Sunday October 19th, 2014 11:35 PM
After spanning the globe for 15 hours in the air and traveling at speeds of over 700 MPH our Execuitve MBA cohort of 18 arrived in one of the world’s largest airports in Hong Kong. The group was a bit weary from the long trip but incredibly excited to be half way across the world in East Asia. We had just enough time to stretch out and make a few phone calls before getting ready for the last leg of our journey which would be touching down in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam!
From the 14th floor of the 5-star Novotel Hotel in Downtown Ho Chi Minh City, I looked out on to the bustling streets of old Saigon. What seemed like an endless stream of motor bikes, mopeds and motorcycles of all types raced by our hotel. I have no idea where everyone is going but this city of over 8 million people is awake and moving at 7AM.
After spending a few hours with speakers Ron Parks, Director of Industry Engagement, and Mark Oakley of ACS Legal, the group has a feel for why this country is one of the fastest growing, emerging nations in the world. The main take-a-way from this morning’s lectures,-“for those that can strategically and patiently navigate Vietnam’s complex regulatory processes, the rewards can be significant”.
The afternoon was spent scavenger hunting and sightseeing. Our group wandered the streets of Ho Chi Minh, learned how to cross the street without getting run over by the motorbikes, had our first bowl of steaming Foa, window shopped for the unusual, bought a turtle- set it free, and also visited the Ho Chi Minh City zoo.
Day two started out with two insightful company visits to The Global law firm of Baker and McKenzie and the International Advertising Agency TBWA. Mr. Yee Chung Seck, Managing partner of Baker and McKenzie, schooled us on the how big-ticket M&A deals get done and sometimes don’t get done in Vietnam and the surrounding region. Tom Guerin, Managing Director of TBWA, walked us through how a multinational advertising agency utilizes disruption and innovation to create award-winning advertising campaigns for some of the world’s largest multinational firms.
The evening of day two was truly my favorite. Eight members of our Executive MBA group were brave enough to jump on the back of motorbikes for a foodie night tour of the city which spanned multiple districts and 4 different culinary stops. Some of the menu highlights for the evening included grilled goat, frog, crab, and duck eggs… not for the faint of heart and lots of beer to wash it all down. The tour was amazing and took us from the streets of China town to the upscale districts of new Saigon . What a great way to experience the city!
Day three, I’m ready to go ….no ill-effects from last night’s unusual foodie meal. Thank goodness.
Our day starts with a very cool manufacturing tour of Kinh Do Group (a bakery). These guys love to bake, everything from cookies, to bread to crackers (66 tons of them per day) to their Holiday specialty- Moon Cake. The folks that work here are truly passionate about their company and the foods they produce. Everyone from our group was given a giant bag of cookies and goodies to take home with us. The tin of cookies made it all the way home with me.
The next tour of Esquel garment manufacturing was equally impressive. This company manufactures garments for companies like Nike, Hugo Boss and Ralph Loren. The manufacturing operations were modern and their strategic vision and attention to corporate responsibility were surprisingly forward-thinking.
The evening started with a trip to the Ho Chi Minh City Opera House where a group of us were entertained by a talented group of acrobatic performers. After the show we headed to the beer garden for some more great food and a networking event where we were able to meet with a number of young professionals from abroad who were working, teaching, going to school and living in the city. The expats and foreigners who I spoke with all seemed to love working and living in the Ho Chi Minh area.
Day four began with a visit to the government-run Saigon Hi-Tech Park and a tour of Datalogic’s Manufacturing Operation on site at the park. The government of Vietnam is highly focused on attracting both high tech and bio tech firms to Vietnam. Early indications are that it’s working as firms like Samsung, Intel and Microsoft has set up shop here in a big way.
Later in the afternoon my teammate, Tundee, and I met with our project company, TMA Solutions in District 12. The meeting included spending time with the firm’s Director of R&D and VP of New Applications Business segment. After our meeting we enjoyed another amazing meal with our host from TMA at a local restaurant.
We closed the evening with drinks on the rooftop bar at our Novotel Hotel. The nights have been beautiful with the temps in the 70’s.
We closed up the week with a visit to IBM’s offices in Ho Chi Minh City. Big Blue has been based in Vietnam for a number of years and is working with both local firms and multinational firms doing business in the region.
Day six we have the entire day to ourselves to explore whatever we wanted…. My new friend Jim Bruno and I decided to take a tour to the Cu Chi tunnels in southern Vietnam. These elaborate tunnels were a used during the Vietnam War. The Vietcong dug tens of thousands of miles of tunnels underneath the Cu Chi district of Saigon to house troops, transport communications and supplies and mount surprise attacks against the South Vietnamese and American troops. After spending 10 seconds in the tunnels, I wanted out!!! Hot, sweaty, and claustrophobic. I have no idea how people lived in these tunnels.
After the Cu Chi visit we headed to the amazing Cao Dai Temple which is located on the Vietnam/Cambodia border. The culture, the architecture and the rituals were incredible to experience.
This Executive MBA trip was truly a once in a lifetime experience. The food, the people, the culture, the vibrancy of the city was all incredible. There is no better way to learn about a county like Vietnam and understand its potential than to immerse yourself into the culture and business environment like the way we were able to for a week. I’m definitely going back to Asia!
Michael Mangione is an Online EMBA Student and Sales Director at Cardinal Health