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.

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Building Workplace Performance Through Trust

By: Victor Burrill

What can you do to build trust in the workplace?

Trust increases speed and thus lowers costs in businesses.

Building Trust with The Emotional Bank Account

‘You cannot prevent a major catastrophe but you can build an organization that is battle-ready, that has high morale, that knows how to behave and that trusts itself. One where people trust one another. In military training, the first rule is to instill soldiers with trust in their officers because without trust, they won’t fight.’  - Peter Drucker

One way you may consider building performance in your team is through building trust.

Teams and organizations that operate with high trust significantly outperform those who do not cultivate trust at the core of their culture. A Watson Wyatt study showed that high-trust companies outperformed low-trust companies in total return to shareholders — by 286%!

Building Workplace PerformanceImage source: business2community.com

In his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni says that the first of the five dysfunctions is the absence of trust among team members. Essentially, he says, this stems from their unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group. Team members who are not genuinely open with one another about their mistakes and weaknesses make it impossible to build a foundation for trust.

What can you do to build trust in the workplace?

“Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent. You will be amazed at how your whole approach to a person or problem becomes very different.’’ - Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo CEO

It is firmly believed by many that trust isn’t a quality you either have or you don’t, it’s a learnable skill that is developed with practice.

Stephen M. R. Covey in his book The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything explains the first step towards building trust is self-trust (trusting yourself) or credibility. As the writer and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “Self trust is the essence of heroism.”

Credibility is about developing the integrity, intent, capabilities, and results that make you believable, both to yourself and to others. Essentially, it boils down to two simple questions... 

Question 1. “Do I trust myself?"
Question 2. “Am I someone others can trust?”

Building Workplace PerformanceImage source: miro.com

Research shows that many of us don’t follow through with the goals we set and don’t keep the promises and commitments we make to ourselves. For example, almost half of the western world set New Year’s resolutions, research shows that only 8 percent actually keep them. By doing this time after time the result will be repeated failure to make and keep commitments to ourselves which erodes our self-confidence and we lose trust in our ability to make and keep commitments. Thus, we fail to project the personal strength of character that inspires trust. We may try to borrow strength from position or association. But it’s not real. It’s not ours… and people know it. And whether we realize or not, that impacts the bottom line.

Although we all know it intuitively, research validates that a person’s self-confidence will affect his or her performance. This is one reason why Jack Welch of GE claimed that “building self-confidence in others is a huge part of leadership.”

The lack of Self Trust also undermines our ability to trust others. In the words of Cardinal de Retz, “A man who doesn’t trust himself can never really trust anyone else.”

The good news in all of this is that when we do make and keep a commitment to ourselves or set and achieve a meaningful goal, we build credibility and self-confidence within ourselves. The more we do it, the more confidence we have that we can achieve our goals, and are more likely to set new ones. The more we accomplish our goals, the more we trust ourselves.

Consider which ones of the following High Trust Behaviours would you like to change the most and why?

1. Straight Talking

8. Confront Reality

2. Demonstrate Respect

9. Clarify Expectations

3. Communicate with Transparency

10. Practice Accountability

4. Right Wrongs

11. Listen First

5. Show Loyalty

12. Keep Commitments

6. Deliver on Promises and Achieve Results

13. Extend Trust

7. Get Better

 

Trust increases speed and thus lowers costs in businesses

The result from the 41 Country Study of Paul Zak and Stephen Knack also shows “In all cases, the countries with the highest trust levels have the highest per capita incomes and GDPs. Because trust reduces the cost of transactions, high-trust societies exhibit better economic performance than low-trust societies.”

High trust also increases speed and thus lowers costs in businesses and organisations too. A lot of people around the world trust in FedEx to deliver them goods overnight. But have you considered that your trust in them is a major part of why they’re so fast at delivering in the first place? Since many people trust in FedEx to deliver the next day, they must move hundreds of thousands of packages and orders each day – as people buy, and they buy fast. The speed with which FedEx receives incoming orders at scale is what endows it with the flow of financial capital it needs to not only pay for overnight drivers or book special air freight services, but also create systems that will lower the average cost and time per delivery.

