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How do you see the changes Vietnam has undergone during the past 25 years?
I have seen enormous change to the landscape during the past 25 years since Vietnam and the US normalised trade and then diplomatic relations. Every year now as a normal occurrence, Vietnamese and US officials and business people engage with one another in each other’s country. Vietnam’s status on the global stage has been elevated by a great deal, especially after significant events, such as when the country played host to the recent North Korea-US Summit where US President Donald Trump and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong Un met in Hanoi. There have been tremendous changes on many levels and in many aspects.
This has generated major positives for the economy as well as people’s material lives and standards of living – and for sure improvements will continue down the road.
However, the way I see it, the more things have changed, the more they have stayed the same. I mean this at the deepest cultural levels. By way of background, I was a practicing anthropologist before I transited into the business world in the 1980s, and I tend to focus on the impact culture has on the economy and business, and domestic and international relations. I am talking about the cultural values of Vietnamese people, about how they see the world, their society, and the strength of the family.
Now when I look out the window of my Ho Chi Minh City office and see the Vietcombank headquarters building and admire the development of the Thu Thiem New Urban Area, I am stunned by how much has changed in Vietnam’s material sphere since 1992.
But I strongly believe that despite all of this development, the basic values of Vietnam and the Vietnamese people are still very much in place. I think the country will continue to improve in the next 25 years or more, but Vietnam will always stay Vietnam.
On a more personal level, how have these 25 years in Vietnam changed you as a person and as a businessman?
I feel very fortunate that I found Vietnam and that it found me 28 years ago. On every level, personal, family, and professional, Vietnam has been very good to me. I love what I do as a property developer, as a builder. As kind of a joke, when people ask me what I do in Vietnam, I tell them, “My job is to make Vietnam even more beautiful than it already is.”
Look at what we have built in Vietnam so far: The Nam Hai, Six Senses Con Dao, Montgomerie Links, and so many other iconic properties. We have elevated Vietnam’s profile in a very positive sense on the global stage, particularly global tourism. I feel doubly fortunate that I can run a reasonably successful business – and that I can see people enjoy the fruits of my work.
I have built a nurturing and rewarding business culture at Indochina Capital in 20 years. Because of this, we have been able to create an iconic portfolio and keep many talented and hardworking staff. Our culture clearly benefits our people.
About Indochina Capital in Vietnam
Indochina Capital has been developing properties in Vietnam since the early 1990s. It has created many outstanding developments, such as The Nam Hai, Six Senses Con Dao, Montgomerie Links, Indochina Plaza Hanoi, and Indochina Riverside Towers.
In 2016, Indochina Capital formed a joint venture with Kajima Corporation, one of Japan’s largest construction companies and most prolific overseas real estate developers. ICC-Kajima is now concentrating on hospitality assets and has created a new brand called Wínk Hotels in Vietnam. The first Wink hotel is now under construction at 75 Nguyen Binh Kiem, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, and the JV has plans to roll out a total of 20 hotels principally in Vietnam and possibly in Cambodia and Laos over the next 6-8 years, with total investment capital up to roughly $1 billion.
With the opportunities in other emerging or frontier markets such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, or Cambodia, why did you choose Vietnam?
When I was growing up, the Vietnam War was raging. I was too young to be drafted, but I was old enough to understand how critical the war and its fallout was to my generation. For sure, the war was the most influential event of my adolescence and early adulthood. In high school and then as a college student, I was very anti-war and devoted much of my time in Boston protesting the war.
Recently, while cleaning out my home in New York, I came across a book which I read 30 years ago – one which I have just re-read. This book is After the War Was Over: Hanoi and Saigon written by Neil Sheehan. This and other books written post-war were one of the reasons I was drawn to visit and then stay in Vietnam.
I chose Vietnam instead of other destinations for doing business because there was a “deal”. In 1991 when I was in my office in New York City, I received a fax from a colleague in our Los Angeles office. It was an old Ho Chi Minh City tourist map with a site marked to be developed in Cho Lon, right on the border of districts 5 and 6, with an arrow to a sentence which said: “Would you be interested in this site?”
I had never been to Ho Chi Minh City before, but it set my mind on fire with the possibility. So I hopped on a plane and after stops in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Bangkok, I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, met the Vietnamese American who was developing the project, and saw the site. Within 48 hours I had seen enough to realise that I wanted to spend a good deal of time in Vietnam pursuing my dreams.
I came to Vietnam for a week, and never left, and I have no plans to leave anytime soon.