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Major TakeawaysVietnam is a young country that is growing up (too?) quickly
You can see and feel the energy by walking the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. Everyone seems busy at work on something. Many people think very short term; therefore the pace of change is extremely fast and tactical, rather than strategic. But it is not just the median age of the population that makes Vietnam young; the country itself is still developing. From “doi moi” in the early 80’s to WTO induction in 1997, the government has been gradually reforming. It is working on strengthening the legal infrastructure and stamping out corruption.
Vietnam is a country of opportunity
Walter Blocker, one of our panel speakers, went to Ho Chi Minh City in 1990 seeking opportunity. This gave him a running head start over the competition, who were still unaware of the opportunity in Vietnam. Walter eventually focused on introducing a number of foreign brands into Vietnam as the sole distributor, including Maybelline and Nestle. Walter persisted through many early-stage difficulties to create a profitable and growing venture that exemplifies the amazing business opportunities Vietnam offers to those who are willing to take the risk and do the hard work.
Personal relationships are very important for business deals
This appeared to be truer in Vietnam than in Korea or Singapore. Some of this has to do with the comparative infrastructures. Cash dealings are still very common in Vietnam. Power outages are not unheard of, even in the more modern buildings. We heard from DigiNet that it has a competitive advantage over Oracle and SAP because it better understands how the Vietnamese utilize their computer systems and do business. Another factor is that the legal system is not as strong in Vietnam as it is in Korea or Singapore. In Vietnam, the interpersonal relationship is more important than the contractual details. Expatriates told us of several deals with Vietnamese which changed long after the contracts were signed. By being there in person and understanding the local culture, these expatriates were able to salvage the deals under new terms.
Vietnam is a collision of old-tech and new-tech
We walked through the factory floor of SaiGon3 Garment Joint Stock Company where workers were using sewing machines that could have easily been more than 30 years old. Traditional bicycles intermingled with motorcycles and the occasional car on the largely stoplight-free roads. Since personal checking and ATMs were introduced relatively recently, many financial transactions still occur in cash. At the same time, one can purchase a wireless SIM card from a multitude of shops and immediately place inexpensive international calls, which is not possible in the US. Villages are bypassing fixed lines and moving straight into 4G wireless services, no longer dependent on early 20th century technology.
Posted by: K. Philippe, C. Weir & C. Tran
One of our hosts described the population of Ho Chi Minh City as "10 million people and 8 million scooters."
Such clusters of cables are everywhere, an exemplar of Vietnam's current physical infrastructure.
Our group enjoyed the Ben Thanh Marketplace, just a short walk from the Hotel Majestic.
Fabrics are just some of the multitude of offerings at Ben Thanh.