Working with Americans

Working with Americans

In 2000, we began our software export campaign; our target market was none other than the United States.

In January 2000, FPT established a branch in San Jose, the heart of Silicon Valley. The director was a patriotic Vietnamese expert.

Life is not as dreamy as we think. After more than a year, FPT USA closed because it couldn’t find customers. The Vietnamese expert was replaced by a genuine American MBA with a high salary, but he couldn’t help a company whose “leadership was delusional about its capabilities”, and the programmers were “poor at programming and didn’t know English”, as this American expert himself observed.

In short, we were weak in all aspects. Not to mention that no one cared about an unknown company from Vietnam, a vague and distant place, only associated with war. One customer was very surprised to learn that it only takes an hour to fly from Bangkok to Hanoi, even though he frequently flies to Bangkok.

In desperation, we turned to Uncle Ho’s slogan: let’s propagate to the people. However, here the “people” must be American. When they want to work with Vietnam, they will find our strengths.

The first “people” came from a tiny company, ProDX in Portland. Their CEO, Eileen Boerger, and her husband Walley, a retired marine, treated our employees like their own children and grandchildren. Even though one of our excellent employees at the time admitted: at first I thought only I didn’t understand what they were saying, then I realized they also didn’t understand what I was saying. Eileen let FSoft employees stay in her house so she could directly guide them on how to work with her. I and more than 100 brothers had the opportunity to stay at what we affectionately call the “Boerger Hotel”.

The second representative of the “American people” was a financial expert from Morgan Stanley, who was used to dealing with billion-dollar cross-border deals. Unfortunately, he happened to be the boss of Bui Hoang Tung’s wife’s boss. Tung was the one who bravely suggested to me that he lead two fresh graduates to attack the US market again. Because of their close relationship, the “people” rented a house for Tung on their behalf, lent him an office, hung up a signboard for him, received guests for him; there was nothing they wouldn’t do for him.

The third “American people” – Paul Vivek – former GE leader, was invited by Wipro, an Indian company, to build a billion-dollar company in India. He came to Vietnam with a plan to “pamper” FPT’s chairman in order to buy cheap shares before the IPO in 2006. After finishing his business Paul returned to America. But for us, he had become a kind-hearted “uncle”.

When looking for an office space for rent, Tung was advised just rent at the beginning of Vivek’s alley; meet him in the morning and invite him for coffee; if there is any difficulty just ask him. The young intelligent director who knows how to listen and is good at coffee and beer is loved by the “people”. Learning from the experience of opening an office last time which only attracted small customers (sparrows), this time Tung decided to look for big customers of Fortune 500 size. Knowing this, Vivek thought of leading Tung to the “Hero Gathering” in the industry and even thought of an award for him to stand out. “I can only do that much; the rest depends on you guys; they are all eagles”. Vivek said so. A word from him among the heroes is already too much.

Another time when Vietnamese brothers were worried Vivek wrote down 5 things and told them just follow these things and everything will be alright:

– We are a human management company doing technology not a technology company

– We need to walk on two legs (at least have two big markets)

– We need to understand our customers as deeply as possible

– We need as wide a recruitment and training network as possible

– Never forget who we are

From then on brothers were more confident; work improved significantly; less trivial questions so “people” appreciated more.

There’s another type of “American people” who like to bully, but they also help us understand many things. At that time, we found a big American client in the aviation industry. The pilot process (trial) was very fast and smooth. At the end of the year, we made plans, everyone was excited, we even set up a separate department and had a once-in-a-lifetime party. The next morning, we were struck by lightning: all accounts from Vietnam were blocked. Tung received a long email from the partner’s lawyer, announcing “14 contract violations (with attached evidence)”. We were naive and admitted our mistakes right away, which was used as evidence against us. “Therefore, our client hereby unilaterally terminates the contract and will consider further legal actions to claim damages blah blah…”.

Dozens of us were at risk of losing our jobs overnight. Plus, we were afraid of getting involved in legal issues with the US and being banned from entering the country, which would end our business. We couldn’t let that happen! We had to fight back. Luckily, we were able to hire a Vietnamese lawyer named D. Seeing a chance to “fight” with American lawyers, he accepted immediately with a fee of one trip to America.

After reading the contract over and over again and studying all exchanges, D drafted a longer letter with sharper words, asserting that all our mistakes were due to being trapped by the client, while pointing out 15 points in the contract that the client violated. After several exchanges, the partner backed down and asked for a settlement. But what kind of settlement? We later claimed 2/3 of the total three-month contract that this client intended to “cheat”.

The lesson learned is that if you want to do business in America, you have to know how to argue. And there you have to hire a lawyer to argue. Lawyers charge by the hour. Whoever runs out of money first loses. So it’s important to persuade lawyers not to worry too much about money and follow your “righteous” path.

In our journey to swim out into the big sea and do business with foreign countries, we have learned many lessons, no lesson is like any other. But an easy observation is that no matter who the partner is, differences and conflicts of interest are inevitable. To do business successfully, both sides must find as many common interests as possible, study local laws carefully and have harmonious cooperation methods in terms of culture and customs.

For example, with Americans, compliance with the law is always prioritized. When something happens, Americans will sue. Americans don’t see suing as something big or hateful; they file lawsuits because they can’t resolve conflicts themselves. On the contrary, we Vietnamese initially think that going to court is something so terrible that it’s unbearable.

In relationships with friends and partners where we are smaller and less experienced, we can be guided and supported initially but both sides’ interests must be clearly divided. If we want to grow up, we still have to build and develop ourselves. Doing business with foreign countries is not just about making money but also about integration and understanding each other’s culture and respecting each other’s laws.

Knowing each other, understanding each other and respecting each other will give both sides the opportunity to become long-term and sustainable partners.

Nguyễn Thành Nam

You are viewing the article:
Working with Americans

Post Date: