It’s a cool, windy Sunday afternoon in Ho Chi Minh. This is the kinda weather you would expect in Ha Noi during autumn, not in Ho Chi Minh. I still remember one year ago, Aug 2009, the weather was just like this when i arrived at Tan Son Nhat international airport.
Yes, i officially celebrated my “one year anniversary” in Vietnam 2 weeks ago. Before Ho Chi Minh, I stayed in Singapore for about 7 years, studied University and then worked there. I was born in Ha Noi and never stayed in Ho Chi Minh for long before moving to Singapore so i didn’t know what to expect when i came back here.
Typically i asked myself this question “If i could do it all over again, would i do it differently?”
Answers to this question are not easy obviously. Besides it requires a lot of soul searching and being honest with oneself. Because the scope of this question includes both personal and professional areas and so i want to limit my discussion here from the professional stand point only.
I broke this question into two parts:
- Would i still come back to Ho Chi Minh?
- How would i do it differently if i could?
“Would i still come back to Ho Chi Minh city?”
Well, the answer is probably yes. While no one can accurately predict the future and i fully appreciate that “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”, at this point i am quite certain of my decision to come back.
If i stayed in Singapore, i would work on regional accounts, meeting regional clients, regional teams from Google, Yahoo, Baidu and the like. English would be used more often. I would get to know more international friends, especially those in East Asia i.e. China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and Korea.
Project management skill would be essential. Different new technologies would be learned and mastered.
And don’t forget the added exposure from many business trips.
Coming back to Ho Chi Minh city present a different set of challenges & opportunities.
Back here, i have more freedom to explore and lead the team towards the direction that we think best. Vietnam is a new market, with virtually no rules so building a business here is very different from many other places. While the level of competition is not as high as in Singapore/Hong Kong/China, the level of trust is also very low here. This leads to many complicated business processes/paperwork process that takes time and hinder the progress.
Vietnam, like any developing countries, is a society in which the middle class represents only a small percentage of the whole population. We have a huge number of poor people and a small number of the ultra rich class. Hence, professionalism is rather rare in Vietnam.
At the end of the day, from a professional stand point, being able to do what i think is best, taking that level of responsibility for the rise or fall of the whole team is important to me. I probably won’t trade it for the regional exposure, big accounts and the like.
“Would i do it differently if i could?”
The answer is yes.
I would be more adaptive to the local market and not trying to replicate the model we have overseas in Vietnam. Clearly Vietnam needs its own model and the way Vietnamese approach things is different.
I didn’t appreciate this fully until i lived here for about 9 months. Singapore and people from the West think a like, very much alike from my point of view.
Vietnamese think differently, different from China, from the West and certainly from other SouthEast Asia countries.
Secondly, i would build a much bigger operation team from the start. The learning curve is somehow longer in Vietnam. Language is definitely a barrier. Attitude is another thing. Finding and keeping good team members in Vietnam is difficult, very difficult actually. Local managers have been asking the question of how to keep good people for years but i don’t think we’ve found the solution yet. Patience is rare in Vietnam.
There are plenty of other things that i need to do slightly differently. However, they are a bit too sensitive to share at this point.
I hope i would be able to share them in a near future.
After all, i have tremendous respects to some Vietnamese that i’ve come across during my 1 year in Vietnam and i hope to meet more of them in the future. From them i have learnt a lot about businesses, about working relationship and lives in Vietnam.
Well, that’s about it for today. Just some brief personal sharing after a long time. I will take more about professional stuff in other posts.