University of Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business
Trip of Executive MBAs, Professors and Alumni to Vietnam in June, 2008

(Picture) The group in Vietnam with Al DeMatteis, founder and a General Director in Delta Construction Management Company and one of the longest continuous serving business leaders in Hanoi.

In early June 2008 a group of University of
Notre Dame Mendoza School of Business Executive MBAs, Professors and Alumni visited Vietnam to learn more about the rapid international business development going on in Vietnam and to help evaluate Vietnam as a site for increased future trips sponsored by the Mendoza School of Business.  Mendoza College of Business Director of International Programs Bill Brewster and Professor Mike Cloonan of the same College oversaw the trip.

(Picture) Some of the places visited in Hanoi: Hoa Lo prison, Cathedral and other scenic areas

Arriving on a Sunday, the trip started in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, with visits to some of Hanoi’s scenic sites link Ba Dinh Square, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the President’s House, One Pillar Pagoda, Hoa Lo prison and other scenic areas.  Later in the day Mr. Al DeMatteis hosted the group to lunch at Bobby Chin’s restaurant at No. 1 Ba Trieu Street, near scenic Hoan Kiem Lake.  Mr. DeMatteis, who is founder and a General Director in Delta Construction Management Company and has spent over 15 years in Vietnam, is a well-respected leader of the business community in Hanoi. 

Later Mr. DeMatteis introduced the group to the American Club.  The American Club in Hanoi (links are: click here and http://americanclubhanoi.com/ ) sits on the site of the pre-1954 U.S. Consulate in Hanoi.  The land, which was returned to the U.S. following the property and other settlements with the Republic of Vietnam that the author helped to broker, has been the site of many July 4th celebrations and many fund raising activities for Vietnamese charities and is an unofficial gathering place for Americans from all walks of life in Hanoi.

The following day, the group traveled through the Red River Delta, one of the country’s two rice baskets, with its verdant farmland dotted with local villages to Halong Bay to meet with a local hotelier to discuss tourism development in this UNESCO World Heritage scenic area.  The area which has over 2,000 limestone Karsts rising in blue seas surrounding the coast was popularized in the 1991 film Indochine with Catherine Deneuve and has been further wowing those willing to make the long drive (nearly 3.5 hours each way) ever since.  The group then cruised on their own boat in a 4-hour plus cruise including a sumptuous lunch and explored Dau Go, Thien Cung limestone Grotto, Tuan Chau Island, Dinh Uong Island, Ga Choi Islet, Dog Island and Sail Island before returning to shore and back to Hanoi.

(Picture) At Halong Bay
Mr. Al DeMatteis
Mr. Al DeMatteis is founder and a General Director in Delta Construction Management Company and has spent over 15 years in Vietnam, is a well-respected leader of the business community in Hanoi.  He is one of the original co-founders along with James Rockwell of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Hanoi and the Chamber’s first Chairman of the Hanoi Chapter.  He is also one of the co-founders along with the James Rockwell, Phil Jornlin, Jim Ambrose, Charles Neery, Carl Giampietro and the author of the American Club in Hanoi.  Mr DeMatteis is also one of the founders of the Hanoi International Softball leagues and Director of the Al & Peggy MeMatteis Family Foundation.  Mr. DeMatteis, an ardent Catholic, has spent considerably time on giving back to the Community.  He has helped raise funds and contributed time and efforts to organizations such as Operation Smile, the National Fund for Vietnamese Children and the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation and helped find funding for projects such as the reconstruction of St. Marie Rose Church in Quang Ninh Province.  He is Director of the Al & Peggy DeMatteis Family Foundation.  This foundation helped build three vocational training centers for street children in Central Vietnam and is just completing a fourth facility in Thai Binh Province.  The centers have trained over 1,000 children of which 98 per cent have gone on to get jobs following graduation.  (For more on Mr. DeMatteis, click here).

The next day the delegation visited the U.S. Embassy and was briefed on U.S. business in Vietnam and the rising economic agenda between the U.S. and Vietnam by Embassy officers led by Commercial Counselor Don Nay.  Later in the morning the group met with the Vietnamese government Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI) to discuss Vietnamese perspective on the business environment and to discuss how rising inflation and other economic developments were creating new challenges for Vietnam.  This was followed by lunch with students from Hanoi University who discussed how economic change was opening new opportunities for Vietnam’s youth.  The students and the delegation discussed the rising sense of possibility and the drive for education and business training and advancement that are making Vietnam such a stimulating place to live and work.

