Creating a Company in Vietnam

By: Keely Burkey and Jonas van Binsberg

What brought you to Vietnam?

I consider myself a product of the time and the places I grew up in. Born and raised in the Netherlands, graduated and started visiting Southeast Asia just before the financial crisis, in 2006. When the investment bank I was working for in the Netherlands started to run into difficulties at the end of 2007 and in 2008, I had heard of this large Vietnamese company that received support and relationships from international banks such as HSBC and Deutsche Bank. The owner and founder became known to me through the parents of my ex-girlfriend who was living in Australia at the time. We got introduced to each other, and he offered me a job. After that, I joined the export team of a multinational Dutch company responsible for the sales and trade of raw materials and ingredients of several countries in Southeast Asia. About 10 months into the job, this company also started to reorganise. I decided to stay in Vietnam because I was just engaged to my fiancee and strongly felt my time in Vietnam was not finished yet.

What is important when doing business in Vietnam? How does it differ from your experiences in Europe?

First of all, to pay attention to the people, to the relationships. In Germany, in Switzerland we would give a powerpoint presentation with four or five reasons why they should buy our product. Here, it’s all about who you are, where you are from, your family background, and then after that maybe the business things. Here the relationship comes before the transaction.

entrepreneurshipImage source: dbav.org.vn

Do you feel that foreign businesspeople are at a disadvantage here because they don’t share the same culture?

Well, language is one thing. The system is another thing. So, you have a slight disadvantage if you don’t know the language, but you can bring in good local people to work with you. You can have translators, you can have assistants. If you’re looking at the system, I think it’s getting a lot better. Where you might think people would be disadvantaged as a foreigner, Vietnam has already done all the reforms.

In the past few years a number of large international chains have entered Vietnam’s marketplace. Do you think these will hinder local growth, or create unreasonable competition for local companies?

I think local businesses still have a unique chance. They can get local support and they can also develop well because they are local. The local consumer is also buying local, I think. You see that more and more. You see a lot of people are very open to trying new things. You see a new restaurant to try. But I think in the long term, people will be more conscious about buying local products, and the government has already campaigned for a while now about Vietnamese people building local brands and things like that.

What are some of the biggest challenges you've encountered since doing business in Vietnam? What advice would you give people to avoid these obstacles?

In terms of life and investment advice, I would say: know your priorities and know your limits. Time is probably our most valuable asset. How we spend our time can say a lot about us. In the past, I often thought in terms of sacrifice. Sacrifice time for business, sacrifice money and give priority to the happiness of the family or the wife. But this is not right thinking. Right living is a life which is in balance. We intentionally choose to spend time with our loved ones; and we cultivate relationships, healthy habits, healthy living. Our priorities become visible through our daily choices. And what we can do should be within our limits. Unrealistic expectations or behaviour and risk which is beyond limits is dangerous and not a sustainable way of living and working.

What is Saigon Startups? Why did you create this company? 

I have noticed from my own experience, and from my friends here that we, start-up companies, small and medium-sized companies, all need the same things: product development, design, sales and marketing, bookkeeping and other services. The idea of Saigon Startups is sharing of resources, knowledge, experiences between entrepreneurs and companies. The idea is that, things that I have overcome already, or that I know already, can help you to grow your business faster. Saigon Startups is going to be a network of small and medium-sized companies, some invested by myself, some invested through friends or through fund investors. Together sharing information and targeting the same things: sustainable growth, good business, stability, health, wealth, happiness and profit in Vietnam.

entrepreneurshipImage source: media.baodautu.vn

Right now HCMC is seeing a surge in start-ups. Do you think these companies will create competition that will ultimately hinder expansion? Or is there enough room in the market for everyone?

It is a normal part of market growth, company growth and country development. Competition enhances performance and productivity. One thing that I would like to share is that each person and each business is unique. We do not have to copy or emulate one another. We have to find the one thing that ‘only I can do’, the one ‘calling’ that life has for us, our ‘passion’. Once we find that, there is no competition. There is only ‘doing what you love’ and other people sharing the same mission.

What sorts of start-ups are you seeing being developed at the moment? Which start-ups tend to be successful in Vietnam's business environment?

