Vietnam Strikes Gold There's No Looking Back, as the Vietnamese Charge into the 21st Century, Writes Business Consultant Jeff Browne

By Browne, Jeff | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), October 5, 2014 | Go to article overview

Vietnam Strikes Gold There's No Looking Back, as the Vietnamese Charge into the 21st Century, Writes Business Consultant Jeff Browne


Browne, Jeff, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


"I got in a little hometown jam, so they put a rifle in my hands, sent me off to Vietnam, to go and kill the yellow man".

-- American singer Bruce Springsteen

"You think yellow, I say gold; it's the color of my real skin."

--Vietnamese singer Pham Quyen Anh

When President Barack Obama took a moment in his first inaugural address to honor our war veterans, he cited four battles: Concord, Gettysburg, Normandy and Khe Sanh.

Khe Sanh? That's a village in central Vietnam where U.S. Marines repelled a furious assault early in 1968. The victory cost thousands of lives and obliterated the countryside. You might say we Americans won the battle there but lost the war.

Or did we? If our purpose was to stop communism, you have to wonder.

In Khe Sanh, coffee plants have risen from the ashes. And today, amazingly, Vietnam is the world's second-largest exporter of coffee, thanks to hundreds of thousands of determined farmers.

Thirty years ago, Vietnam was starving. Today, it is feeding the world as a leading exporter of cashews, whitefish, tapioca, pepper, fruit and rice.

Vietnam makes shoes for Nike, chips for Intel, cameras for Canon, motorcycles for Honda and smartphones for Samsung. Vietnamese are customers of Briggs & Stratton motors, Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Manpower staffing services, General Electric medical devices and Kohler sinks.

Vietnamese consumers shop at the Gap, Banana Republic and Coach. They drink Pepsi, Coke, Miller beer and Starbucks coffee - and within a month after McDonald's opened there this spring, the Vietnamese had ordered 61,980 Big Macs.

McDonald's is an emblem of the triumph of capitalism over communism. The franchise owner is a Vietnamese-American named Henry Nguyen of Chicago. He is married to the CEO of an investment bank and the daughter of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, who oversees the Communist Party's determined, and sometimes crude, efforts to stay in control. Vietnam's pre-eminent corporate power couple and its communist government are family.

In some ways, Vietnam's youthful, ingenious entrepreneurs overshadow corporate royalty. Consider Flappy Bird. A few months ago, this maddening game was the most downloaded smartphone game worldwide, the creation of a software engineer named Dong Nguyen who lives with his parents in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.

Mr. Nguyen was bringing in $50,000 a day in ad revenue, but withdrew Flappy Bird from the market because he had grown weary of the notoriety. He wanted to get his life back.

Vietnam is full of Dong Nguyens - hundreds of thousands of modest, brainy entrepreneurs transforming their country.

That's what Google software engineer Neil Fraser discovered on a recent visit. He found that Vietnamese 11th-graders could pass Google's notoriously difficult interview test, and third-graders knew how to use Microsoft Word - in English. Over the next generation, these kids will showcase their potential.

A recent report noted Vietnam's transition from collectivism to capitalism produced 170 people worth more than $30 million. …

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