(Picture) U.S. Embassy in Hanoi
That afternoon the group flew from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, the commercial center of Vietnam where they were met by Runckel & Associates Ho Chi Minh City staff Nguyen Dien Hong Ngoc (Little Ruby) who supported the entire trip in former Saigon.  The next day started off with a cyclo ride to get a flavor for the old French commercial center and to see some of the scenic center city sites.  This was followed by a meeting with the U.S. Consulate to discuss the economic situation in the South of Vietnam and some of the economic and other challenges that were currently acting to stress economic well being in both Saigon and in Vietnam as a whole.

This was followed by lunch and then a talk with Dr. Rafi Kot, founder of Family Medical Practice Vietnam,  (http://www.vietnammedicalpractice.com/), which runs a series of medical clinics throughout Vietnam that are the leading centers for quality medical care.  Dr. Kot spoke to the group about the challenges that Vietnam was experiencing in the health and other sectors and discussed how increased privatization of medical insurance and western levels of medical care could assist Vietnam in sustaining its economic improvements.  Dr. Kot also noted the role overseas Vietnamese medical professionals could have in improving the levels of care to locals who no longer are willing to incur the lack of customer service, poor levels of treatment and inadequate facilities and over crowding of Vietnam’s hospitals.

The group then met with Mr. Richard Dien, Sales Manager of CJ GLS (VN) Freight Company, Limited (www.cjgls-asia.com) who discussed the role of Freight Forwarders such as his company in helping business to prosper in Vietnam through the rapid shipment and transshipment of goods in and out of the country.  Mr. Dien provided general information about logistics and noted the increase in exports occurring in Vietnam after WTO accession.  He discussed Vietnam’s plan to set up an international seaport in Van Phong Bay (Central Vietnam) in the period from 2010-2015 and noted that all companies in Vietnam had to face challenges because of current weak infrastructure such as roads, bridges and ports. 

(Picturea) Some of the meetings

Later the group met with VILAF Law Firm and discussed Vietnam’s legal environment and the rapid transformation in Vietnam law that has been driven by Vietnam’s WTO accession in 2007.  The group then returned to the hotel and later enjoyed dinner at Blue Ginger where they celebrated one of the group’s birthdays with some of the best Vietnamese food in Vietnam along with a sampling of the good beers that help to make a Vietnamese meal a fun and enjoyable event.  The birthday greetings continued at the Saloon Bar before back to the hotel for the night.

(Picture) Visit Becamex Corp. and My Phouc Industrial Park

The next day, the group traveled to Binh Duong province which each year scores as one of the economically most vibrant centers of business expansion in Vietnam.  There the group met with Vo Son Dien, Sr. Sales Executive at My Phuoc Industrial City (more information on the industrial park, click here) and ( ) which the group learned are following a different more holistic development strategy than China’s industrial parks.  My Phouc which is operated by Becamex, a province owned infrastructure, industrial park and investment conglomerate) has followed a new path for Vietnam in creating an industrial city with emphasis of all levels of community support services to create a good place to work, live, educate family, receive medical service, shop and receive other services.

Later in the day the group visited Dai Nam Park, which although still under construction is a truly impressive creation that will increasingly draw tourists and others to Binh Duong.

Later in the day, the group met with Ms. Ton Nu Thi Ninh and Ms. Nguyen Trang Thu of Ho Chi Minh Open University to discuss the evolution of education in Vietnam and to discuss the set up of Tri Viet University (Vietnam’s Green University) in Vung Tau.  Madame Ton Nu Thi Ninh was until recently Vice Chairperson of the National Assembly Foreign Affairs Committee where she travelled extensively to improve Vietnam's relations with the countries of Western Europe and North America, particularly the United States.  As Vice Chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the National Assembly of Vietnam, Ton Nu Thi Ninh was charged with improving Vietnam's relations with the countries of Western Europe and North America, particularly the United States.

That night the group enjoyed French and Vietnamese food in a memorable setting with top-level service and ambience. 

The next morning after some shopping and a generous Vietnamese lunch the group met with Mirea Asset Company (www.miraeasset.com).  Mirae Asset Company was established in 1997.  It currently manages USD 130 billion of assets and has 10 affiliates internationally and is one of the largest Asian asset management companies and has long had a presence in Vietnam.  The group talked with the Managing Director who discussed development of Ho Chi Minh City’s HOSTC and the Hanoi HASTC, the country’s two stock markets.  HOSTC has 151 companies, 4 funds and 84 bonds, HASTC has 138 companies and 479 bonds.  Total market capitalization in both markets in 2007 was $30 billion.  Since reaching a peak in March of 2007, Vietnam’s stock market has fallen dramatically from a peak of 1170 to under 400 today.  Mirae Asset attributes this dramatic fall to inflation, which currently exceeds a quarterly rate of 22 percent and the affects of a marked trade deficit, which has risen to 7.3 billion in 2008.  In response to this the Vietnamese government has increased the minimum request reservation rate to 8% and then to 11%.  It has issued compulsory treasury bonds and lifted the ceiling on interest to now over 14%.  It has already slowed down many government projects and adjusted macro economic growth targets.  According to Mirae Assets, all of these steps are justified and will start to have an effect.  They see much short-term pain but believe that the long-term fundamentals of Vietnam as a good site for investment and business creation remain intact.