A lot of people are focused on technology start-ups. My personal interest is still mostly old-fashioned business such as manufacturing of agricultural products, healthcare products, things like that, but then combining it with and/or applying the modern tools available such as online marketing, online shopping or mobile phone apps. I think a lot of different types of start-ups can be successful in Vietnam. The key issues which I think are important are: long-term commitment of the team, financial pressure, great innovation... In my opinion, often things go wrong here when people change. No money or borrowed money, try for three to six months but then give up. An entrepreneur needs to have to ability to create, to have a dream, to create a vision, to create a product. If finance, commitment and creation skills are lacking, it’s going to be much harder for a start-up business to be successful.

entrepreneurshipImage source: wellesley.edu

Banner Image source: knowstartup.com


Networking: Your Guide to Business Networking In Vietnam

By: Victor Burrill

Networking defined

Cultivating deep connections with the people you want to collaborate with

The secret to keeping your connections alive

Professional relationships are at the heart of every successful business networking can branch out to many opportunities if you are able to build a genuine connection with the right people. The question is, how do you get from where you are now to a well connected businessman? Find out how you can effectively build your own network to pursue your goals, keep those connections alive, and get help from the right people.

Let’s Get Started - What Is Networking? 

Networking is simply the process of interactions for establishing, building and maintaining relationships for personal and business purposes.

Networking will help you develop and improve your skill set, stay on top of the latest trends in your industry, keep a pulse on the job market, meet prospective mentors, partners and clients, and gain access to the necessary resources that will foster your personal growth and support your career and business development.

Keep in mind that networking doesn't begin or end at an event such as at a chamber of commerce or professional association. Networking can be done anywhere: at a bookstore, over lunch or during a conference. It can continue long after the initial contact was made, and in the best cases, it will branch out into other opportunities to grow your professional community. 

 Business Networking In VietnamImage source: vietcham.org.sg

Before you get out there for some live, face-to-face interaction, it's a good idea to get into the right mindset. One way is by developing an elevator pitch: a short description of what you do, who you work with and the value you offer to your customers or clients. The goal is to be able to deliver this ‘pitch’ in 60 seconds or less, in a conversational way.

Professional relationship development expert, Keith Ferrazzi, recommends creating a relationship action plan for every professional goal that you have. Make a list of people who can be instrumental in helping you achieve a goal, even individuals you don’t know but do admire, and reach out to them. Ferrazzi also suggests writing down why each person is important, and how you would categorise the strength of your relationship on a scale of zero to five. This will help you develop a strategy to pursue your goals—and home in on getting help from the right people.

Connection Is Essential In Vietnam

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” - Maya Angelou, Poet

Before you go out armed with business cards and an elevator pitch, be careful not to mistake networking for a face-to-face cold-calling opportunity. You are more likely to be successful if the people you want to influence know you, like you, respect you and trust you. An immediate sales pitch will not build that type of relationship. 

Successful networking aims for quality connections, not quantity. Instead of casting a wide net, direct it toward cultivating deep personal connections with the people you actually want to collaborate with. Figure out what you and the other person have in common—whether you went to the same school or love the same sports.

 Business Networking In VietnamImage source: chamberforge.com

It’s also helpful to know what others are truly interested in, from charities they support to any awards they’ve received. This shows your sincere interest in the other person as an individual, and also helps you understand how you can be of service. If you can offer something specifically geared to what’s important to them, they’ll be more open to connecting with you.

Always be real, humble and vulnerable. I’m the Chairman and Chief Connecting Officer of the Business Executive Network in Vietnam. We have a membership of CEOs, Country Managers or Senior Directors. It is not easy to impress these people with professional accomplishments. Instead, I recommend keeping it real and genuine, being ‘open’ and authentic, I even recommend ‘boasting’ about your weaknesses; this draws people to you quicker and wins sincere admiration and trust. 

Put Others’ Needs Ahead Of Your Own

“The successful networkers I know, the ones receiving tons of referrals and feeling truly happy about themselves, continually put the other person's needs ahead of their own.” - Bob Burg, author of The Go-Giver

One of the biggest networking mistakes people make is asking for too much too soon. One cardinal key of successful networking is ‘Give before you can get’. 

I can’t emphasise this enough: if you want to form a relationship with another person, you first need to show them how they’ll benefit, says Keith Ferrazzi. 

