With cranes dominating the skyline and the sound of hammering and drilling filling the air, it is clear that Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s commercial capital, is in an expansive mood. And as the city’s skyline rises, so do the hopes of US business schools of recruiting some of Vietnam’s young executives on to their MBA programmes.
The MBA Tour – which hosts events around the world at which business schools can interact with potential students – last year included Vietnam on the list of countries it was visiting, when it took a group of business school admissions directors to Ho Chi Minh City.
It is hardly surprising that business schools are looking at the possibility of recruiting students from the country. Vietnam has a young population (more than half its 84m citizens are under 25) and a growth rate of more than 8 per cent. Last year it joined the World Trade Organisation and is taking steps to open up its economy to overseas capital.
“You see the entrepreneurial mentality here on every street corner,” says Dietmar Keilnhofer, general manager of the Sheraton Saigon Hotel & Towers in Ho Chi Minh City. “What I see are these Asian powerhouses and Vietnam is one of them. The only economy that’s stronger is China and China shows signs of overheating while Vietnam still has a long way to go.”
What impresses overseas executives working in Vietnam is finding a nation known for its intelligence and work ethic. Alongside this, with a history bound up in the actions of other nations, Vietnam has long had a global outlook.
Yet international business schools are coming to Vietnam late in the game. “Vietnam is certainly one of those emerging economies that is very exciting and it’s the right place to target,” says Angel Cabrera, dean of Thunderbird School of Global Management. “But the business world has the lead over business schools in this respect. We’ve only seen the beginning of this.”
The MBA Tour trip to Ho Chi Minh City was part of this beginning. Among those present were admissions directors from US and European schools and, as with most of the organisation’s destinations, the tour provided a mixture of cultural and professional activities. One of the key elements of the trip was the conference and fair, attended by local students and business executives, where the schools get a chance to introduce those present to their offerings.
“Part of our goals in these visits is to recruit immediately. But another goal is to develop a better understanding of a western style MBA programme,” says Meredith Curtin Siegel, director of the MBA Tour. “Rather than being a direct source of recruitment for our admissions directors, this trip was more of an opportunity to educate the market.”
It was also a chance for the schools to get to know Vietnam. In Ho Chi Minh City, the group attended a presentation on the Vietnamese market given by the US Foreign Commercial Service and the US Consulate Office. There was also a visit to Vietnam National University to meet professors and students.
Since communism arrived in Vietnam later than it did in China, the private sector has a bigger role in the economy than it had in China when Deng Xiaoping began instigating economic reform in the 1980s.
“In terms of the state’s role in the economy, communism never became as entrenched here as it did in China and the eastern bloc economies,” says Warrick Cleine, managing partner in KPMG’s Ho Chi Minh City office. “So entrepreneurship has really taken off.”
However, while this energy and entrepreneurship is attractive to international business schools hoping to recruit the country’s best and brightest executives on to their MBA programmes, the country’s rapid economic growth may itself pose challenges for the schools. With prospects for employment and development within locally based multinational companies, many Vietnamese may think twice before leaving to go and study overseas.
“Nowadays people have good careers inside a company,” says Mr Cleine. “And they can get qualifications such as the CPA through their company, so they’re getting an international qualification and being paid well.”
Moreover, even for those that do want to embark on an MBA or other form of business training, the opportunities to do so locally are increasing. The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT University) has established a presence in Vietnam, and is offering undergraduate and postgraduate education.
At the Hanoi School of Business, students can acquire executive MBA programme run in conjunction with University of Hawaii’s College of Business Administration. Professionals taking part in the programme receive an AACSB-accredited MBA degree from the University of Hawaii.
The school also has a relationship with Tuck School of Business, through which students can take the Tuck–HSB International Executive Development Programme for Vietnamese Managers.
However, the most likely reason that many young Vietnamese may decide not to take time out to go overseas for an MBA programme is what is on offer at home. Executives can now earn in a month what they would have been paid in a year, five years ago, says Mr Cleine.
“If you are a young talented professional in Vietnam, your future is looking pretty good,” he says. “And it’s all happening now so there’s increasingly a feeling that if you’re not here, you may be missing out.”