A photo of Nguyen Thuc Hien during the Maybank Go Ahead Challenge for final year university students reveals the grit in her personality.
She grips a flying fox made of rope as she swings over a river, long black hair flying in the breeze, eyes fixed on a target.
It is not a glamorous moment, but the stance of this slight young woman evinces single-minded tenacity.
At the one-day Vietnam Maybank final Hien had played Chinese chess, role-played a government lobbyist and, among the 46 semi-finalists, moved with 20 others to the final round.
After wearing virtual reality glasses for a simulated shooting and engaging in a debate about company acquisition, Hien and the rest of the team were tired to the point of nausea; by 1am Hien was the Vietnam winner.
The global final in Kuala Lumpur was more extreme: 12 days of challenging activities - both physical and intellectual - 5am starts, bed at 1am with a report to be completed by 9am.
“It was a blur,” Hien said. “After the first few days I found I could go into energy-saving mode to relax.”
A marketing student thrown into a simulated stock trading game Hien lost hundreds of imaginary dollars, ran down 46 floors in the KL Maybank building then braved an obstacle course crawling up muddy slopes, zipping back down by way of flying fox, then building a raft and floating it in a river.
The following day at 5am Hien’s business team was back in the hotel lobby with no idea where they were heading.
It was Jakarta – but before boarding the plane they had to write a prospectus for investors.
The challenge went on: pitching to investors, bussing to a bitterly cold mountain area in Indonesia to build a village house and create its water supply. Catching fish and hunting rabbits to make dinner they slept 20 to a hut – and went back to Kuala Lumpur.
“I got in the top 30 contestants. It wasn’t about knowledge; one of our supervisors said character is everything.”
Hien’s business team needed all the character they had in one tough situation. Told they had to fire one person, they chose their HR manager over the chief financial officer.
“The HR Manager was gentler and CFO was like a spreading eagle who’d be angry if we ejected her.
“This was the worst decision we made. We’d been on top and things changed.
“We were exhausted and our minds were blocked. I tried to suck it up but the chief financial officer threatened to resign and we realised our mistake in keeping her.”
Later they learned what they’d already guessed: had they solved their dysfunction they could have won.
Are competitions like Maybank valuable?
“Maybank is one of a kind,” Hien said. “They’re looking for the essence of a person and in 12 days, with that sort of pressure, you can’t fake it.”
Before Maybank Hien was already an excellent student who’d learnt to call on inner resources. She was a regional finalist for the Dubai Hult Prize in a competition centred on global issues, she was in the winning RMIT Business Plan Competition team in 2014 and is RMIT’s president of the Golden Key, an international society for the top-achieving 15 per cent of students in a university.
So could Maybank give her more?
“The competition is about unleashing your potential; I found I was able to do many things I didn’t know I could do.
“But I also learnt that, before the competition, I’d been really scared of being wrong. I realised that in many situations keeping quiet is the worst thing to do because I lose the opportunity to experiment and test my limits.
“I know now that I won’t hold back so much because if I do that I won’t learn anything.”
After graduating this year Hien hopes to be chosen for a Maybank internship in Kuala Lumpur.