In early February this year, a leading Swedish daily, GÃ¶teborgs-Posten, used up a huge portion of its cover page for a photograph of Nguyen Quang, a Vietnamese-Swedish businessman.
Inside were two pages telling readers the story of a very young boy who arrived in Sweden with his father 30 years ago, and has risen, by dint of sheer hard work, to become one of Sweden's largest food importers from Southeast Asia.
The 35-year-old director of Saigon Food AB became well known among the Swedish population after he was honored as the Male Shooting Star at the awards ceremony for Entrepreneur of the Year held by UK-based auditing firm Ernst & Young in November last year.
"Nguyen Quang started literally empty-handed. Today, his company is the market leader in food imports from Southeast Asia," said a jury. "With a heart that beats for both employees and customers, Nguyen Quang is a good example for other entrepreneurs."
Quang was modest about his success. "We have been lucky," he said.
I met Quang at the end of February when he'd come to Vietnam to source Vietnamese food products to be shipped to his company in Sweden, and to do some charity work. He spoke to me about his journey from being empty-handed to handing out charity.
Soon after their arrival in Sweden, his parents opened up a grocery store. After returning home from school, young Quang would assist his parents in selling food and household items. He also helped deliver purchases to customers living near his house.
He studied economics at the university before he took over his parents' shop and in 2004, established the Saigon Food AB in Gothenburg to sell food products coming from Southeast Asia. Two years later, his company directly imported such products before distributing them to not only Gothenburg residents but also those living in other cities.
"In the beginning I was working probably 75-80 hours a week. I worked in the office during the day and went around and delivered in the evenings. Sometimes I slept in a sleeping bag in the office." Later his siblings joined him.
Most of Saigon Food AB's products are shipped from Thailand while the remainder comes from Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia.
However, that could change in the future.
"Through the numerous times I have returned to my native country, I have realized that the quality of Vietnamese food products has become better and better, and are not inferior to Thai products. Thus, this year and next year, I will focus on importing more Vietnamese products like Sa Giang shrimp crackers, banh trang (rice paper), and mi trung (egg noodles).
"Many Swedish people love Vietnamese food after traveling to Vietnam as tourists. When they return, they would like to enjoy Vietnamese food again. I will import more of it to satisfy their demand," he said.
Saigon Food AB's revenues for 2009 reached SEK142 million (US$23 million.) His company has posted an average annual sales growth of 25 percent since it was set up.
Not just business
Quang has not seen his business growth in purely economic terms. He has seen it as an opportunity to help needy people.
Because Vietnamese as well as others of Southeast Asian descent who are somewhat advanced in years find it hard to get work in Gothenburg, Quang has welcomed these people into his company.
Saigon Food AB now has around 25 staff of Vietnamese, Chinese, Malaysian and Thai origins. He also helps out other entrepreneurs. Many Thai women, for instance, who have started their own shops because they were unable to find jobs, are his clients. "We try to be generous with credit, remembering what it was like for us earlier," he told the Swedish newspaper.
Quang said he plans to buy a 15,000-square-meter area in Gothenburg to expand his business, and generate more jobs for Vietnamese-Swedish finding it tough to find employment.
He said though there are not many Vietnamese people living in the city, the community always gathers together for sporting, camping and cultural activities together during Tet (Lunar New Year) and other festivals. Saigon Food AB is one of the main sponsors of the Vietnamese Cultural Society in Gothenburg, which organizes these get-togethers.
Quang said he is always looking for ways to help people in his native country as well. While reinvesting all the company's profits, he takes out "the normal salary (for himself) and a dividend that I give to the poor in Vietnam," he said.
Over the last five years, he and his parents have returned to Vietnam many times for charity work.
"Every year, I come back to Vietnam twice for charity purposes. This time [February this year], I spent VND500 million ($24,000) buying medicines and some essential products to give the poor, the old, and the orphaned living in Dong Nai."
The award jury noted that the tremendous growth of his company was also marked by "his generosity and constant hunger to evolve on all levels."
"If you share the money and experience, it gives you extra energy and motivation," he said.