Business Trends in Vietnam in 2020: Mary Tarnowka, Executive Director, AmCham Vietnam-HCMC
All Business Trends in Vietnam in 2020 features:
Business trends 2020 – executive summary.
Mary Tarnowka, Executive Director at AmCham Vietnam-HCMC, weighs in on the impact of the coronavirus on Vietnam’s economy and shares her outlook for 2020 and beyond.
What was the brightest spot in your industry, and for your team, in 2019?
For me personally, it was joining AmCham Vietnam-HCMC as Executive Director in August of 2019. I was scheduled to depart Vietnam in early July and return to Washington, DC, after serving three years as U.S. Consul General in HCMC. Taking this position allowed me a unique opportunity to stay in Vietnam – a country I love – to revitalize AmCham, and continue to strengthen the economic partnership and people-to-people ties between the United States and Vietnam.
One of the key moments for AmCham in 2019 was celebrating our 25th anniversary. AmCham Vietnam was informally established in HCMC in March of 1994, over a year before the United States and Vietnam established diplomatic relations in July of 1995.
We celebrated our 25th anniversary last November at a gala event at the Caravelle Hotel, with many distinguished guests, including U.S. Consul General Marie Damour, HCMC People’s Committee Vice Chairman Le Thanh Liem, and special guest and former President Truong Tan Sang, who was also the HCMC People’s Committee Chairman and Party Secretary in the 1990’s and a key supporter of AmCham from our formative years to the present.
A video we showed at the event highlights the remarkable transformation of our trade and investment relationship from those early days.
More importantly, it highlights AmCham’s commitment to invest in the future of the next 25 years, with our AmCham Scholarship and Women in Engineering Scholarship programs, innovative educational initiatives like Fulbright University Vietnam’s new undergraduate program, and AmCham’s new Entrepreneurship and Innovation Initiative, to support the next generation of entrepreneurs and continued growth of our trade and investment partnership with Vietnam.
How will your industry adapt to changing conditions in 2020?
AmCham’s core mission remains the same – to promote trade and investment between the United States and Vietnam, and serve as the voice of American business in Vietnam, together with our chapter in Hanoi.
AmCham Vietnam-HCMC already is one of the largest business associations in Vietnam, with over 500 corporate and 1500 individual business representatives. Early on in 2020, AmCham Vietnam-HCMC’s Board of Governors defined our 2020 goal – to be the most strategic, influential, and dynamic business association in Vietnam – that drives innovation and helps its members succeed in Vietnam. A community you want to join.
We also agreed our 2020 objectives were to establish a branch or chapter in Da Nang to support our growing Da Nang-based members, to strengthen our committee leadership, and to identify new ways to provide value to our members.
We are taking steps to achieve all these objectives – just on a slightly different timeframe and approach than we envisioned in mid-January.
We continue to support our members through networking, business intelligence, advocacy, and business promotion opportunities. We have undertaken new measures to adapt to the new operating environment, and deliver more value to our members.
Starting in early March, we facilitated virtual participation in all our regular meetings. Since mid-March, all of our regular events and committee meetings have been exclusively online. That has included Virtual Business Intelligence Briefings on the Legal Aspects of COVID-19 and Managing a Remote Workforce (the latter coordinated by Vietcetera co-founder and CEO as well as Digital Economy Committee Chair Hao Tran), as well as our first entirely virtual AmCham 101 Newcomers Orientation.
While virtual meetings don’t offer the same ability to make personal connections as physical meetings, we have found they do attract even greater participation, including from senior business leaders, who might otherwise find it difficult to join due to their extremely busy schedules and need to be physically present in factories in other provinces.
Our top priority now is to help support our members during this challenging time. In early February, we held a Business Intelligence Briefing on the Health and Business Impact of COVID-19 with top business leaders, and the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Vietnam.
We carried out a survey in mid-February to identify the key issues affecting our members, arranged a meeting with the Consul General and lead manufacturers to discuss supply chain challenges, and facilitated sharing of best practices in our committee meetings, as well as events with expert advisers. We provide regular updates to our members and maintain a COVID-19 corner on our website with links to trusted, authoritative sources of information on COVID-19.
