NEW VENTURE CREATION
Interview: Ms Tran Thi Lam
Ms Lam: 2nd from the right;
Nguyen The Vinh
“Entrepreneurs capitalize on uncertainty rather than avoid it, they create simplicity where others
see complexity, and they embrace the learning that comes from taking calculated risks. They
recognize that when opportunities are fleeting, it is sometimes more expensive to be slow than to
be wrong”i Currently, Vietnam has many entrepreneur like Mr. Pham Trung Cang, founder of Tan
Dai Hung Plastic company, he also a founder of ACB (Asia commercial bank), Mr. Phan Quoc
Cong-chairman and CEO of ICP (international consumer products), owner of X-men brand or Mr.
Ly Quy Trung-owner of Pho 24 chain. However, the author thinks that Ms Tran Thi Lam is one of
the most prominent entrepreneurs because she has shaped the motorbike market in Vietnam and
now, she is the one who enters in high-tech business which is commonly dominant by foreign
Born in a very poor family at Tinh Gia Commune, Quang Ngai Province, one of the poorest
provinces in Vietnam, Ms Lam now is chairwoman of such companies as Hoa Lam Kymco, Vietnam
Thuong Tin Bank and Vietmicro Corporation. Her asset is millions of dollars.
Based on the pool of 10 entrepreneurs, the author reasons that Ms Lam is worth interviewing
because she is the leader of one of the most famous and successful companies in automobile
industry in Vietnam. She is also the leader of a very few private and joint-stock banks in Vietnam.
However, the most critical reason is that she is the very first high-tech manufacturer in Vietnam to
produce micro chip and her utmost vision is to contribute in making ‘Silicon Valley’ of Vietnam.
Last but not least, she has known how to make money since she was 6 year-old, and she has
started her business with 2 ‘bare hands’
SEEK NEW OPPORTUNITIES
The author found out that Ms Lam knows how to seek new opportunities and to do it passionately.
This is one characteristic of the habitual entrepreneurs.
“Habitual entrepreneurs stay alert, always looking for the chance to profit from change and
disruption in the way business is done. Their greatest impact occurs when they create entirely new
Ms. Lam has strong emotional intelligence to identify all the potential opportunities, at any time
and everywhere. Being born in very poor land during Vietnam War, since 6 year-old, she was
given two eggs but instead of eating like her siblings, she tried to feed these 2 eggs into chicken
at the neighbored and feed up chicken to make herd and then she exchanged to pigs & cows.
When the war broke out heavily when she was 11 year-old, she found out there was shortage of
foodstuff in the highland and surplus in the lowland, she traded by hiring people to carry goods
from lowland to highland and vice verse. When she came to HCM City 1st time in 1980, she
recognized that there was un-met need of aloe wood (her local specialty) so she brought aloe
wood to produce incense to export for accumulation. Being sharp at the age of 33 in 1990, a
mature age of a woman, she saw there would be big demand of motorcycle and she started to
import second-hand motorbikes from Taiwan (instead of importing from Japan like others) and sell
like hot cakes. Since then, she started assembling motorbikes in Vietnam with CKD (complete
knock down) imported from DAELIM – Korea
ACT ON OPPORTUNITIES
“Entrepreneurs pursue opportunities with enormous disciplines. They not only are alert enough to
spot opportunities, but make sure that they act on them.”
In the above references, Ms Lam has been always pursuing the opportunities to be recognized,
and find anyway to make them come true, despite of many threats and un-certainty. She made
deal from highland to lowland during the war through borders as that was the opportunity for her
and she has to act.
When she imported the second-hand motorbikes from Korea, she bought additional spare-parts
and put them in the containers to assemble in Vietnam. However she has not known that she was
liable for import tax as they were not in the customs clearance form. She made friend with a
Korean and offered him a house in exchange to take her to Korea. She went to Korea with two of
her technical men; she bought land and set up a small assembly line there. The second hand
motorbikes now become new and shipped to Vietnam. Again, it was very tough for Korean
motorbikes as Vietnamese consumers only like Japanese. To persuade markets to use Korean
motorbikes and competed with Japanese made motorbikes, she was ready to give 50% deferred
payment to buyers. She was one of the first manufacturers to sell on credit.
