One issue that often confounds Westerners when they come to visit us at THP is the gulf between their pre-conceived notions about the way that Asians value hierarchy and what they perceive happening on the ground.
In some ways, this is very understandable. It is well known that Vietnam is a Confucian society. This is a value system that places great emphasis on loyalty, diligence and respect in serving ones superiors whether that be a parent or a company boss.
The structure of our language further reinforces this. We have separate pronouns to distinguish people who are younger, older or the same age as us. We view this as a mark of respect.
Yet at the same time there is a level of openness and informality in the way in which the Vietnamese do business. This generally surprises Westerners until they get to know the country better.
For example, we do have plenty of formal meetings, which are scheduled in advance and have set agendas backed by slick presentations. But what tends to stand out is the sheer number of informal ones.
And this extends right up the employee food chain. My father does not make it difficult for people to meet him as a way to project his power, for instance.
Quite the opposite: his office door is always open and his secretary does not sit outside acting as a gatekeeper as they so often do in the Western world. The last thing my father wants, or indeed any of the senior executives do, is to become cocooned away from what is actually going on at the company.
This is pretty typical behaviour across the Vietnamese business world at large. It is rare to come across a shut door. Individual offices and departments are nearly always a hubbub of activity with a large through-flow of people.
And while this might all seem rather casual from the outside, I think it is one of our country’s great strengths. An open door signifies openness to new ideas and new people as well.
Vietnamese entrepreneurs and senior executives are often happy to let new business acquaintances tag along with them to meetings at very short notice. They do not fear a loss of trade secrets: instead they value their participation as an opportunity to trade information.
This all helps to promote better and quicker decision-making. Such flexibility also means that Vietnamese business leaders like to try out new ideas and see what sticks. They fear missing out on a great opportunity by spending too much time planning.
The end result is that we are a country of entrepreneurs. And this is particularly evident in our up-and-coming generation Z, who are less wedded to Confucian notions about hierarchy than their parents’ one.
In 2022, the government forecasts Vietnam to have achieved 8% GDP growth, the highest among major Asian economies. This is hardly surprising when you live in a country with a business dynamic like this one. Next year, I believe it will be the same again.