 Business Networking In VietnamImage source: southerncharmgiftbaskets.net

As it is when you bring a small gift to a dinner party, it is a good idea to offer a potential partner a token of generosity. The gesture can be as simple as forwarding a relevant article or providing an introduction to someone who can further the person's own interests. It’s helpful to think of networking like a bank account: you have to make deposits before making a withdrawal.

Value The Strength Of Diversity 

“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don't.” - Bill Nye

We tend to hang out with people similar to ourselves. But leveraging on a diverse group of skills, knowledge and personalities is key to professional networking.

Seek relationships with totally different people who can introduce you to brand-new social clusters. Not only will you gain access to potentially influential individuals whom you’d otherwise might never meet, but it will help you stand out from the pack.

Someone I know became a member of an organisation of women business owners. They allow men to join, so he asked a female friend to sponsor him at a meeting. Everyone remembered him because he was one of two or three guys there and ended up getting a lot of business out of it.

 Business Networking In VietnamImage source: irishtimes.com

One way to diversify is to ‘network down’. Most people concentrate on ‘networking up’, building a rapport with someone higher than yourself on the corporate ladder. But it’s also smart to connect with savvy junior people in your industry because they might end up being portals of intel.

Keep Your Vietnam Connections Alive

“Great ideas often come from small talks around a drink” - unknown

After making new connections, too many people fail to maintain or leverage this new relationship. It’s most effective to send a friendly, sincere email to your new contacts as soon after meeting them as possible, noting some things that were discussed when you met.

In order to maintain or build on your relationships you should ‘connect’ on a regular basis. I suggest scheduling some time aside each day to these important relationships. The frequency and depth of your interactions depends on the strength of the relationship. For casual connections, the occasional retweet or Facebook comment might suffice. For deeper ones, think along the lines of a thoughtful email or meetup over a drink.

Finally, good luck and remember that it's not about who you know, it's about who knows you.

Banner Image source: wallstreetenglish.edu.vn


What is it Like to Work in Vietnam?

By: City Pass Guide

What should be in your Employment Contract when working in Vietnam?

Your compensation and working hours

Your rights as an employee in Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City is the economic capital of Vietnam and where many expats and Vietnamese locals choose to find work or set up a business. The city has become a target for many who want to live and work in Vietnam, due to a growing number of attractive job, business and networking opportunities. Here is some important information you need to know on what it’s like to work in Vietnam.

Working in Vietnam

Employment Contracts in Vietnam

Work contracts are very straightforward in Vietnam and generally do not differ too much from their Western counterparts. When working abroad, in any other part of the world, the employer and employee must directly enter into a written employment contract. It is best to be specific and stringent with your employment contract as standards may differ across the globe. For temporary work of less than three months, an oral employment contract is allowed.

Working in Vietnam

Some stipulations may differ from your contract in the west, you may want to turn your attention to very specific items in your contract such as your salary, health benefits and the like. Note that local companies must have employment contracts in both Vietnamese and English.

Payment Terms

The most important factor to consider when working in a foreign country is how you’re getting paid. By default, you are going to get paid in Vietnamese Đồng. But you’re always free to ask if there is an option to be paid in a different currency, especially if you would like to take your hard-earned money out of the country.

Working Hours in Vietnam

The regular working hours in Vietnam is 8 hours a day or 48 hours a week. For unconventional jobs that follow schedules on a weekly basis instead of your regular 9-5 office hours, you cannot exceed 10 hours working in a day.

According to Vietnam’s labour law, the maximum number of working hours shall not exceed 48 hours a week. Working hours may be distributed on an hourly, daily or weekly basis subject to the employer’s requirements. These working schedules should be specified in your contract before starting with the work to avoid inconvenience to both parties.

Working in Vietnam

As specified by the competent authorities, regular working hours must not exceed six hours a day for jobs that fall on the list of extremely heavy, toxic or dangerous working conditions.

Overtime

Overtime work arrangements require the consent of both parties. Employees must compensate employees for any overtime hours worked and needs to be outlined in the employer’s internal labour rules. The amount of overtime cannot exceed 50% of regular working hours a day, 30 hours a month or 200 hours a year. Special cases can bump up the yearly hours to 300. For a weekly working regime, combined regular and overtime hours cannot exceed 12 hours a day.

Working in Vietnam

The rates for overtime pay as required by the Labour Code are as follows:

- At least 150% of the agreed-upon salary on regular working days

- 200% for working on weekly days off

- 300% for working on public holidays and leave days with full pay

Women in their seventh month of pregnancy or later, or women who have babies 12 months old or younger, are forbidden from working overtime.

