion for cruise ship holidays. So rather than wait until retirement age as most people do, John booked himself a cruise. He loved it, and enjoyed talking the the older people he met.
John had a long standing dream of running his own business. So it is likely this passion and drive for success, combined with a desire to engage with people is what led John to start his own digital agency.
The New Success Model
Rather than taking the education or career development paths he had been considering, John once again too the bull by the horns and started his own business. From conversations with his customers, he had discovered a niche for SEO and although he knew little about it to begin with, John’s commitment to excel enabled him to develop his business. Today, John’s SEO agency has grown into a successful business that employs over 30 people and it is clear from the conversation that people and relationships are still at the heart of it.
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