Building Workplace PerformanceImage source: news.com.au

Since 9/11 the average airport security checks take 90 minutes, as opposed to approximately 30 minutes before. The trust in airplane passengers has gone, making the whole process of checking each passenger slower, and leads to an increased cost for personnel and machinery.

Building Trust with The Emotional Bank Account

An Emotional Bank Account is a metaphor describing the amount of trust that has been built up in any relationship. It represents how safe you feel with or around another person.

Much like the idea of having a savings accounts flood with cash or real estate investments with large equity balances – which are all great things – there is another type of account that probably affects your life much more significantly. This account is measured by your trust. It is an emotional bank account and we are regularly making deposits into it and take withdrawals when we need to. A deposit represents someone doing a caring act for us or making us feel safe and accepted. A withdrawal will be somebody showing us malice, bad intent or aggression and represents us losing trust in that person.

We make similar kinds of deposits and withdrawals in our relationships at work into our Emotional Bank Accounts. When the balance is high, so is the resulting level of trust, and so is your ability to achieve the results that you are measured by. When the balance is low, trust is low, the quality of your work will decrease and suffer, and ultimately your work relationships can suffer also.

Building Workplace PerformanceImage source: i.ytimg.com

To build a strong, healthy balance with the people with whom you work, follow these important points:

1. Never deposit to withdraw - While there are similarities between a traditional bank account and an Emotional Bank Account, you should never accumulate a high emotional balance in order to make planned withdrawals later. I know a colleague who kept a box of thank you notes in his office because he had developed an unhealthy habit of using them to build a reservoir of goodwill before dumping a big project on someone. This approach is exactly how not to utilize the Emotional Bank Account as your attempts to show good intent will be seen through quickly and will not be well received.

2. Know the other person’s currency - Like trying to deposit British Pounds into a Chinese bank account, you are sure to raise eyebrows and cause confusion. Understand how to change your tones and words to communicate with certain people and make an effort to ‘speak their language’. If done correctly this will instantly gain you their trust. Take time to learn what the important people in your workplace (aka your boss, your cubicle mate, your best clients) consider a deposit.

3. Communicate your own currency - You cannot expect people to read your mind. In the fast-paced world of work, it can cost you plenty if you do. Clarify and communicate your expectations before, during, and after every project. Doing so sets everyone up for success as showing trust in them builds rapport and understanding.

4. Small and consistent deposits over time are more powerful than occasional, large deposits - Relationships grow in security and trust when they are built with frequent, meaningful contributions rather than an occasional grand gesture. This stockpile can be invaluable when the unintentional but inevitable “you-know-what” hits the fan, and you need to draw from the deep well of deposits to turn a sticky situation around.

5. Right wrongs - A piece of Eastern wisdom says, “if you’re going to bow, bow low”. In other words, when you mess up, make a sincere apology. There is nothing more meaningful than admitting a mistake without making excuses for it. This shows humility and vulnerability, and will build strong trust.

Good luck with your journey in building performance in your workplace!

Banner Image source: betterthansuccess.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


The Science of Networks: How Connectivism is Changing Our Interactions

By: R.E.H.

Connectivism Can Change the Way We Work

Psychologists are Divided About the Implications of Being Constantly Connected to the Digital Sphere

Developing Connections Within Networks is Actually More Important Than Acquiring the Knowledge Itself

ConnectivismImage source: ematrix.uk

Almost everything these days revolves around our gadgets and, more specifically, the networking apps that help us get through the simplest of daily tasks as well as social or professional situations. This is evident everywhere from catching up over social media with friends or e-meeting potential business contacts to finding a personal assistant through a gig economy app or even getting a virtual doctor’s check-up!

Everything is networked. Everything is connected. This newfound sense of being connected has led the academic world into a tailspin as social scientists and psychologists try to understand the implications. While there are many different theories that explain individual elements of the impact of digitalisation and how networking has changed the way that modern society functions, none are quite so poignant as the emerging study of ‘Connectivism’.

What is Connectivism and How Does it Affect the Workplace?

