Another Boise State University professor and I spent last week in Hanoi, Vietnam, with 21 executive masters of business (EMBA) students. It was more like a "trade mission" than a student trip. The executives represented five Idaho companies looking for opportunities in Vietnam—perhaps a new market, a supplier, or a distributor.
If the teams come away with actual deals, it will be a boon for Idaho, for the companies, for the participants, and for Boise State University. How can you not love that sort of win-win-win-win?
Several insights emerged from the participants during the week in Hanoi. Here are three.
1. Be there.
You simply can’t do international business over the Internet. Eventually, you need to sit with and drink tea or even beer (at least in Vietnam) with a potential partner so both sides can know the other is legitimate, trustworthy, and really interested in doing business. Also, our EMBAs found that in some meetings, they were able to identify new opportunities that came up unexpectedly. That just doesn’t happen on email.
2. Serendipity works. Use it.
The opportunities that came up unexpectedly did so because our executives had their ears and minds open. In one case, a group was looking for markets for a food product that is sold in grocery stores. The team of four, with a Vietnamese interpreter, visited several stores and asked to see the General Manager of one. He flat out refused to talk with them and they left the store. They tried to interview customers as well. Also, no luck.
That evening, at a Boise State alumni dinner in Hanoi (yes, there are some 80 graduates living in Vietnam!), one team member talked to an alum who is a high ranking professor at our partner university.
The professor said, “What? That manager [who asked our participants to leave the store] is a former student.” He pulled out his phone, called the man, and boom, two days later, our team of EMBAs had a tour of the store and spent an hour with the general manager.
And that experience raises one other key for doing business in Vietnam.
3. Relationships matter. A lot.
Boise State has been involved with Vietnam for 20 years and it’s paying off. Our Vietnamese graduates are now in high positions in business, government, and education, giving them access to others in those fields that most business people would not have. Repeatedly on this trip, our colleagues were able to make key introductions that may generate business that will help both sides.
The “trade mission” trip may help create more jobs and boost the economy—in Idaho as well as in Vietnam. And one of the best parts: some of the children of our longtime colleagues are coming to Boise State. But that’s another story.