Eva Maria Hansen – First female Chairperson of Nordcham Vietnam

Eva Maria Hansen (LEGO Group)

“You’re not Miabell by any chance, are you?” someone says in Danish behind me as I stare at the shut glass door in front of me.

The door leads to a new and modern decorated office community located in District 1 in Ho Chi Minh City. Here, Nordcham has their own relatively new office space. The voice belongs to Eva Maria Hansen. The new Chairwoman for Nordcham, and the first woman of her kind.

With quick, steady steps, she approaches me. Wearing a blue and white striped shirt and a pair of high-waisted black trousers that contrast with her sharp blonde bob. Over her shoulder she has a black computer bag with a small and subtle, but highly recognizable LEGO logo on the front. In addition to her recent position as Chairwoman for Nordcham, Eva Maria works for Danish LEGO Group. A position that first led her to Singapore for approximately two years and now Vietnam.

Didn’t realize she was the first woman

“Most of my career I have worked in roles that have been global, but I have lived in Denmark and then traveled abroad. Before Covid I traveled for 100 days a year in connection with various projects. At Saxo Bank I was the HR manager in India, but I did not live in India at the time,” she shares.

Eva Maria has a very comprehensive resume which consists of positions at large, prestigious companies such as LEGO Group, Saxo Bank and Carlsberg and now the role as first female Chairperson for Nordcham in Vietnam.

“I didn’t even realize I was the first until after I was elected. It was a bit of a coincidence that someone on the board mentioned, that I must be the first woman in the role. So, it’s not like I’ve thought a lot about it,” Eva Maria says.

Despite being Chairwoman, she herself does not have a keycard for the office. She therefore tries to make one of the three employees behind the glass door aware of our arrival.

Eva Maria Hansen and Nordcham Executive Director, Zung Nguyen
Taking part in the expansion

The fact that Nordcham has employees is relatively new as well. Before then, it was the board that did all the work. But even though the three female employees have joined, there is still much to do as Chairwoman of the organization.

“I probably spend around 15-20 hours per week. I have just been elected, and of course there are more tasks in the beginning when you take over something new. I did have some qualms about accepting the position. It’s a big responsibility to take on, and you have to be sure that you can commit the time it requires,” she says with a thoughtful expression.

Nordcham’s bright premises in the centrally located office community with a panoramic view of Ho Chi Minh City constitute of significantly more desk-places than the three employees can fill. This is, however, completely deliberate. As something new, Nordcham offers Nordic companies office space while they start up their business in Vietnam. A concept that goes under the name Nordic Hub.  An idea the board has had for a long time. But as the new Chairwoman, Eva Maria will be the person bringing the idea to life.

Hellerup villa vibe in Ho Chi Minh City

After a short tour, we go down to the street, where her white SUV is parked near the entrance.

“My usual driver is sick, so the one I have today doesn’t know me very well,” she says, as she tries to signal to the drive, to pick us up.

After about twenty minutes of driving, the car pulls up in front of a tall gate in the well-regarded expat community, also known as District 2. Behind the gate you can see a Scandinavian-looking, two-story white house. As the automated gate opens, the minimalistic house appears, surrounded by a small, streamlined garden. The most eye-catching feature of the home is an extremely well-equipped fitness area that is set up in front of the white-painted facade.

Olympic weightlifting in the front yard

“It’s actually a bit of a funny story,” exclaims Eva Maria, as she notices that I’m staring at the bulky equipment.

“I do a little weightlifting. Olympic weightlifting. I’m not very good at it, but I’ve been doing it for years. It started with a personal trainer back in Denmark who practiced it and it has followed me ever since.” A calmness reflects across her face as she looks at the gear.

“I actually bought this equipment during Covid in Singapore. In the period where we were not allowed to go to the gym. This is now my home gym equipment. It has followed me around the world ever since. After Singapore it came to Denmark and now here. It sounds really crazy. I know. But for me it has been essential. Lifting weights is very technical, so this is how I disconnect and relax,” she shares with a passion in her voice.

However, it has not been easy to bring an entire mini-gym with her from Singapore. In the first 21 months Eva Maria lived in Vietnam, she lived in 11 different places. This was until her family finally got the opportunity to join her in January this year.

“I have had all of this equipment brought to the 31st floor, where I lived before I moved to this house,” she says about the time before her family arrived.

“But even here I have to be careful that I don’t damage the surface. So, this is not where I do the heavy lifting. But it helps me stay in shape when I’m too busy to go to the gym,” she elaborates.

The family reunited

Eva Maria spent the first months alone in Ho Chi Minh City, before her husband and her 14-year-old son, had the opportunity to join her.

“On one hand it was fine, because the circumstances were not for them to join until now. I have been working a lot and there have been quite a few instabilities around the corona-situation and things like that. When they came in January, it was an incredibly easy transition for them. So, it has been good in many ways, but of course it’s difficult to be without your family for such a long time,” she tells.

It was not the first time Eva Maria had to leave her family for business purposes. She also spent the previous period in Singapore without her husband.

“When I moved to Singapore, the idea was that he would move with me. But various circumstances surrounding his job meant that he chose to stay in Denmark to complete his work. Sometimes things just have to fit.”

She therefore moved by herself to Singapore in January 2020. Her two youngest children then joined her in the summer of 2020, where they stayed for a period of one year before the family went back to Denmark in the summer of 2021. However, the family was only gathered for a short period before Eva Maria went on to Vietnam in September 2021.