Night Shifts

Night-time working hours or graveyard shifts run from 10 pm to 6 am of the subsequent day. Further, overtime cannot exceed 50% of regular working hours a day, 30 hours a month or 200 hours a year. Special cases can increase the yearly hours to 300. For those with a weekly working regime, combined regular and overtime hours are not allowed to exceed 12 hours a day.

Working in Vietnam

An employee working at night must be paid an additional minimum of 30% of their regular salary when working overtime. Along with this, any employee working overtime at night must be paid an additional 20% of their salary in addition to the rates described above for work conducted in the daytime.

Probationary Period

Arranging a probation period is common in Vietnam, especially with new employees. A probation period should be indicated in the contract or through a separate letter and the conditions for work should be specified and agreed to by the employer and employee.

The parties may agree on the following probationary periods:

- Up to 6 days for positions that require no training.

- Up to 30 days for trained staff or those with intermediate level qualification

- Up to 60 days for jobs requiring professional or college qualifications.

By law, the employer is only required to pay 85% of the full salary expectation during this period.

Health insurance

Employers in Vietnam must offer health insurance to all employees by law. Some companies offer more comprehensive packages in line with international standards.

Employee Rights in Vietnam

The current Labour Code went into effect on 1 May 2013 and introduced several changes that concerned labour subleasing, maternity leave, work permit duration and revised work hours, amongst others. In general, the new set of laws tends to favour employee rights and has made it harder for employers to terminate employment. We highlight some of the relevant changes below, though this is not a complete list:

- A probationary period does not exceed 30 days of employment with a position requiring vocational and professional level qualifications; 60 days of employment with a position requiring a college level qualification or above; and six days for all other cases.

- The wage for the probationary period is at least 85% of the wage scale rate of that position.

- The maximum validity of a work permit for a foreign employee is reduced from 36 months to 24 months.

- The annual Lunar Tết holiday will increase to five days from the original four.

- Maternity leave is increased to six months from the original four.

- The current labour code is now under review and changes are expected.

Working in Vietnam

The number of expat jobs in Vietnam at the moment are not that high, but if you have experience in a certain field that requires your expertise then it shouldn’t be a problem at all. Take note that foreigners who want to work in Vietnam need to secure a work permit and the process can be tedious—something that the government is simplifying.

Image source: shutterstock.com


The Gender Gap in Vietnam is Narrower Than You Might Think

By: Molly Headley

2017 was a year of revolution for women across the world. Massive women’s marches were organised in international cities to bring light to the injustices that still face the female gender today. Social media has kept the flame burning by creating popular hashtags including actress Emma Watson’s #HeforShe male feminist tag, the #YesAllWomen flag where women disclosed stories of everyday sexism and now the #MeToo hashtag where women are talking about sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. #tòasoạnsạch, meaning "clean newsroom," is the hashtag specific to Vietnam that was created in response to sexual harassment and abuse of Vietnamese news media employees.

In Vietnam as in other countries subjects about women’s roles in society and whether there is gender equality in the workplace are trending.

For good reason. Women are a force to be reckoned with in business.

A 2017 study by World Bank-Goldman Sachs shows that microenterprises—small businesses with no more than six employees, such as market shops, street food stalls—are the majority of female-run businesses in Vietnam, coming in at 57 percent.

A surprising report by Grant-Thorton Vietnam, which was presented in March at the event “Women in Business Strive for Excellence”, put on by the British Business Group Vietnam (BBGV), revealed that Vietnam offers women much more egality in the workforce than other neighbouring Asian countries. Ho Ngoc Anh, events and marketing manager for BBGV, was part of the team that organised the event. The panel included some of the top female leaders in Vietnam like Truc Nguyen, CFO of HSBC Vietnam and Tran Thi Thanh Mai, managing director of marketing agency Kantar TNS.

Women owned businessesImage source: pcworld.com.vn

Ho said that one of the most interesting topics discussed was about the current gender balance in the workplace. Out of two equal candidates for a job—one male, one female—who would be more likely to be hired, the women leaders were asked. Almost all of the female respondents surprised the audience by saying it would be the woman.

