'Competing with Giants' seeks to inspire, advance

By Anh Nguyen   October 23, 2018 | 06:00 pm PT
The interest that faculty and Harvard classmates showed in the story of her family-run business prompted the book, says Vietnamese entrepreneur.

Competing with Giants, the first book by a Vietnamese author published by ForbesBooks, was recently released in Vietnam.

The book, co-authored by Tran Uyen Phuong with British journalist Jackie Horne and American economist John Kador, reflects the "nothing is impossible" spirit shown by a Vietnamese business.

Phuong, vice chairwoman of beverage maker Tan Hiep Phat (THP), spoke to VnExpress about her experience of writing the book and her hopes for it.

- How did the idea of "Competing with Giants" come to you?

- It came when I was doing a leadership course at the Harvard University from 2010 to 2012. My class had 180 students, all businesspeople from companies with revenues of over $10 million a year. They came from 80 countries and territories, each with their own story.

When I shared my own story about how my parents built their career at THP, from creating a new brand to competing with multinational companies with a business culture and a perseverant spirit, my classmates and lecturer showed great interest in it.

The lecturer said that maybe I should write a small book as a reference for future classes.

But I thought why stop there? After finishing my first book, which was published last year, I wrote Competing with Giants as a gift for my family and my THP business family.

Phuong, vice chairwoman of beverage maker Tan Hiep Phat (THP), spoke to VnExpress about her experience of writing the book and her hopes for it.

Tran Uyen Phuong, vice chairwoman of THP, shares her experience of writing the book.

- What message did you want to convey to global readers when you started writing this book?

- The major story of the book is how a business can overcome the challenges in its early stage and compete with big companies in the industry. There were things that people, even us, did not think that THP could do. But we proved that nothing was impossible.

The company went through many stages, starting out in 1994 with a tiny budget, then going through restructuring and even rejecting an offer from Coca-Cola to buy the company for $2.5 billion in 2012.

The second point I want to make in the book is the business culture in the East and in Vietnam. To western countries, the Asian market is a big piece of pie with robust growth in new economies. The world needs to know how an Asian business runs and how its business culture is formed. That’s the story that I wanted to tell in the book.

But Asian culture by itself is not enough to bring THP to where it is today. The West has knowledge in business management, advanced technology and discipline, while the East has traditional tea recipes with a family-oriented business culture. These have to come together.

- What can world businesspeople learn from your book?

- The two co-authors and I did research and wrote about current problems that multinational companies are dealing with. The book is for businesspeople who are willing to learn and conquer new challenges.

One problem with multinational companies is that they don’t fully understand local people's culture, which is why they cannot beat local companies, sometimes.

Another issue is that multinational companies are too big, and therefore lack flexibility and individual responsibility.

On the other hand, local businesses have the cultural advantage. They understand the market like they know their own house. With a low starting point in terms of finance and experience, they are faster and more open to new trends. Individuals in these firms are also more willing to learn and persevere.

- Normally, a firm's business methods are usually kept secret. Why were you willing to share them?

- It was a concern when I decided to write the book. The insights included in the book were acquired by experience, why did I have to share it?

But by interacting with businesspeople in other countries, I learned that they too had fears and need to be inspired. They were just like me. So I thought the book could be a bridge between me and them, help me learn more from global experts and international readers. What I received has invisible value that I had never thought of.

- Why did you co-author the book? Why didn't you write the book on your own?

- I didn't want to write the book from my perspective only. Maybe I would like the book, but not other people. That's why I sought help from John Kador, an American economist and Mrs. Jackie Horne, a British journalist.

Their experience of years of observing the market, both in the West and the East, gave me sharp comments and insights on the Vietnamese market and THP.

That's how I decided to increase the value of the book, to give readers more insights - on not only one business, but a nation and a region.

- What role does the book in shaping the development strategy of THP?

- The book was not part of the company's plan, at least when I started to write it in 2013. All I wanted to do was to inspire global businesspeople. But if the book can help THP gain a little more advantage in the global market, that would be a great recognition for my parents and my company, as we have dedicated our lives to build this business.

The family of Dr. Thanh.

The family of 'Dr. Thanh'.

- When did you start to understand the family's value and the spirit your father, Tran Qui Thanh, wanted to convey?

- I noticed that a few years ago when I saw how my father express his love in his unique way. I learned that being a leader, in a company or at home, is very difficult.

My father never says a loving word or make loving gestures. But we understand that he shows his love by being the solid rock of the family. The most sentimental words that he has ever told us was: "Without your mother, I would have lost all my motivation to carry on." I have never forgotten those words. My father still has a good relationship with the people he worked with during the difficult early days.

That philosophy was carved even deeper in our hearts when he decided to reject Coca Cola's offer to buy our company. They wanted to spend $2.5 billion, but were not willing to expand our business to Asia and even launch new products.

After saying no to Coca-Cola, my father said: "You must see what your company's value is and protect it until the end, even if you have to face with people who are much stronger." We didn't learn that philosophy in a day or two.

Keeping this value and our family culture is very important, and the responsibility lies with the next generation. My sister and I have always been trying to prove to the co-founder of our business that we are capable, strong and experienced enough to value the core of the business just like our family.

- How do you see THP in the future?

- I've always dreamed of a day when a Vietnamese brand could serve global customers. I want to see Vietnamese products in every country I go to. That’s the mission my father set out when he restructured the company in 2003. And we, as the next generation, will carry out that vision.

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