BAT­TLING GI­ANTS

Heir to a Viet­namese bev­er­age group, Tran Uyen Phuong shares how she took on the in­dus­try’s be­he­moths, her fa­ther in­cluded, and won.

The Peak (Singapore) - - The Hot Seat - TEXT CHARMIAN LEONG

Six years ago, Tran Uyen Phuong and her fa­ther, Tran Qui Thanh, were sit­ting in a meet­ing room at Co­caCola’s head­quar­ters in Flor­ida, ea­ger to hear what the bev­er­age gi­ant would of­fer them. The two run THP (Tan Hiep Phat) Group, Viet­nam’s lead­ing bev­er­age com­pany, and its suc­cess had at­tracted global brands like Pepsi, the Philip­pines’ Uni­ver­sal Robina Corp and Ja­pan’s Ito En, all of whom were hop­ing to form part­ner­ships. Co­caCola’s fi­nal of­fer? US$2.5 bil­lion (S$3.4 bil­lion). The Trans’ an­swer? Thanks, but no thanks.

“Our vi­sions and goals were not aligned. We wouldn’t have been in con­trol,” ex­plains Phuong, deputy CEO of the fam­ily busi­ness. Co­caCola didn’t want THP Group to ex­pand out­side of Viet­nam, Laos and Cam­bo­dia, but the lat­ter was al­ready ex­port­ing to 16 coun­tries, with plans to grow that num­ber. It was a de­ci­sion they didn’t re­gret and an ex­pe­ri­ence she il­lus­trates in de­tail in her up­com­ing book, Com­pet­ing With Gi­ants, pub­lished by Forbes Books this month.

It will be Phuong’s sec­ond, af­ter the bi­og­ra­phy she wrote about her fa­ther, and it com­bines busi­ness ad­vice, Viet­nam’s so­cio-eco­nomic his­tory, and per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences in a nar­ra­tive she hopes will show oth­ers that size doesn’t mat­ter when it comes to turn­ing multi­na­tional. An ex­am­ple she cites is how THP Group was the first in Asia to use asep­tic tech­nol­ogy in its bot­tles in 2004, elim­i­nat­ing the need for preser­va­tives. “It was only in the last three years that Sun­tory and Pepsi adopted it too, so there are other ways to win,” she says. “In my book, I share our suc­cesses, fail­ures and win­ning for­mu­las that start-ups, fam­ily busi­nesses and even larger com­pa­nies can use. It’s my op­por­tu­nity to in­tro­duce a new Viet­nam to the world.”

Phuong’s fear­less­ness in the face of global com­peti­tors may stem from the fact that she’s had plenty of prac­tice. The first gi­ant she met was her fa­ther. He is a mul­ti­mil­lion­aire, a rags-to-riches en­tre­pre­neur who be­came so suc­cess­ful that his com­pany holds an an­nual con­cert for its 4,000 staff that’s broad­cast around the coun­try. Phuong knew she would have to work hard to get out from un­der his shadow, and con­sid­ers her first mile­stone to be her salary ne­go­ti­a­tion with him, when she started out as a sec­re­tary at the com­pany. “I wanted to draw a clear line be­tween us, and a fair wage would help him see me as an em­ployee, while also re­mind­ing me to be re­spon­si­ble.”

Dis­agree­ments be­tween fa­ther and daugh­ter oc­cur prac­ti­cally daily, but Phuong knows how to hold her own. “Once, I wanted to or­gan­ise Viet­nam’s first fam­ily busi­ness sem­i­nar. When I told my fa­ther I wanted to charge for it, he was fu­ri­ous. He said the project would fail, that I would fail, and that un­less I could get 500 at­ten­dees, he wouldn’t show up,” she re­calls. “So I told him that if things didn’t turn out the way he wanted, I would shut it down and take full re­spon­si­bil­ity. But, first, I needed him to not tell me I would fail for three days, and, if I could get the num­bers, he had to show up. The sem­i­nar turned out to be a hit, and, de­spite him claim­ing to have a fever, he kept his word.”

With her spunk and nextgen­er­a­tion moxie, Phuong has no qualms about meet­ing her fa­ther’s rev­enue tar­get of US$3 bil­lion by 2027. “I’m ex­cited, be­cause the game is fi­nally big enough.”

PHO­TOG­RA­PHY JASPER YU

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