Madame Ton Nu Thi Ninh 
Madame Ton Nu Thi Ninh was until recently Vice Chairperson of the National Assembly Foreign Affairs Committee   Ms. Ninh traveled widely, and met frequently with government and business leaders at home and abroad. She has represented Vietnam at international conferences on issues with global implications. She was and is viewed as an effective representative of her country. Before holding her current position, Ms. Ninh served more than 20 years as a diplomat in her country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In that capacity, she focused on multilateral institutions - the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement, Francophone, The Association of Southeast Asian Nations - and global issues, including international peace and security, development, environment, governance and human rights.  As Adviser to Vietnam's Minister of Foreign Affairs, she was responsible for key international efforts on behalf of the country, such as the holding of the Summit of French-Speaking Countries in 1997 in Hanoi.  From 2000 to 2003, she was Vietnam's Ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg and Head of the Mission to the European Union in Brussels. Ms. Ninh grew up in France, was educated at the Sorbonne and Cambridge University and began her career as an academic. She taught English and English literature at Paris University in the late 1960s and then at Saigon University until 1975.  Born in Hue, Central Vietnam, into a traditional family, Ms. Ninh developed her political commitment to the National Liberation Front for South Vietnam early in her student days in Paris. Since then, she has been consistently active in social issues, with a special interest in gender. She served a term on the Central Executive Committee of the Vietnam Women's Union.  Because of her life long interest in women’s issues Ms. Ninh is currently heading the Global Vietnamese Women’s Network. 

(Picture) Mike Cloonan of University of Notre Dame Mendoza School of Business oversaw the trip arranged by Runckel & Associats
Later in the day, the group met with Odyssey Resources Limited which provides both local and international accounting services and to which Runckel & Associates has introduced many clients.  Odyssey has proved a good choice for many firms since the company has internationally trained and experienced staff most of whom have been educated and practiced outside of Vietnam.  Odyssey staff not only understand Vietnam's tax and accounting requirements but also those of Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. and many European locations as many of their staff have lived and worked in these locations for top line international accounting firms.  Odyssey Resource Limited principals David Carter and Yen Phan discussed Vietnam tax and accounting requirements plus also their company’s efforts in supporting outsourced accounting services from the region and beyond.  

The group then split with part of the group traveling to Cambodia for a two-day visit to the scenic beauty and stunning architectural and historical center around Siem Reap and Angkor Wat.   Runckel & Associates has sent numerous group to Siem Reap over the last year where the groups have marveled at the stunning temples and structures created during the height of Khmer civilization.

In these visits, groups are met at the airport by trained English speaking guides and conveyed to the hotel, stay at four and five star hotels with all the amenities and travel in air conditioned cars or buses with meals available or not as the group may require.  These trips have proved quite popular and are a great way to learn more about Cambodia where Runckel & Associates supports visits in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and throughout most of the country to support the needs of business investors whom are increasingly finding Cambodia not only to be a great tourist destination plus also a great place to invest and start a factory or other business.   Another portion of the group stayed in Ho Chi Minh City to catch up with friends and relatives plus the final portion returned to Hanoi to enjoy further immersion in the north of this stunning country.

About the Author: 

Christopher W. Runckel, a former senior US diplomat who served in many counties in Asia, is a graduate of the University of Oregon and Lewis and Clark Law School. He served as Deputy General Counsel of President Gerald Ford’s Presidential Clemency Board. Mr. Runckel is the principal and founder of Runckel & Associates, a Portland, Oregon based consulting company that assists businesses expand business opportunities in Asia. (www.business-in-asia.com)

Until April of 1999, Mr. Runckel was Minister-Counselor of the US Embassy in Beijing, China. Mr. Runckel lived and worked in Thailand for over six years. He was the first permanently assigned U.S. diplomat to return to Vietnam after the Vietnam War. In 1997, he was awarded the U.S. Department of States highest award for service, the Distinguished Honor Award, for his contribution to improving U.S.-Vietnam relations. Mr. Runckel is one of only two non-Ambassadors to receive this award in the 200-year history of the U.S. diplomatic service.

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