“Confucius beliefs present in the Vietnamese culture have pushed men forward in the past”, Ho said. “Luckily, Vietnam has been trying to escape the Chinese way of thinking and has also been affected by French culture.” Important female figures such as the French suffragettes in the early 1900’s helped spur the feminist movement worldwide.

“We’ve become more and more open to opportunities for the ladies in the community. We also have very inspiring women, ambassadors in the United Nations, powerful women in business and female war heroes that stood up for their families”, Ho said.

Moreover, a survey in the report asked male and female employees in companies in Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam whether their companies had made progress in the last one to three years in terms of gender diversity. Respondents reported that 87 percent of men and 84 percent of women in Vietnam said their firms had become more inclusive compared to only 43 percent of women and 82 percent men in Singapore. In Malaysia, 54 percent of women and 79 percent of men reported their firm was progressing in terms of diversity.

From a jack hammer-wielding female emerging from a pit in a construction zone to women holding top roles in the government, such as Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh, who is currently serving as Vice President of Vietnam, women are present in every sector and at every level of business.

Women owned businessesImage source: mfa.go.th

75 percent of businesses in Vietnam have at least one woman in a senior management role and 25 percent are CEOs, these numbers are some of the highest in Southeast Asia.

Ho feels that there is still work to be done to make sure that women are getting paid equally for their work but the current climate is largely positive.

A Delicate Balance

Esther Lam is the co-owner and designer of Esther Lam Lingerie. The creations showcased on Lam’s website feature female models in ethereal lace held up by structured boning, the lingerie’s underwire skeleton. Lingerie is a distinctly female-oriented business but it is also one in which gender roles can be a topic of discussion, simply because women’s undergarments are fetishised and are said to be made for the male taste.

But Lam said she created her line out of “the desire for all girls to pamper their skin.” It is a brand for women created by women, and there in lies the strength.

Women owned businessesImage source: Esther Lam Lingerie

Lam believes sexism still exists in Vietnam because of the deep-seated traditions in the country. “There are surely cultural sensitivities about female identity, and Vietnamese women need to be more decisive but reasonable, and have intelligent methods of solving problems.”

When asked what challenges women face as business owners in Vietnam, Lam responded that “A woman has more roles to finish than just business ones. She has to learn how to harmonize with all roles in her life, or quit almost all to fulfil her dream.”

A Woman’s Place in the Home is Building It

Fong-Chan Paw Zeuthen’s design work is as complicated as she is—both strong and approachable, modern and nostalgic, Scandinavian and Asian. Zeuthen was born in Thailand and was then adopted by Danish parents; a translation error during the adoption made her name have a Chinese edge to it.

When asked whether she had ever considered changing her name, Zeuthen laughed. “No”, she said. She said she likes to walk into a room and not be what people expect her to be. Sometimes when she meets with major real estate developers, she’ll come into a meeting, the only woman surrounded by 20 men. She knows that often they’re expecting to meet with a Chinese man or even a white Dane but when an Asian woman appears unanticipated, Zeuthen said the surprise can be powerful.

This unpredictability is part of the approach that Zeuthen has used to rise up in a typically androcentric profession, a métier heavy in men: architecture and design.

Women owned businessesImage source: KAZE

Zeuthen came to Vietnam 16 years ago for a job as a furniture designer. Eight years later she began her own interior design and architecture business, KAZE. Since then Zeuthen has turned KAZE into a top design firm in Vietnam. Given the size and visibility of projects—from the Vinpearl Ha Thinh and Marriott Resort and Spa Hoi An to offices and private residences—, you’ve likely seen Zeuthen’s work before.

Women owned businessesImage source: fixi.vn

Zeuthen said that she owes a certain amount of her success to Vietnam itself. It is one of the few countries in Asia where women consistently hold the same jobs as men. Zeuthen opined that male and female roles interchange easily, more so than in other Asian countries, and perhaps that is because of Vietnamese history.

There has been a high presence of female fighters and workers in Vietnam’s past. From the Hai Ba Trung sisters, revolutionaries who led the people to take down the Eastern Han Dynasty to Nguyen Thi Dinh, the first female general in the Vietnamese People’s Army, the bravery of women in Vietnam has been well-documented. However, the modern boardroom is a different beast and both the women on the BBGV panel and Zeuthen mentioned that today the number one thing holding women back in business is their confidence.

