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VIETNAM Q&A – Vaughan Scott

Vaughan with Nat Irvin, Assistant Dean, University of Louisville

Q: What was the purpose of the trip?

VS: Many of these students have never traveled outside the United States and if they have, not to places like Vietnam and Singapore. The goal was to make them aware of the cultural and business practice differences that exist in other parts of the world, helping them to understand it really is a global marketplace when it comes to businesses.

Q:  Talk about the academic component.

VS: It’s very structured. The students must do some work before they leave to prepare. Once there, in addition to business visits, we also do cultural excursions. Along the way, they’re preparing for a paper they must write at the end about what they learned and the experience in general. They are also expected to participate during the tours. We pay attention to who’s asking questions, if they’re good questions and make note of their level of engagement. This year we had a phenomenal group.

Q:  Let’s get to your itinerary.

VS: The first thing we did was a Mekong Delta tour. We traveled up and down the river and stopped at a brick manufacturing facility. They were literally making bricks on the side of the river, using the mud from the water there. Actually, it was just a couple of families living in squalor who were making these. Everything was done manually, and the quality of the bricks was quite good.

What was striking to me is the next day we visited a software company called FTP Software. It was as modern a facility as you’ve ever seen. Here in the U.S., many software firms follow a practice known as the “10% rule,” which means they fire the bottom 10% of the performers each year as a way to incentivize people to be more productive workers.  

What was so interesting here was this company had a separate area that was a club for the top 10% of the performers. It didn’t matter their role. It was just the caliber of the work. There was a pool table, a bar, a lunch area. It was a great incentive for people to really strive to be their best. It was positive reinforcement instead of a negative approach.

There was also a series of walkways with three pathways that represented the letter Y, which stood for “yes.” They said, “That’s what we want to tell our customers—yes.”

Q:  I understand you also visited a shoe factory and a tea company. Tell us about those.

VS: It was called Vietnam Shoe Majestic. The management was from Indonesia, but the team members were Vietnamese. They were making UGG slippers, some three million pairs a year.

It was another very modern a facility and impeccably clean. At the end of the assembly lines, they had visuals of what the final products should look like, which helped keep all the products uniform. They also made Dr. Martens and Johnston & Murphy shoes.

At the Hung Phat Tea Company, they welcomed us with personalized hats and special gift boxes. There was also an amazing buffet. This is a family business that makes and packages all sorts of tea. We got to experience a tea tasting and take part in a traditional tea ceremony. At the end of the visit, it was time to pose for pictures and shop!

Q:  What was something interesting you learned?

VS: Something that really fascinated me was I’ve always heard in these emerging market countries, they’re not as concerned about sustainability. But on this trip, they talked as much if not more about sustainability than we do in the U.S. I found that really interesting. One of the businesses we visited was an architecture firm called Green Viet. They design sustainable buildings around the world. The company is known for integrating horticulture as part of their building facades. I was also surprised how you would see huge, expensive houses right next to rundown shacks and small, modest street shops next to big, modern buildings.

Q:  What impressed you the most?

VS: I was very impressed by the level of entrepreneurship and how far it permeated down into society. In addition to companies and factories, all along the streets people had pop-up businesses of every kind. As a communist country, the government does pay attention and keep track of businesses, but at the same time, they encourage entrepreneurial endeavors.

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