AB InBev's Florestan Falize on Vietnam and becoming part of the family

In partnership with myGwork.


Pictures: Provided

Florestan Falize, Head of HR at the French office of AB InBev spoke to George Wright from myGwork about pushing himself, his time in Vietnam, and how keeping his options and his work varied has helped to develop him as an individual.

For Florestan, studies were about keeping doors open to himself. From business engineering, applied sciences, and management in Belgium, to carrying out a master’s degree that took him to the Netherlands and Vietnam, chasing opportunities has been a staple of his work.

He describes how his master’s required him to undertake 4 months abroad completing an internship, and a desire to push himself beyond his comfort zone led him to Vietnam, despite having never been to Asia before.

There was a method to his madness, however: culturally unacquainted with Vietnam, Florestan wanted to discover how people with different cultures worked in the same organization, and how they were managed to work in the most efficient and integrated way.

"I went for a very big French firm working in Vietnam. It really was an opportunity to see how French culture was getting on there, how integrated you could be in Vietnam also, as a European company and a European worker, and really live there."

The differences, culturally, were apparent. Describing how the firm – like most in Vietnam – was quite paternalist in nature, Florestan suggests the simile of firms operating as families, with their own cultures of deference and support structures.

"It was a very nice experience, both for project management and soft skills, but also just from an understanding of how to work with other countries." It also presented an opportunity to see the countryside of Vietnam, and to learn from the culture – opportunities Florestan describes as exciting.

The visit to Vietnam also came at an important time in Florestan’s life – having come out a year earlier, he describes himself as perhaps being a touch "naive" during his visit.

Suggesting it was perhaps too early to be asking questions, Florestan nonetheless talks about how – as is often the case for many LGBTQ+ people – rural and urban communities feel like parallel universes.

Nowhere did this feel more like a contrast to him than Ho Chi Minh City, where he was based, which transitions rapidly from dense, modernist sprawl to underdeveloped and poorer tenements on opposite sides of the street.

Living in the business quarter and comparing it to the historical quarter of Ho Chi Minh City, Florestan says initially he didn’t ask himself the question about how he would outwardly identify in Vietnam – whether he would closet himself or refuse to hide it. That changed, he said, when he got to the office.

"I was very lucky because I saw even in the office that people were pretty open about [being LGBTQ+]. I was not the only one – everybody knew about everybody. Some people were living together as couples, too."

While politically, and in some instances socially, LGBTQ+ people in Vietnam aren’t on equal footing with their cisgender heterosexual peers, there are clearly still pockets where LGBTQ+ people can be their authentic selves.

This extended beyond the office – Florestan sums it up as coming down to a knowledge of where you are in the city, and an awareness of your surroundings as to whether you feel comfortable expressing yourself more openly.

A common theme we pick up on during our interview is about pushing himself, developing himself, and wanting to learn. When asked, his response harks back to early development: identifying that he is driven by projects, not routines.

"I'm somebody who is very easily bored in routines. If I need to do the same thing 30 times, I will be super excited the 5 first times. The 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th times, I know it so I can be super-fast. By the 11th time, I'll be like, 'Okay, so what's next now?' – you can expect to be a bit bored of it."

This enthusiasm for change helped him greatly in his studies and his masters, hopping from project to project.

"I like to have a critical mindset – sometimes it can be an advantage, sometimes a little bit of a disadvantage. I really like to come in, not as an expert, but as an external point of view, with an eagle eye to look at it and say, 'why do we do it like this? Shouldn't we do it differently?' and try to connect the pieces of the personal a bit differently."

This was what drove him to apply to do his internship in Vietnam and shapes his work now in HR for AB InBev.

Florestan recalls how he got into AB InBev. Having met a couple of their staff at a recruitment event, he was invited to a cooking class with them. He got friendly with the AB InBev employee cooking next to him, the pair got talking, and the employee gave Florestan careers advice and tips for starting a career in the organization.

It was only at the end of the class that Florestan discovered that his cooking partner was, in fact, the Vice President of People at the company at the time, and it was this discovery that convinced him that the culture of AB InBev was somewhere he wanted to be.

He applied, and landed at the company working in the Global Management Trainee program, working on projects in various markets of the company. Trying his hand at areas he felt he had limited experience in, Florestan learned quickly and continued to climb to higher and higher heights.

If Florestan had to be summed up in a word, it would be pragmatic. He uses this word a few times to describe his approach to things: work, travel, coming out.

Of his coming out, Florestan recalls that he had one girlfriend for a long time and he simply didn’t question it. He quickly decided he wanted to be with guys, got a boyfriend, and came out shortly after.

The entire story is summed up by Florestan as "black and white" with a 6-month period where he was figuring himself out – but once he knew, he made no efforts to hide it. Sharing an anecdote about a car ride in the US with a group of colleagues from Europe, Florestan recalls how he used humor to come out and live authentically, deciding not to describe his partner as a "she" or hiding it.

To him, it was just another example of that pragmatism that has guided his decisions and journey since he was younger.

At AB InBev, Florestan has been supported to be the best he can be. Now the head of HR, he has been supported to develop his skills and himself in an inclusive environment.

Whether it’s talking to us, or appearing on panels discussing being LGBTQ+ at the organization, Florestan has been made to feel comfortable, included at AB InBev, and able to achieve as much as he can at a company that prides itself on having a meritocratic company culture.

For Florestan, much like in Vietnam, he has become part of the family – now at AB InBev.

AB InBev is a proud partner of myGwork, the LGBTQ+ business community. Learn more about AB InBev including job opportunities here.