“Women in business in Vietnam, and everywhere else in the world, need self-confidence to build up trust. Women need to start asking for what they want”, Zeuthen said.

Women owned businessesImage source: wordpress.com

For example, Zeuthen said that men come to talk to her about salary and they walk in expecting a high number but they’ll negotiate. Whereas women “are not ready to fight for it. If they don’t get the salary they want from the beginning they walk away rather than fighting.”

Gender Equality, a Work in Progress

In many ways Vietnam is ahead of the curve in terms of gender equality in the workplace. One clear example is in the area of paid maternity leave.

Female workers in Vietnam are able to claim up to 6 months of full-pay leave through the national insurance system. The father is allowed 5 days paternity leave.

A typical allowance from other countries may be just 12 weeks or less of unpaid leave. “[Vietnam] is the most generous [country] for paid maternity leave in the region, and even in the world”, VN Express wrote in their 2017 coverage on the issue.

Vietnam, like most places in the world, is still a work-in-progress regarding women’s rights. However, women are out there, at the top, already moving the conversation forward.

Video source: UN Women Asia and the Pacific

Banner Image source: cdn-image.travelandleisure.com


Dream Jobs in Vietnam

By: Frank B. Edwards

Southeast Asia: The Land of Employee Turnover

Paul Espinas sells dreams – dreams of better jobs – and he’s very good at it.

The 28-year-old marketing director of VietnamWorks oversees the employment company’s campaigns to find experienced workers to fill the empty desks of Hanoi’s and HCMC’s office towers with administrators, managers, technicians, sales teams and a variety of specialists.

Every day the VietnamWorks website – known in the recruiting business as a job portal – introduces hundreds of employers to tens of thousands of workers wanting a better job and more money.

Like most Southeast Asian countries, Vietnam has an annual 20 plus percent employee turnover, a frustrating reality for employers who must continually recruit new workers. (The largest job-search surge occurs right after the Tet employee-bonus season.) That reality has spelled success for a wave of job sites in Vietnam including Jobstreet, Careerbuilder, HR Vietnam, Careerlink and VIPsearch.

Turnover

At its busiest, the VietnamWorks website receives up to six million visits a month – and adds several dozen new job postings each day. In mid-January, the job portal listed 6,000 jobs, half of them in HCMC, with salaries ranging from $500 to $4,000 per month. The site requires job seekers to have a minimum of two years’ work experience. Currently, the company has a database of three million jobseekers.

Paul explains that Vietnam’s hot economy is just one reason for the frenzied employment scene. While employment companies certainly profit from high employee turnover in the short term (they charge employers a fee to post their job listings), he cautions that the Vietnamese workplace needs to improve its accommodation of young millennials (born after 1980) who make up the largest workforce demographic.

“Employers have to keep their employees engaged,” Paul says. “Management styles have to adapt because often the expectations of young workers aren’t being met.”

Money is usually a key consideration, but is not always the most important.

Ways to Grow

Several blocks away from the VietnamWorks headquarters, Jon Whitehead sits in a high-rise tower matching managers and executives with corporate employers. Having worked in Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and Vietnam, the newly appointed managing director of RGF Executive Search (formerly of HR giant Robert Walker) is familiar with hot job markets and has seen managers jump ship for increases as little as $100 per month.

While well-qualified workers can win increases of 20 to 25 percent, he advises his job candidates to be careful about quitting jobs too often.

“People here… will move for money. So you have to educate them that too much movement doesn’t show growth and doesn’t show consistency.”

He notes that the supply of Vietnamese managers has grown significantly in recent years but still can’t keep up with the demand. When new manufacturing and IT companies come here, “they want a staff right away but it takes a while to produce one”.

“Vietnam is a young country, it’s a young population here,” he observes. “They do want to learn. They are hard-working, but it comes down to education. Too often, they don’t know what is required of them. [Working for foreign corporations,] the demands are higher and expectations are higher.”

Viet Keu

Often, he says, applicants prefer to report to an expat manager in the belief that they can learn from and develop marketable skills more quickly with a mentor who has international work experience. The smart ones look for jobs with scope to grow so that they can move within a corporation without having to quit and find new employment to advance their careers.

An increasingly important source of Vietnamese management talent is coming from abroad – both from the Viet Kieu population of overseas Vietnamese who left the country after 1975 and recent university graduates who studied internationally and chose not to return to Vietnam immediately.

