May 5 2014, 11:41am CDT | by Forbes
When you’re a student, clinching an international internship with a major multinational is one sure way of gaining a competitive edge in the jobs market.
And if it hadn’t been for Swedish entrepreneur Fredrik van Huynh’s ambitious parents, he might never have founded of one of the market leaders, Absolute Internship, a multi million-dollar company that has placed 2000 student interns with blue chip companies all over the world.
Born and raised in Sweden, the son of Cambodian immigrant blue-collar factory workers, van Huynh was the first in his family to attend high school or university. As a child he learned to speak seven languages, and from as far back as he can remember, was firmly steered away from the mundanity of factory life and towards better things by his parents.
They were determined that he would have what they had never had; an education, so as a teenager, winning a university place became an all-encompassing goal.
“Believe me, where I come from, a small village in Sweden called Gnosjö, where all my friends’ parents worked in manufacturing, this made me stand out. Nobody went to university,” recalls van Huynh.
Global business lingo
His parents also steered him towards fluency in several foreign languages at a very early age, one of their life philosophies. As well as native Swedish, at home, he learned to speak Khmer, the language in Cambodia, and in school he learned French.
His mother knew a retired Chinese language teacher in the village who taught him Cantonese and Mandarin, and every day after school, while his friends were playing video games, he studied Chinese.
Those multilingual skills were to become one the keys to his success as an entrepreneur; sharper insight into foreign markets and cultures, and clearer communication with locals, vendors and business partners.
To deter him from any thoughts of following in his footsteps to the factory, van Huynh’s father sent the 14-year-old on a two-week apprenticeship at a metal manufacturing company. He wanted him to experience production line monotony first hand.
Van Huynh says: “I biked the 14km round trip everyday for two weeks, and spent nine hours each day putting metal sticks to a paper box. I remember how boring it was, and I knew that I never wanted to do that in my life.”
He made it to university and during his first year, secured a three-month internship with Handelsbanken, one of Sweden’s top banks. While he enjoyed the experience, van Huynh never really felt that he fitted in.
“It seemed to me that no one in the company actually cared about the success of the bank,” he says. “I wanted to impact the company I was working for. I wanted to create and be 100% responsible for my own success. I didn’t just want to hit the clock each day to receive a paycheck each month.”
As a student van Huynh also got to travel, spending time as an exchange student in Shanghai, and in his final year, in Osaka, Japan.
Profitable intern placements
By early Spring many of his classmates were looking for summer internships. van Huynh, who had established a large network of friends and professional acquaintances, started helping them find internships in Shanghai through his old connections./>/>
He says; “I managed to help three of them, but then they wanted to know how to apply for visas, and how to find accommodation. That’s when I realized there was a smarter way of doing this, and I came up with the idea of setting up a business to send groups of students for overseas internships.”
He teamed up with intern Aurélie Chouaf, who he’d met a couple of years earlier, and in 2009, aged 23, launched Absolute Internship, with just $2,000 and a new laptop.
Van Huynh’s language skills paid dividends, while his flair for networking helped to forge strong ties with universities across the world. Today the company has a global team of ten in London, Shanghai and Hong Kong, working with more than 500 multinational and local companies around the world.
The dynamic young Swede has his own philosophies for business success; ‘Be 24/7; business never sleeps’, and ‘Treat everyone with respect; every contact knows another contact’, but views his parents’ life philosophies as the ones that count.
He says: “I’ve met a lot of successful people through my business and travels, from self-made millionaires to top investment bankers, but never anyone as resourceful and inspirational as my parents. They showed me by example how hard work is the way to getting what you want out of life.”
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