Vietnam’s exciting growth powers Bain & Company’s first office in Ho Chi Minh City

September 19, 2023 | 14:00
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Wade Cruse, managing partner for Southeast Asia at Bain & Company and Andrea Campagnoli, partner and office head of Bain & Company’s Vietnam office, spoke with VIR's Luu Huong about Vietnam's economic prospects and Bain's forward-looking strategies in the region.
Bain's Vietnam Strategy: Evolution, Tech, Green Initiatives, and M&A
Wade Cruse (right) and Andrea Campagnoli shared Bain & Company's vision and strategy at the opening event of the company's first office in Vietnam

What drove your decision to establish a presence in Vietnam?

Campagnoli: Bain has been serving our Vietnam clients, multinational corporations (MNCs) and investors for nearly 20 years. Coupled with our desire to be closer to our clients on the ground, Vietnam's rapid growth and innovation have caught the attention of many global businesses. Vietnamese companies are expanding quickly, and their level of entrepreneurship resonates with our global strategy.

With offices in 65 cities spread across 40 countries, we prioritise having a footprint in vital regions, such as Southeast Asia. Establishing an office in Ho Chi Minh City was a strategic decision. We recognised the increasing interest of our global clients in either operating in or catering to the Vietnamese market. Their movement creates opportunities, and we strive to be where they are, amplifying their success.

Companies like VNG and VinFast have made international headlines with their recent US listings and impressive trajectories. Their success stories further validate our decision to be here.

It is true that the tail end of 2022 and 2023 presented some challenges for Vietnam. However, we believe this phase is temporary. We anticipate Vietnam reverting to its historical growth trajectory soon, and our business here has continued to prosper despite these headwinds.

Bain's Vietnam Strategy: Evolution, Tech, Green Initiatives, and M&A
Andrea Campagnoli

How has the move to Vietnam been since arriving here from Singapore?

Campagnoli: The move to Vietnam has been both exciting and heart-warming. Living in District 2 in Ho Chi Minh City, we've been captivated by the green landscapes and great local cuisine. My children are enjoying their new school here. Personally, the warmth and positivity of the Vietnamese people remind us of home, making the move even more comfortable.

It's interesting how even being so far from our Latin heritage, we've found kindred spirits in the Vietnamese locals, a shared zest for life, laughter, and family. By the way, I recently got a red Vespa and paired it with an Italian-flag helmet to truly immerse myself in the city's vibe as I explore.

Can you elaborate on the key themes shaping your business in Vietnam?

Campagnoli: We’re focusing on four primary themes, including business transformation, innovation through technology, sustainability, and mergers and acquisitions (M&A).

Our first step in Vietnam is to work with our clients to help them grow, scale and recalibrate the way they do business while tailoring our solutions to the local context. We are excited to work with our clients to help them achieve full potential and redefine their business transformation strategy and operations in times of uncertainty.

We are also keen to play a role in shaping their sustainability efforts to support the transition to net-zero across business sectors, provide M&A advisory to investors and corporates which are making landmark acquisitions in Vietnam and lastly deliver innovation through technology, leveraging on Industry 4.0 solutions and Generative AI.

On the technological front, our collaborations with global partners have been instrumental in supporting our clients' aspirations. I'm thrilled to share that we've recently onboarded FPT Digital as a strategic partner. This collaboration aims to enable both Vietnamese and international clients through their digital transformations.

Can you share some examples of the work you've done in Vietnam?

Cruse: We collaborated with a prominent firm in the financial services sector in Vietnam. They had a strong product line and were keen to expand. The challenge was enhancing the capabilities of their sales force, organising them, educating them about their offerings, and ensuring a match with customer needs. Our solution involved crafting a specialised training programme to bolster the sales team's proficiency.

Bain's Vietnam Strategy: Evolution, Tech, Green Initiatives, and M&A
Wade Cruse

Who are the primary clients you're looking for in the Vietnamese market?

Campagnoli: In Vietnam, our outreach is strategically segmented into three categories. Firstly, international private enterprises with a footprint both here and abroad.

Secondly, fast-growing domestic firms, primarily those with a penchant for acquisitions.

Finally, companies underpinned by considerable government involvement.

Our collaborations span across all these segments, ensuring a diversified approach.

Cruse: Approximately 90 percent of our clients have sustained long-term partnerships with us. Our fundamental belief is in the tangible value we bring to the table. Beyond that, our firm operates on a 'results-not-reports' philosophy, emphasising actionable outcomes over mere ideation.

We've been fortunate to forge deep-rooted relationships with many of our clients. While some seek our counsel every year consistently, there are others with whom our collaboration spans decades, like a client in Thailand we've been advising for 20 years. It's worth noting that not every client requires our expertise every single day of the year, but when they seek specialised services, they often turn to us, valuing the consistency and results we offer.

Given your partnership with OpenAI, how do you see AI revolutionising the operations of companies in Southeast Asia?

Cruse: Our collaboration with OpenAI underscores our commitment to harnessing the potential of AI for transformative purposes. To illustrate, our joint venture with Coca-Cola has been pivotal in pioneering personalized advertisements. Through AI, we've been able to curate content tailored to individual user preferences rather than generic demographics, thereby enhancing engagement levels.

Furthermore, in sectors like customer support, AI offers invaluable assistance. Take call centers as an example. Instead of agents having to remember vast amounts of information, AI can instantly provide them with tailored responses or solutions, optimizing the user experience. As we look towards the Vietnamese market, consumer-facing sectors, including retail, financial services, and telecommunications, stand out as prime candidates for such AI-driven enhancements.

Vietnam is ambitious about sustainability, and going green. What advice do you have for potential clients to genuinely embrace the sustainability ethos?

Cruse: Vietnam’s transition to net-zero has both economic and non-economic implications. Companies must look beyond just economic gains. The goal is not just to showcase these initiatives in investor presentations, but to manifest them in real, tangible results.

While futuristic solutions like carbon capture might seem appealing, the real impact comes from leveraging existing, proven technologies. Bain’s Southeast Asia Green Economy report highlights the immediate effect companies can achieve by reducing emissions using current technology.

We urge companies to start their sustainability journey now with what's available, and as technologies evolve, incorporate them. This proactive approach ensures tangible results, and minimises the disparity between words and action. The essence is to focus on present-day solutions that can drive real change.

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By Luu Huong

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