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Pham Dinh Doan – CEO of Phu Thai Group: Businessman feels discouraged will affect the country.

After working at Food Industries Research Institue (Vietnam) for seven years and being considered as one of the promising researchers, suddenly, Pham Dinh Doan switched to business field when he was 30 years old.

There were only some people working at Phu Thai at the beginning, but after 14 – year – operations, Phu Thai Group has become a big distribution and a leading distributrion in with over 100,000 agents in the country.

Pham Dinh Doan is a slave to work and he can use conversantly two languages: English and French. The awards such as ASEAN businessman, “Sao Do” award... which he was honoured received are deserving rewards for him. Since Mr. Doan placed himself in business world, he haven’t had any time to watch any films. It is the reason why the interlocutor will have a dry feeling when having a conversation with him at the first time.

At the beginning of our conversation, Mr. Doan remembered the reason that made him change the working environment, from state to private environment as well as get up scientific research. “In 1990, when I attended a refresher course in , I see that their private economy is developing strongly. So, I think why I don’t join in private economy, especially, our economy is officially opened. At the same time, I and my family set up a company and I continued to work in Food Industries Research Institute ( ). After I finished a course in , I decided to stop my job in 1994. I haven’t distinguished between state and private, but I believe when I switched to business field, I could contribute to our social more and more”, he said.

So that, if you did not attend a refresher course, you would still be a researcher?

I don’t think so. I only think that studying abroad is an opportunity for us to understand ourselves clearly. Each people have your own individual ability which is suitable to each fields. If you choose right, you will promote your ability in the best way.

Can I understand that You are better at business field than scientific research field?

Yes, I think my business ability is stronger. So, I am doing business like... researching science. I give prominence to methodical and cautious in a job.

In doing business, especially in distribution field, the speed is an very important factor. So, do you think sometimes the cautiousness is just a barrier?

The cautiousness is a virtue of the scientific researchers. But I never identify the cautiousness with slowness, I know it is not easy to do this. For example, Management system of Phu Thai Group where I am Chief Excuitve Officer has been applied ISO standard.

Your acquaintance said that Pham Dinh Doan is a slave to work. Do you think about this?

Hearing this seems to be unbelievable, it’s true that since I did business, I haven’t had anytime to watch any films. And sometimes, I see that my staffs are coming home from work, I just remember I haven’t had a breakfast yet. Saying that seems to be overstated, but sometimes I think I am a... great person (he smiles).

Your working intensity is very admirable but I heard that you don’t play sports. So your life looks like unscientific?

I am playing tennis but not frequently. My family is very worried about my health. According to my plan, I will stop working as Director-General in the end of 2008 . I know that almost of Vietnamese businessman are both very strenous. A senior officier – a businessman switched to political field – said that although I have a chance to choose again, I can’t back to the market.

So, do you think why our businessman are very strenous like this?

In comparison with the world, Vietnamese businessman are always the following. But in the playing-field, the following don’t have many opportunities. They are very successful relying on their experiences without being trained methodically. I think that the experience is very important, however, the development of the enterprise reach at a some extent, the leader will not manage well if only rely on their experiences. Besides, hasn’t had a full market economy. Although the country leaders are more and more open-minded, the private companies are only “adopted child” in some measure, they, themselves must strive to make a living, even worming their way into for benefits.

Phu Thai Group is considered as an exception, isn’t it?

In my own opinion, the business activities must be obeyed the law. A company is like a school, if the leader breaks the law, sooner or later, his employees also break the law. But the situations which we get into, make us be slow in developing.

Mrs. Pham Chi Lan, Former Vice-chairman of VCCI ( Chamber of Commerce and Industry) – a supporter for privately owned business – wishes that our country will have a business environment as , ... – the neighbouring countries?

Our business environment have some advantages and disadvantages. In general, there are more advantages, because our potential market exits gaps. For example, the foreign coutries continue to invest strongly into . The Vietnamese businesses are neccessary to take their advantages. However, our market structure is not actual obvious, surely, some businesses will break the law for benefits, even becoming a big business.

Saying like this, if our law system is closer, the businesses will not have any chances to worm a way into for benifits?

The law is very neccessary, but obeying the law is just important. I think that the competition and equitableness are main factors in a healthy way of developing country. The businesses or the individuals do less but enjoy much, that will affect other people. On the contrary, the contribution of the businesses in the country development are recognized, they will not want to strive for. In the propaganda process for the image of the businessman, I think that we should look at the different angles, and shouldn’t look at the amount of money the businessman has.

The more businessman have money, the better it is, isn’t it?

Exactly. If they don’t break the law, they have much money, it is so good.

So, what is your aim of business? Doing buisness is not for money, is it possible?

Surely, doing business must care about profit and loss. In my own opinion, doing business is just a way that I express my skill and spirit. Up to now, I hardly ever spend money on myself. Mr. Phan Van Khai said that he didn’t want to be a president of a poor country. And the businessman are like this, they don’t want to be discounted when going overseas.

There are many ways to express skill and spirit. Becoming a scientific is an example, it’s a way to contribute to our country. Or you think that expressing skill and spirit in state environment is very difficult?

When I worked at the Food Industries Research Institute ( ), I usually spent my own money researching. But it’s true that It is so difficult to develop in scientific research field in . Almost people who have an opportunity to study abroad will agree with me. In other words, you are a talented painter, you will not promote your ability if you live in music environment.

In wartime, although the life was very difficult, there were also some great scientists. Should we blame for the condition?