In this rapidly-changing environment, AmCham is focused on policy advocacy – identifying key concerns of our members and making recommendations to the Vietnamese Government for criteria to identify essential businesses, both in the service sector, and also potentially in the manufacturing and production sector if such measures are necessary to control the outbreak.
Together with Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Dr. Vu Tien Loc, I co-hosted a virtual meeting last Friday with over 85 participants and 20 local and foreign business organizations to solicit policy recommendations to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on business in Vietnam, and to identify criteria to use in defining essential services and manufacturing and production.
The logistics were challenging, but AmCham’s talented team made it work, with two Zoom meeting links, one for the main discussion in Vietnamese, and one with simultaneous English interpretation. We know the meeting had impact. Several of the recommendations made by AmCham and other business associations were incorporated in the Office of Government’s letter No. 2601/VPCC-KGVX for Implementation of Directive No. 16/CT-TTg on prevention and control of COVID-19 outbreak issued that night.
AmCham also is directly supporting the Vietnamese Government’s impressive efforts to control the outbreak. Thanks to generous donations from our members and friends, on March 31, AmCham contributed 250,000 surgical facemasks to the HCMC Department of Health to support front-line workers in hospitals and public quarantine centers.
Many of our members, including Intel and Coca-Cola, have also made significant contributions to support the Vietnamese government’s COVID response. AmCham also is coordinating contributions of non-perishable food and beverages to support Vietnamese front-line workers in hospitals and quarantine areas. AmCham joined an open letter with other foreign business chambers to express our appreciation for the Vietnamese government’s efforts to keep us all safe and well.
AmCham also has worked with our colleagues at the U.S. Agency for International Development to identify potential suppliers in Vietnam of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for export to the United States.
Finally, AmCham is using our AmCham Member Discount Partnership Program to support local businesses which we know are particularly struggling during this challenging time, but which make Saigon and Vietnam such a wonderful place to live. Discount Partners do not need to be AmCham members. They just offer us a discount or special offer of their choice and we promote them to our over 1500 members to support local businesses throughout Vietnam.
How will our business’ typical customer profile need to change in 2020
AmCham will continue our mission to support our over 500 corporate and 1500 business representatives throughout Vietnam and help them adapt and succeed. We seek to grow our membership and increase our support to members in HCMC as well as in Central Vietnam through our plans to establish a new chapter in Da Nang.
AmCham membership is open to U.S., Vietnamese, or other foreign corporations of all sizes, as well as to nongovernmental organizations, and individuals. We are also exploring a new membership rate to support startups as part of our efforts to continue to invest in the future.
General economic outlook in your sector for 2020 onward: positive, cautiously positive, or optimistic? What sort of bounce will your industry see after the pandemic passes?
As a former diplomat, I have always been hesitant to prognosticate. With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to spread throughout the world, and in a particularly acute state now in the United States and Europe, I am even more wary.
I am cautiously optimistic about Vietnam’s ability to recover economically. I have been impressed by the pragmatic, yet decisive actions the Vietnamese government has taken to use its resources strategically to control the outbreak, including exhaustive efforts to trace, identify, quarantine, and test those exposed.
And to require us all to stay at home, social distance, and wear masks in public. While at the same time, maintaining essential services and manufacturing and production. And keeping us all informed transparently of developments through media, apps, and SMS alerts.
Across the board, what kind of businesses and leaders do you expect to emerge from this crisis?
I think the businesses and leaders who will emerge are those with the ability to stay true to their core missions, while adapting to new ways of providing value. I have been proud to see so many of our members contributing to Vietnam’s COVID-19 response both through their corporate social responsibility programs, and individually.
It has been heartening to see major MNCs as well as SMEs adapt to manufacturing ventilators, PPE, and researching vaccines and treatment for COVID-19. Closer to home, I have been impressed by my trainer Cyril Terrones who has figured out how to use technology to continue his fitness classes when his gym is closed.
By business owners like Vincent Mourou and Samuel Maruta of Maison Marou who are developing on-line delivery of more amazing chocolates and pastries, including a delectable pain au chocolat.
And by restaurant owners like Brad Segal of Eddie’s Diner who now delivers not just comfort food, but also real comfort through incredible service.
And Peter Cuong Franklin of Anan who has figured out how to deliver his world-class Vietnamese food with restaurant-quality beautifully presented in biodegradable containers. It’s past my lunchtime. Could you tell?