Kit O’Connor ‘17
SAIGON, VIETNAM – That’s right, Saigon. One of the first things we learned on the ground here in Vietnam is that virtually all of the locals refer to the city by its pre-1975 name, before it fell to North Vietnam and was renamed to Ho Chi Minh City in honor of the communist leader who conquered and re-united the country.
Our first true Vietnam experience was an unscheduled lunch a few blocks from the hotel. After leafing through a menu that can only be described as a complete dictionary of every type of food available on the Asian continent, my table ordered four appetizers, five main dishes, and, yes, mai tais. Total cost: VND 1,000,000; or about $9 a person. One could get used to these prices.
After the entire group arrived, we boarded a boat for a dinner cruise, where Professor Michel Tuan Pham welcomed the group to Vietnam and outlined the itinerary for the week while enjoying the sights of nighttime Saigon and enjoying a buffet of local delicacies.
Our first company visits focused on highlights and overviews of the country from two traditional business school industries: consulting and finance. In the first session, Chris Malone, the head of BCG’s Ho Chi Minh City office, outlined his view on Vietnam in a presentation that focused on Vietnam’s emerging consumer class, which he saw as having two main characteristics: optimistic positivity and and health-conscious tendency toward high-quality products. He also drew an interesting parallel between Germany and Vietnam: two countries of roughly the same geographic size and population, but one having eight times the GDP per capita of the other.
Next, we met with Andy Ho at VinaCapital, an investment and private equity fund focused on Vietnamese companies. Here, it was interesting to see what VinaCap’s primarily foreign investors looked for in investment strategies (political climate, macroeconomic factors such as inflation, and exit strategies) versus what VinaCap itself looked for when choosing a company to purchase: brand equity, distribution channels, and manufacturing scalability, all factors it saw as key to economics basics of Vietnam.
And finally, we ended the day with a Columbia University alumni event and reception, where Professor Pham gave an overview of both Columbia’s current activities and his own research. I’ll check back in later on the flight to Hanoi regarding the smaller companies and cultural sites we visited in Vietnam’s countryside – for now, I’ll join the group festivities on the rooftop pool, where the temperature is *ever so slightly* warmer than NYC’s current snowstorm!