Jon has seen more of those graduates – many with advanced degrees – returning to the country after they’ve gained some Western work experience. “They come back with a different mindset,” he says, pointing to their experience with domestic consumer

traits and exposure to multinational corporate culture. But he cautions employers that they are not willing to work for “Vietnamese wages”:

“They want to be paid at the same level as expats.”

Meanwhile, Viet Kieu millennials are also finding their way home, often against the will of their parents who have established comfortable lives and successful family businesses.

One such recent arrival is a young digital marketer who grew up in Ottawa, Canada, studied international commerce and then headed east, finally arriving in HCMC last autumn after several years working in Singapore.

At a recent social event, he moved easily through the crowd of young Vietnamese advertising executives (and hopefuls), speaking English effortlessly and offering energetic insights into the world of corporate communications. While he’s determined to be at the forefront of the new IT economy here, he admits that his parents are worried. “This is not the Vietnam they knew,” he says.

While recent university graduates and overseas arrivals are adding to the employee base, the biggest source of talent right now remains within the existing workforce, and that’s where the big HR companies are searching.

RGF Executive Search deals with positions paying $1,500 a month up to the stratospheric salaries of CEOs rising beyond $25,000 a month. (RGF charges employers a finder’s fee that is up to 25 percent of an annual salary.) These days most of the jobs at the lower end of that scale go to Vietnamese; the mid-scale positions are split between expats and Vietnamese while upper executive jobs still favour expats with international experience.

Ready for a Globalised Market Economy?

As employee recruitment continues to get more competitive, companies are becoming more creative. At VietnamWorks, Paul has organised job fairs to bring employers and job seekers together. His Boulevard For Success job fairs bring out thousands of Hanoi and Saigon workers interested in talking to HR personnel from a range of companies. He has a technology job fair and a mobile app in the planning stages.

A shortage of IT professionals is particularly worrying for Paul, whose research suggests that Vietnam will need 400,000 new IT workers by 2020. Even now, he says there is a problem because current IT professionals lack the communication and soft skills (like creativity, problem solving and collaboration) that are important components of the international workplace.

It sector Vietnam

Over the past three years, VietnamWorks has seen the biggest job growth in finance, IT and advertising – the latter two have doubled and tripled the number of jobs on offer. Ironically, 40 percent of its job seekers are pursuing careers in other fields. Accounting, administrative office jobs and manufacturing/production are the most sought-after career fields right now.

In a 2014 report called Skilling up Vietnam, the World Bank noted that the country’s 95 percent literacy rate was just the first step to preparing workers for a modern market economy. It claimed that 80 percent of technical and professional job applicants lacked the skills necessary to fulfil the jobs they were applying for – and that white collar workers lacked both technical expertise as well as leadership, creative, problem-solving and communication skills.

Jon Whitehouse, a Brit, and Paul Espinas, a Filipino, remain optimistic about the road ahead. Both arrived in Vietnam by circuitous career routes and both have declared their intention to stay.

Jon explains that for expat executives, Vietnam is a career stepping stone and the typical stay here is three years. But some fall in love with the place and have trouble leaving. He’s been here for five years and Paul has seven years under his belt; they have no intention of leaving any time soon.

 


Setting up A Business in Vietnam

By: Victor Burrill

Vietnam’s unique entrepreneurial start-up culture.

The challenges that comes with doing business in Vietnam for foreigners.

Understanding the local processes and government regulations.

Are you thinking of joining the many companies who are moving, relocating or expanding their business operations to Vietnam? Perhaps you have a business idea and want to join the fast growing & fascinating start-up culture unravelling amongst both Vietnamese natives and expats in this great little country of ours...

A Country Ripe for Business

After years of conflict, hunger and economic sanctions, Vietnam reached a turning point in 1986 when the country implemented the policy of Đổi Mới, or ‘renovation’ with the aim of creating a socialist-orientated free market economy. In 1994, Bill Clinton lifted the 19-year post-war US trade embargo and Vietnam entered the global marketplace.

Today, Vietnam’s 94 million people have experienced huge economic change. The national GDP is now around $180bn – a massive leap from just $6bn in 1990. As of 2017, 24 of the 28 EU nations have invested in around 2,000 projects in the country, with a total registered FDI reaching above $21.5bn. Industry, construction, and services were the major sectors that attracted the majority of EU capital.

