CEOs buckle under Vietnam ride-hailing pressure

By Vien Thong   January 17, 2020 | 05:48 pm PT
Heated competition has seen three major Vietnamese ride-hailing players lose CEOs, all within a year.

Singapore-based Grab announced on Monday that Nguyen Thai Hai Van would take over from Jerry Lim, who returns to Singapore to take up another position in the company.

Van, who joined Grab last November, told reporters: "For the last three years Grab has had a target of recruiting a Vietnamese leader who understands Vietnamese consumers’ desires." She takes over from Lim on February 1.

A recruitment expert who asked not to be named said Grab’s new boss would be appropriate for the job since her 17-year experience in the competitive consumer goods industry would prove useful in the ride-hailing market where players are battling for market share.

"Grab’s competitors are investing heavily in discounts and marketing, and the company needs someone who can grow the company. Only a leader with experience in the consumer goods market can [do that]."

 Former Grab Vietnam CEO Jerry Lim. Photo courtesy of Grab.

 Former Grab Vietnam CEO Jerry Lim. Photo courtesy of Grab.

Earlier, at the beginning of last year, Go-Viet had changed the top management.

The affiliate of Indonesian Go-Jek announced in March that both CEO Nguyen Vu Duc and Deputy CEO Nguyen Bao Linh would be leaving.

In April it made headlines by hiring former Facebook Vietnam country director Le Diep Kieu Trang as CEO. Trang, a well-known figure in the tech industry, was said to be the right fit with her experience in building startups.

But five months later she was gone.

The company said in a statement at the time: "After five months at Go-Viet, Le Diep Kieu Trang (Christy Le) has chosen a different path. We have always been seeking consensus between parties but the results were not what we expected."

Go-Viet has yet to hire a CEO.

Former Go-Viet CEO Le Diep Kieu Trang. Photo courtesy of Le Diep Kieu Trang.

Former Go-Viet CEO Le Diep Kieu Trang. Photo courtesy of Le Diep Kieu Trang.

At the end of the year Vietnamese firm Be Group became the next ride-hailing company to see its CEO leave. Tran Thanh Hai had been in the job for one and a half years.

Hai, who reportedly quit for personal reasons, said he would remain as a consultant to the board, and COO Nguyen Hoang Phuong is the acting CEO.

Former Be Group CEO Tran Thanh Hai. Photo courtesy of Tran Thanh Hai.

Former Be Group CEO Tran Thanh Hai. Photo courtesy of Tran Thanh Hai.

Industry insiders say ride-hailing firms’ CEOs leave because they are unable to fulfill the three goals of retaining drivers, satisfying customers and maintaining growth.

In some cases CEOs do not get the freedom to pursue their own strategies to achieve these goals, leading to conflicts, they said.

The recruitment expert added: "The CEO’s seat requires someone with tech knowledge but also strategic vision. A former startup leader might not have the latter and will be unable to bear the pressure from investors and the parent company."

Since Uber exited Vietnam in 2018 the ride-hailing market has seen new players enter and intensifying competition to take on Grab, the dominant player with a 73 percent market share, according to the U.S.’s ABI Research.

Vietnam’s ride-hailing market was the fourth largest in Southeast Asia last year behind Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand, according to a report by Google, Singaporean state-owned holding company Temasek and U.S. management consultancy Bain.

The market was worth $1.1 billion last year and is expected to hit $4 billion by 2025, ABI Research said.

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