But I think the quantity is not many. In addition, the development speed of the science is very fast. In basic science field our science was slowed down. The education industry and the strategy of the development of science and technology is responsible for this problem. And I understand the meaning of the statement more and more clearly: only man just creates riches. The resources of the Japanese is not in the earth’s womb, it is in their mind (it is grey matter). The natural resources will become rapidly exhausted if being exploited. Knowledge is the greatest and the most durable source. So, if a business wants to develop strongly, it will reply on the grey matter. In business field, the business usually goes bankrupt because the leader doesn’t have ability to manage.

You highten the obviousness but as you said, our business environment hasn’t been obvious yet. Are we making difficulties for ourselves?

If you always say that it’s difficult to do business, you will not express your skill and spirit. When I had just left for , I felt that doing business in was very difficult. However, as you see, we are fine.

As a President of Hanoi Youth Business Association, according to you, what is the most difficulty of the businessman nowadays?

In reality, there are not many business which is strong in financial potential, human resource, business culture… So, what is our real strength? Our growth bases on “relationships”, does it?

At some level, the businesses need the support of the state. In other words, the State will play an role as “a doctor” in order to examine the weak businesses and give them some advices. To do this, the state cadres must have talent and a heart. Both talent and a heart are very important, Finding disease without a heart will bother the business, Having a heart without talent also can not cure the disease of the business. I remember a statement about the relationship between politics and economics. I wish the leaders and the businesses have more and more chances to co-operation in order to understand each others.

In the past ten years, the government annually held conferences in order to refer to the idea and advice of the businesses?

The aim of these conferences is very good, however, there are too many people joining in and there are not concrete topics in these conferences. So that, it is difficult for us to talk about a concrete topic. As you know, in the Tran dynasty, our ancestors held Dien Hong Conference in which we discussed a only topic, fighting against invader; so the advices focused on that concrete topic. Making policy as an example, if we discuss heavy industry, we should invite the businesses operating in this field, no need to ask the businesses in consumer goods production, distribution.... to join in. The illogical policies are given don’t mean that the policy maker is not good, they aren’t just practical.

John LeCarre – an English writer specializes in writing detective novel – said that “The desk is dangerous place from which to watch the world”?

Exactly, The policies for the businesses are both made by the subjective thought of policy makers. Some statement says that you will find out 96 percent of the problem when going into reality. And if you are on your desk, you will only find out 4 percent.

The 96 percent figure that you just say is in macroscopic management. And, in the microcosmic management, you are a leader who is responsible for making policies for your business. Have you given a decision from “desk”?

I have managed Phu Thai when I was young, at that time, I am both a director and an employee. Driving, delivering, Loading and unloading..., all jobs I had worked. I am one of the employees of the most seniority in Phu Thai Group.

Have you ever been unsuccessful?

It is said that doing business is always successful that is a first sign of bankruptcy.

has just hold one-year anniversary in WTO. It is said that retail service which Phu Thai Group is doing business is one of the industries of the most influence in the integration process. Do you think about this?

Retail industry is a severe playing-field, in which big fishes will swallow up small fishes. In reality, there are some retail businesses which are considered as goods in trading or mergence in business transactions. It is too early to say that retail businesses will be annihilated because it looks like a marathon without finish. At present, retail businesses have just started, the race-track is very long, so there will be some businesses to be shortness of breath.

As an insider,how do you evaluate the country market? It seems that our manufacturers are focusing on exporting, they overlooked the country market?

It is too wrong if the Vietnamese businesses overlook the country market. The businesses will face with great difficulties if the export market comes to a standstill. The country businesses ought to have seized more market share than the foreign businesses, in reality, it is sometimes to the contrary. I think that the manufacturers are very neccessary to focus on product quality, product research, trademark and distribution system.

Distribution plays an important part in the supplying chain, it gives customers goods. Does Phu Thai Group get ready for this role?

We prepared for competing with foreign retail businesses. I can not tell you about our plans, because it is our secret.

In 2007, four great retail wholesalers including Saigon Co-op, Hapro, Satra and Phu Thai signed a cooperation report. The event is considered as “a first step”, isn’t it?

The co-operation of four great retail wholesalers not only is promoted on a voluntary basic but also is a measure of saving life ourselves because in the near future, they will be supported by the State policies. In any economy, there must have the best business who play an leading role. About 95 percent of our businesses are medium and small business which largely contribute to our economy, but we haven’t had a leader. My desire is that there have more and more great private businesses. I think why only state businesses have the right to manage the country’s resources such as mines, infrastructures..., the national property is also people’s property, the businesses play a role as people’s representative due to be responsible for managing the property effectively. The more the country has great businesses, the stronger it is.

I wish that there will be a solidarity and a combination among businesses in the future. A business operates separately, although it has the 100% growth, it is difficult to do business.

It seems like the story of the sheaf of chopsticks?

Exactly. But these chopsticks must get tough, the chopsticks that get mouldy are not ok.

The businesses are directly affected by policies. If the policy is not suitable, the voice of the sheaf of chopsticks will be have much more weight than the voice of a chockstick?

I think receiving information of people is a major and important matter. Civil authority offices need to look at themselves, what does wrong has to correct. Some colleagues said that sometimes they felt discouraged, they did not want to do any more. Businessman feels discouraged that will affect the country.

When I visited Republic of Korea , I saw that their private businesses operations very working-hard and the State staffs is very highly responsible for their jobs. Do right, do responsile means loving country.

Actually, business position is corresponding with their the contribution of the country growth. In your opinion, Can we give a model of businessman generation after 20 – year - renovation?

Yes. A new business generation is establishing. Maybe, building a full model of a new businessman need a space of time. Our businessman generation is like buds and shoots, hoping to have many big trees in the future.

Thank you so much!

PTG