Business in VietnamImage source: shutterstock.com

According to Forbes, Vietnam has become Asia’s hottest investment destination with $17 billion in FDI commitments last year alone. Bloomberg recently reported that the current GDP growth of Vietnam is at about 6.8%. This makes Vietnam one of the best performers among the emerging markets in South Asia.

The Vietnamese are incredibly enthusiastic about foreign investment and the opportunities it brings and increased integration into international markets. They are also keen to share their proud culture, traditions and history with foreigners in order to protect their local heritage in a rapidly developing and forward-thinking economy. For this reason, acknowledgement of Vietnamese culture can earn foreigners a lot of esteem.

Why Vietnam?

According to Tomas Svoboda, Head of Cekindo Vietnam - an organisation that provides market entry support to companies and investors entering Vietnam - many businesses are moving here due to competitive wages and a strong working culture. Common types of businesses favouring to operate in Vietnam range from IT to e-commerce, consulting firms, food and health supplements companies, and manufacturers.

Business in VietnamImage source: povertyactionlab.org

Tomas also says that many companies are moving or expanding operations from China to Vietnam to avoid US tariffs in the US-China trade war and Vietnam’s preferential trade agreements. Another big reason is the rapidly growing domestic market. Vietnam’s GDP is also one of the fastest growing in the world and is expected to double by 2030, creating an increased consumer demand.

Many factories are also finding success here, as producers look to lower the cost of labor and operations. Vietnam is a perfect fit for this as a large number of the population have the skills to work manual labour jobs. It’s not only big businesses making the move to Vietnam however…

This country has a unique start-up culture, great value per dollar, a good climate, and a strong entrepreneurial community. Vietnam is now very much ready for the startup scene and smaller companies are finding a lot of success here for a number of reasons. One is that it’s easier to find investors, as there are many investor-2-business matching meetings and pitch competitions that bring the investor closer to smaller organisations.

Things to Consider

Cultural differences can also be a huge challenge for foreigners doing business in Vietnam, not to mention the difficulty of dealing with the language barrier. Tomas advises finding a reliable local partner and being open-minded to marketing strategy, so you can adapt quickly to the local market. He also says that Vietnam is a strong and popular choice for technology startups and that many international companies know about it.

Business in VietnamImage source: investmentinvietnam.com

Some companies who have struggled in developed countries have very successfully grown their scalable start-ups in Vietnam. With 70% of the Vietnamese population being under the age of 35, Vietnam is young, fast and fun.

One American businessman recently said... 

‘I really love the people of Saigon. They remind me of New Yorkers. They are friendly with a healthy dose of scepticism coupled with a fierce work ethic.’

Another entrepreneur said...

‘Saigon is for bootstrappers who want to go somewhere to put their head down, enter into building mode and crank out their product or business. One could easily live on $1,500 a month here and live quite a privileged existence in a city where modern meets old. Local salaries for admins to coders range from $500 - $1500USD/month. Thus, there are a lot of bootstrappers here in Saigon - and in general, the crowd here tends to be more serious and focused on execution.’

Legal Issues

One of the major challenges businesses face when moving to Vietnam is understanding local processes and government regulations, which can be confusing. Ngo Nhat Minh, Founder & Attorney-at-law at BLawyers Vietnam, advises foreigners to consider finding good legal council before setting up a new business in Vietnam, especially those in conditional business fields.

Business in VietnamImage source: blogspot.com

Minh mentions that one area of help business leaders often need is understanding the many overlapping regulations from different state authorities. Understanding the whole picture can be difficult for foreign investors which can impact the strategy and implementation of launching operations here in Vietnam. He also suggests keeping up to date with the legal status as laws tend to change rapidly.

Minh also suggests foreigners be careful before entering deals. Many go well but if they go wrong it can take a long time to gain support for enforcement from local authorities in situations where parties cannot amicably settle disputes.

Minh also suggests budgeting up to 3 months for setting up a foreign invested company in Vietnam. He says that limited liability companies or joint stock companies are the most common choice of foreign investors because they are easier to manage and have more limited liability for debt and other financial obligations.

Another legal area to consider is understanding the labor law and the rights of employees, especially on termination of employment agreements.

All things considered, if you are looking for a place to expand or start your business, Vietnam could be the right destination for you.

Banner Image source: shutterstock.com


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