Connectivism is rooted in the belief that everything belongs to a network. Networks are the basis for biological life—the integration of cells to form a living object. Networks are the basis for social life— the integration of relationships to form a community. Networks are the basis for technology: nodes connect to hubs to create complex digital applications.

Connectivism emphasises that the capacity to learn through these networks and foster them are a core life skill. Essentially, it is through networks that all knowledge is acquired and distributed.

The originator of the connectivism theory, George Siemens, wrote in his article “Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age” that “Connectivism also addresses the challenges that many corporations face in knowledge management activities. Knowledge that resides in a database needs to be connected with the right people in the right context in order to be classified as learning”.

Connectivism also highlights the surprising idea that learning to maintain and develop connections within networks is actually more important than acquiring the knowledge itself.

One example of this is recent research published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research publications, which has found that being connected to a large social network within an organisation is more influential than being knowledgeable or holding an important title.

Social media platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn are great examples of connectivism at work in the business sector. These networking sites demonstrate that the more followers you have, the more influence you have to disseminate information. LinkedIn has recently capitalised on this accessible connectivity by creating an invite-only LinkedIn Influencer program.

According to the Nordic media monitoring company, Meltwater.com, the program is made up of “… a global collective of 500+ of the world’s foremost thinkers, leaders, and innovators”.

While LinkedIn Influencers are primarily made up of public figures, social media influence is present even on a smaller scale across the internet. The research report, “Enabling Community Through Social Media”, published by JMIR Publications, comes to the conclusion that “Prominence in the network appears to be related to familiarity with individuals, for example, more active participants receive more attention in terms of mentions and retweets”.

This opens the possibility for employees who may have been confined to the ‘lower ranks’ of an organisational hierarchy, to gain an audience as large as the managing board, dependent on their ‘connectivism’ skills to entice followers.

In this way connectivism is already organically encroaching into organisations large and small. Traditional hierarchies, which place power at the top level of management, are being replaced with models that allow for greater levels of power distribution. Models that promote feedback networks in which reflexive learning and decision-making give a voice to employees at all levels of the organisation are starting to be seen as the future in office culture.

Workplaces are necessarily moving away from “Do as I say” to “What do you think?”, promoting employee engagement. This demonstrates that connectivism is helping companies to fully value each member of the team, while equally supporting each member to become more invested in the company’s goals. Both results are achieved in companies that perform as an integrated network, rather than a top-down pyramid.

How Does Connectivism Relate to Vietnam?

Connectivism, and understanding its role in Vietnam, is perhaps most important when applied in training the next generation.

ConnectivismImage source: Shutter Stock

Corporate Connective Open Online Courses (COOC) should be used to make the future Vietnamese workforce more connected, according to Nguyen Manh Hung’s article “Using Ideas from Connectivism for Designing New Learning Models in Vietnam”, published in The International Journal of Information and Education Technology, Vol. 4. A COOC is basically a networked way of learning that allows corporations to offer targeted online training courses for future employees or clients.

Nguyen expresses the need for Vietnam to move away from traditional learning methods in the education systems towards COOC, which can be used successfully in “education environments with developing infrastructure like Vietnam”.

The digitalisation of the workplace has created an increasing demand for employees who are flexible, agile, resilient and able to make connections—to learn as the job requires. The recommendation to promote skills that make us effective lifelong learners, which started as a whisper, has turned into an urgent cry.

It is no longer enough to train youth in industry-specific knowledge. Now it is necessary to train them to know how to make connections. Future leaders need to know how to make connections between information pools in order to create, innovate and make refined decisions. They need to be able to connect to networks in order to become influencers, visionaries and leaders. Connections are what will allow them to continue to be a part of our evolving human story.

A giant in the research of networks, Dr Barabasi, said, “Each of us is part of a large cluster, the worldwide social net, from which no one is left out. We do not know everybody on this globe, but it is guaranteed that there is a path between any two of us in this web of people. Likewise, there is a path between any two neurons in our brains, between any two companies in the world, between any two chemicals in our body. Nothing is excluded from this highly interconnected web of life.”

Like this article? Read more about Business and Networking on CityPassGuide.com.

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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.

 


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


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