Friday, 20 March 2009

Contrasting family businesses in a rapidly growing economy

Every day we have spent in Vietnam has been different and today was no exception. Arjan joined me on client site today at the request of Mr Dung, with the intention of discussing computer aided design tools, to help them design their steel products, while I was intending to deliver the stock management training to the team. As it turned out those requiring the training were unavailable and Mr Dung had completely underestimated how complex some of the CAD programs available are, and considering he only started using his computer last week, I think he quickly realised that he needed to learn to walk before he could run.

So, instead Mr Dung and I, with the aid of the interpreters, showed Arjan around the site. He got to see the order schedule, which has now been put in place and is being used by the foreman, as well as the different types of steel in stock, waiting to be used to produce a customer order.
It rained, sounds like choy daang muar (tone going down), and after lunch and lots of photos (the accounts team wanted to have their photograph taken with the Dutch giant), Mr Dung took us to visit the company of his eldest brother. This is the 4th of the family businesses I have visited (my client’s steel company, his brother’s steel company, his sister’s new steel trading company and now the eldest brother’s electronics company) and it has been very interesting to observe the stark contrasts in size as well as business and technological maturity of each of these companies and the family dynamic between the siblings (it is very hierarchical and you could definitely tell that my client was the youngest of the 6 siblings).

The eldest brother has over 16 years of experience in the electronics industry, firstly in a government owned company and now with his own. He has travelled extensively outside of Vietnam, in Europe, US and other parts of Asia, and interestingly understands and speaks English but chose not to (whether that is related to status or confidence, I’m not sure). His electronics company is less than 4 years old, has almost 600 staff and is one of the 500 largest companies in Vietnam (as we discovered when we saw the certificate on the boardroom wall). His company currently has a startling 70% share of the electronics market in Hai Phong and is expanding rapidly across Vietnam. Their offices have a spectacular view across Hai Phong city and have better facilities than some IBM sites I’ve been to.

This contrast is evident throughout Hai Phong, and Vietnam, as the economy continues to expand rapidly. Family run businesses range from small street stalls to large corporations, I just hadn’t expected to see such a vast difference between two companies within the same family.

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