Business at the renovation (doi moi) was not easy, the new giant was coming. To compete with
Samsung Trading (a subsidiary of Samsung, specializing in trading) a Korean nationality in Korea,
she has prepared a quota of 8,000 sets of CKD per month and use 5,000 to order Daelim while
the whole nation at the time had only quota for 6 000 sets, there was no room left for Samsung,
that was a competitive advantage. That goes without saying, she won the deal with Daelim (South
TARGETTING THE BEST OPPORTUNITIES
“The habitual entrepreneurs pursue only the very best opportunities and avoid exhausting
themselves and their organization by chasing after every option”. They establish strategy as base
to consider different opportunities and the strategy must be valid for long-term. They control
potential for downside losses by always considering exit strategy in worst case and preserve
When importing second-hand motorbikes from Korea, her exit strategy was that in case she could
not sell, she might come back to her countryside and ask her fellow-countrymen to ride as
motorbike-taxi without any loss.
To save time and resources to start new business of micro-chip, she has agreed to sell to Kymco
Taiwan her shares in Hoa Lam Company Ltd. to become Hoa Lam – Kymco join-stock Company.
She has been preparing ideas to set up micro chip factory for 7 years and when it is ripe in terms
of investment law, encouragement in high-tech, she has set up the company and deal with the
American company to buy out the whole factory.
FOCUS ON ADAPTIVE EXECUTION
“Entrepreneurs focus on execution-specifically, adaptive execution.” Ms Lam is ready to gain new
knowledge to which she may be accustomed. She is proactively prepared to search for new
Investment in high-tech is not accustomed to Vietnamese entrepreneurs in Vietnam as it takes
long time to break even. Though high-technology is very difficult for her because she even has not
yet graduated from university, she is very ambitious to enter.
She cannot speak English but she has prepared to negotiate very successfully with Korean,
Taiwanese and American. She always tries to search for advantages in all scopes.
She does not know how complicated the leadership is, what the motivation is about, but she
knows how to get things done by talented managers. Hoang Anh Tien, championship in Robocon
in Asia Pacific, for example now works for her in micro chip team.
To the experience of the author in private firm (he is currently working for a fund manager), he
knows that other entrepreneurs care much about cost and are short term, they try to embrace
thing and not delegate to others. It is totally different from Ms Lam who knows how to empower
ENGAGE ENERGIES OF EVERYONE IN THE DOMAIN
“Entrepreneurs engage the energies of everyone in their domain. They involve many people-both
inside and outside the organization-in their pursuit of an opportunity”
For Ms Lam, she chooses carefully every stake-holder. Once starting, mutual belief can keep on
long time. She conveys her vision to stake-holders; when she imported Daelim motorbikes from
South Korea, she trained her agents and distribution network the reasons they should sell Daelim
and she provided them with benefits for business implementation.
To her, relationship is very important for business implementation as information is valuable type
of capitals. Information can be gathered from all sources of relations, and screened by
entrepreneur sharp mind. By any means, she established her relationship with talented people,
prospective clients as well as government cadres for future usage. She reasons that ‘No one can
do everything alone’. She emphasized the importance to get support from capable staffs so she
provided shares to her key staffs.
It is interesting to learn that she starts her business from small and grow them later. She thinks
that she has to do something for her countryside in particular and for society in general, in
addition, she wants to share with her stake-holders too.
When she deals with other partners, she always puts herself and talks in terms of other’s interest.
She simply thinks that understanding the partners’ needs will help her propose appropriate
solution for long term cooperation. She applies what is said in the book of Dale Carnegie’s golden
book “How to win friends and influence people”
With strong self-confidence and belief, complexity will become simplicity. Ms Lam reasons that it is
easy to build 100 storey building by get things done rather than she does it herself. She sees
things with various views to simplify and make it happen. That is why she can set up a micro-chip
factory and export the first shipment nobody has ever done before.
It is of paramount importance to build and maintain her reputation as it is reliable to stake-
holders. Relationship is sometimes more important than assets in hand.
Same as Bill Gate and other drop outs, she is a billionaire but has not graduated from University.
However, like Bill Gate, she continues studying all her life by expansion to new business and
learns from talented around her.
During the interview, the author asked if she was working with financial institutions like fund
manager or corporate bankers to raise more capital for her investment. She reasons that she does
not want to risk other money if her business fails. Though she has millions of dollars, she has not
dealt with any bank to ask more loans (but surprisingly, she bought the bank). The author thinks
that if she knows the cost of equity is more expensive than debt, she might think again. (The
author recommended her to think over this issue)
Creating good business is more important than implementation. Once business idea is good, it is
not difficult to find out stake-holder to carry out! Her thinking is somewhat different from the
theory which is backed up with thousands of research that implementing a strategy is much more
difficult than creating it. The author assumes that it takes time to prove her track record in doing
business in the next coming years.
:The entrepreneur mindset, Harvard Business school press, Edition 2000, page 2
ii: The interview with Ms Tran Thi Lam at 9 AM, 10/11/2007