David Duong, CEO of CWS and VWS: Giving back to the motherland

January 19, 2023 | 14:23
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Motherland for David Duong is the place to come back and pay it forward. After more than 40 years building businesses overseas, the CEO of both California Waste Solutions and Vietnam Waste Solutions longs to make a more meaningful contribution in his homeland. At the doorstep of the beginning of Year of the Cat, he relived the journey back home and shared with VIR’s Bao Giang his hopes for 2023.

Have you been back to enjoy Lunar New Year in Vietnam since the pandemic broke out?

David Duong, CEO of CWS and VWS: Giving back to the motherland
David Duong, CEO of California Waste Solutions and Vietnam Waste Solutions

Vietnam is always in my heart and I am a nostalgic person, therefore springtime and Lunar New Year always bring out special emotions in me. Memories of Lunar New Year in the motherland flood my mind. They could be the striking yellow apricot blossoms, and delicacies, especially the sacred time of Lunar New Year’s Eve and family talks, or meeting friends and acquaintances for drinks.

For the last two years I could not make it back and I miss it so much. I also miss my colleagues and employees. This year I will definitely return for Lunar New Year to fully emerge in this special atmosphere.

This is an occasion for remembering the old and acknowledging the new. What did you enjoy the most in the journey of building businesses overseas over the decades?

In 1980, I followed my family to the United States. One thing that I remember back then is when my father took me out for sightseeing. Looking at the skyscrapers he said, “There is no humble job. Success only comes to ones who work hard and strive forward.”

Because of this determination, I founded Cogido Paper Corporation in 1983. It did well and was acquired by a new partner. But remembering my dad’s words, I vowed to stay and protect the family assets. In 1991, the city of Oakland, California, held bidding for collection and treating waste. I realised this was a unique opportunity so I negotiated with the company’s buyer to get the funds and equipment. California Waste Solutions (CWS) was created as a result.

We won our first multi-million-dollar waste management package, then the second and the third, and many more over a long period of time. The biggest package CWS won was valued at $2.7 billion in 2014. Our latest achievement was in July 2021, when we resigned a contract to manage waste for San Jose at a value of $1.2 billion for 15 years.

Currently, CWS is building a modern AI-infused factory to sort and recycle waste into pulp and plastic beads. Most notably, plastic bags and recycled plastic cannot make plastic beads, so the new factory can transform these plastics back into oil. This facility is based in Oakland with initial investment forecast of $230 million.

My family and I are very proud of being Vietnamese American, and we are proud that CWS is ranked in the top 100 waste solutions corporations in the US.

You have enjoyed successes and achievements with your businesses in the US, so which opportunity managed to bring you back to the motherland?

Despite living in the US, our family always think of how to contribute to the motherland. During the occasions when my family and I came back to visit, we saw with our own eyes that rubbish filled up in the streets and my parents suggested that I come back to invest.

I vowed to bring know-how and funding that I earned in the US to invest in the most modern waste treatment facility in Ho Chi Minh City. The goal was to solve environmental problems and make the city cleaner and fresher.

I remember well in 2004 when my entire family gathered and discussed wholeheartedly with each other about whether to build a waste treatment facility in Vietnam because apart from available capacity, we could foresee various difficulties.

The year previously, I met representatives from the Mekong Delta province of Long An and Ho Chi Minh City. They went to Hong Kong, Singapore, Texas, and New York seeking investment in waste solutions in Vietnam, but there was no response because everyone was cautious about such a new market in Vietnam with such high risks.

Despite being well aware of that, my father made it an imperative for me to take up the job. We do it as part of our commitment to where we come from, not just for the profit. So, I set out to implement the plan.

As a result, Vietnam Waste Solutions (VWS) was founded in 2005 and came into operation in Da Phuoc area in Binh Chanh district of Ho Chi Minh City in 2007. The project began with a total amount of $200 million and, since then, VWS has continuously managed waste solutions 363 days a year for the city.

Following the city’s requirements to utilise renewable waste technologies, I am investing in waste incineration to energy to generate electricity connected to the National Grid at the Da Phuoc Integrated Waste Management Facility.

Simultaneously, I am also carrying out work on Long An Green Technology Park in Thu Thua district of Long An province. The multi-billion dollar project was approved by the government in 2010, of which phase 1 had investment of about $450 million. However, the project is currently beset with many roadblocks.

Why do you vow to pursue implementation of the Long An green park venture?

Upholding my father’s teachings, I will not give up and will do my very best for the project’s implementation. Currently, in addition to proposing to the government and Long An province to remove obstacles in legal procedures and investment, I am nurturing a new outlook for this project. It is to convert part of the function to build a high-tech park. The estimated land for the park is about 500 hectares out of the 1,760ha total.

After meeting and working with a number of businesses in Silicon Valley many times, I intend to bring leading computer part manufacturers to this high-tech park. I will call for 5-7 companies to invest at first, to build an international-standard high-tech park with integrated facilities for residence, schools, and hospitals. Plans are to create a large-scale technology park with investment from many companies from the US.

I have never made empty promises. Once the legal procedures are complete, the project will be implemented quickly. This is driven by my goal of giving back to the motherland.

After Lunar New Year, I will bring a special guest to Vietnam to invest – Douglas M. Leone, a billionaire who manages a fund of around $80 billion. He has committed to invest in VWS projects, especially Long An Green Technology Park. This is a practical initiative to realise my personal commitment, as well as that of the Vietnamese American Business Association, which is helping to build a sustainable investment bridge between the US and Vietnam.

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As the Lunar New Year approaches, David Duong, president of California Waste Solutions cum CEO of Vietnam Waste Solutions, had a chat with VIR’s Bao Giang about what he has done during the past year and his plans for the New Year.

David Duong donates $100,000 to Vietnam’s COVID-19 relief efforts David Duong donates $100,000 to Vietnam’s COVID-19 relief efforts

David Duong, president of California Waste Solutions (CWS) cum CEO of Vietnam Waste Solutions (VWS), has recently donated $100,000 (VND2.3 billion) to the fund to cover Vietnam's fight against COVID-19, which was set up by Vietnamese expatriates living in the western states of the United States.

VWS commits to sustainable development with Vietnam VWS commits to sustainable development with Vietnam

As life in Vietnam is moving towards the new normal, David Duong, president of California Waste Solutions (CWS) cum CEO of Vietnam Waste Solutions (VWS), had a chat with VIR’s Thanh Van about how CWS and VWS are sailing through the pandemic to maintain operation in both in the United States and Vietnam.

David Duong, president of California Waste Solutions, CEO of Vietnam Waste Solutions: Vietnam is always in my heart David Duong, president of California Waste Solutions, CEO of Vietnam Waste Solutions: Vietnam is always in my heart

Due to the global health crisis, David Duong, president of California Waste Solutions (CWS) and CEO of Vietnam Waste Solutions (VWS), has not returned to Vietnam for 390 days. However, his heart always turns to the motherland. With the Lunar New Year only a few days away, he shared his feelings and thoughts with VIR’s Song Nguyen.

By Bao Giang

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