Nordcham Board Members at the Nordic Ambassador Roundtable
Quickly got involved in Nordcham

She arrived in Vietnam in September 2021 and after just one month she became part of Nordcham. In February the following year she was elected to the board and just a year later at March 8, 2023 she was unanimously elected as Chairwoman of the organization.

“It has gone relatively quickly. I had some business acquaintances who were members of Nordcham. One of them was also a member of the board, and she encouraged me to run,” she shares about the process.

“What I hope to be able to offer is to help create value for our members. We have grown tremendously in the number of members over the past few years. But the question is, how do we create good value for them?” A question Eva Maria seems to be asking herself as well.

Nordcham board
Explosive growth

Nordcham has grown from around 80 members to approximately 150 members over the past few years. A positive development that at the same time places greater demands on the organization and what it has to offer.

“It has gone very, very fast. Especially in the last two years, a lot has happened. It is partly before my time, so I can’t take credit for the development. It is the board who have done most of the work.” A board consisting of 12 people representing all the Nordic countries.

“I would really like to be able to continue that development. It doesn’t have to be at the same extent. As long as we just keep a good pace in our membership growth.”

In order to create the best possible value for the many members, Eva Maria and Nordcham work on developing the organization’s relations with the governments, ambassadors and trade officers in close cooperation with Eurocham and the remaining business associations.

Eva Maria Hansen at NordCham’s ‘Work the Nordic Way’ 2022
The workload is the same, but the role is different

According to Eva Maria, the workload hasn’t changed much since she took over the position of Chairwoman, but the tasks have changed.

“It is a different type of work that I do as Chairwoman. I have to contribute more to creating the synergies in the board and in the business associations or the government bodies that we have external contact with. As a board member, I was mainly in some working group where we worked on specific events,” she states.

But despite the relatively big workload, she does not regret taking on the task. Neither as part of the board nor as Chairwoman.

“After all, I don’t have small children. I don’t come home and have to cook or do laundry. Here you have the opportunity to work more than you do back in Denmark with small children. I don’t have kids to pick up every day. My children are grown and we have someone to do the housework. In that way, I can allow myself to take on more liberties in relation to how I work.”

Nordcham – much more than just extra work

But Nordcham is much more than an unpaid part-time job for Eva Maria. Nordcham helped her integrate when she first came to Vietnam and had to establish LEGO Group’s new Vietnam branch from scratch.

“It was important for me to learn something about how it is to run a business here in Vietnam relatively quickly. Nordcham has definitely helped me with that,” she shares and makes it clear why she chooses to give her time and skills to the organization.

“In addition, it has also helped me built up a network quite quickly. Many people have gotten to know me through my work at Nordcham,” she adds, making it clear, that Nordcham can function as more than just a business-association.

Eva Maria Hansen with one of the founding members of Nordcham, Preben Hjortlund
Ho Chi Minh makes it easy to integrate

The white house, with white-painted concrete walls, furnished with light wooden furniture and a light gray couch from Jysk, reminds her of Hellerup, as Eva Maria herself describes it. A completely conscious choice on her part.

“It’s an easy area to fit in. It would be a whole different experience to live in a small alley in District 1, but I wanted to make it as easy as possible for the children to come here and settle in.”

In addition to the sofa, there are a few Scandinavian items that decorate the home. Things the couple have had shipped from Denmark. The PH-lamp on the small coffee table. A brown Arne Jacobsen chair and a large, colorful and extremely eye-catching picture behind the dining table.

A few sentimental items

“There are a couple of items that we have brought with us from Denmark. Mostly very personal stuff. Like that painting. Well, It’s not really a painting. It’s just a cheap print from IKEA,” she says, pointing towards the picture.

“It has a bit of a funny story. Many years ago, my husband and I bought a house thinking we would live there forever. In that house there was this very high wall and we just couldn’t figure out what to do with it. Then one day we went to IKEA where we bought this cheap picture. It was really just supposed to act as a placeholder until we could agree on what to do with the wall, but somehow it has become this thing that makes us feel at home,” she says with a tenderness in her voice while her eyes are fixed on the print.

In the small home office, there is a corner dedicated to LEGO. Among the items is her five-year anniversary gift that depictures a dragon. A present she received during her time in Singapore.

“In China I think they get a panda. It is such a special thing that you can only get when you have been with the company for a certain number of years.”

Eva Maria Hansen (LEGO Group)
You have to follow the custom

In addition to the car and the private driver, the family has a number of scooters outside the house.

“You can see that we have some bikes of our own. I don’t drive that much and not at all in District 1. It’s simply too dangerous, I think. But out here I drive,” she says.

“I grew up in Hvidesande in West Jutland, so it’s not entirely new to me. I think I got a bike from my dad when I turned 15. I hadn’t ridden one for a long time before I arrived here. But you have to follow the customs.”

Raised in Hvidesande, with a father who is a fisherman and a mother who was a housewife, it was not necessarily predicted that Eva Maria would enter the corporate world.

“I don’t know how. It just happened. I always wanted to work for a big company,” she says. Meanwhile, the gate opens once more and the white SUV parks in front of it.

“If you had to name one thing you would like to achieve as the first female Chairperson, what would that be?” I ask as I head out the door.

“Of course, I would like to inspire more women to become part of organizations like Nordcham. It’s a relatively male-dominated world and it’s no secret that I would like to see more women on the board, so I hope I can contribute to that,” she replies with a passion in her voice that is not to be missed.

About Miabell Mallikka

Miabell Mallikka is a journalist working with ScandAsia at the headquarters in Bangkok.

View all posts by Miabell Mallikka

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