Ed Hart and Tam Nguyen from Cal State Fullerton pose in front of a pho restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, in November 2019.

CSUF grad Tam Nguyen ’05 (left) and Center for Family Business Director Ed Hart (right) on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon) in November 2019.

Could Vietnam be the next China? Nearly half a century after the Southeast Asian nation came under complete communist control, many economists now believe Vietnam has a bright future in the 21st century global economy, as market- and trade-oriented policies are helping the nation achieve sustained and inclusive growth.

During the 2010s, Vietnam’s GDP growth was at least 5% each year, peaking at 6.8% in 2017, helping the nation of nearly 100 million people transform from one of the most impoverished in Asia to middle-income status.

As the largest business college on the U.S. West Coast and with a strong focus on international outreach, a delegation from Cal State Fullerton’s Mihaylo College of Business and Economics visited Vietnam in November 2019, gaining a behind-the-scenes look at the country’s transformation and building bridges for the university community to connect with the region academically and professionally.

The 10-day trip was also an opportunity for students in MGMT 335 – Family Business Dynamics to study abroad and explore the diversity and growth of East Asia.

Among those spending Thanksgiving 2019 in Vietnam was Center for Family Business Director Ed Hart, lecturer and Advance Beauty College president Tam Nguyen ’05 and his sister and fellow grad Linh ’98, ’17, and CSUF Associate Vice President for Government and Community Relations Tami Bui.

Tam Nguyen, president of Advance Beauty College and CSUF alumnus, enjoys a dinner in Vietnam.

Tam Nguyen enjoys Thanksgiving dinner in 2019 – in Vietnam!

Visiting Vietnam: Country and City

Arriving in the steamy humidity of Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon) at midnight on Nov. 21 after a layover in Taipei, the CSUF team soon got to work sightseeing, exploring the rain forests of Monkey Island and seeing where much of the Vietnam War was fought.

“What a surreal and reverent feeling to be right where so many battles were fought,” wrote Hart on LinkedIn. “Feeling very connected to those who fought and died here, and all who served here so valiantly.”

Back in the city, the group explored such landmarks as the Saigon Opera House, Notre Dame Cathedral, the former South Vietnam Presidential Independent Palace, the book lover’s paradise of Book Street, and the Nguyen Hue walking street promenade.

Vietnam might be quickly becoming an importer to the West, but the CSUF group experienced a U.S. export to the country on Nov. 24, watching the Saigon Heat, the country’s national basketball team, defeat Singapore for the first time in sports history.

The group was hosted in the VIP section by Vietnam Men’s National Team player Horace Nguyen, who practiced his basketball skills when he was a student at CSUF.

The next day, it was off to the U.S. consulate, where Hart and the others discovered the opportunities for companies in the travel, energy, health care, education and technology sectors.

With 84% of Vietnamese having a favorable view of the U.S., the opportunities for engagement are stronger than many believe.

Cal State Fullerton students and staff take in a basketball game in Vietnam.

At the courts in Vietnam.

Observing the Vietnamese Economic Miracle Firsthand

English may be the lingua franca of the 21st century world, and Vietnam is at the cutting edge of preparing its next generation for these realities.

On Nov. 26, the CSUF team witnessed an English education program in action at Truong Quyen Elementary School, where the language program is sponsored by the Inter-Continental Language Center (ICLC). The group also discovered the need for more English teachers in the country through a visit to Ho Chi Minh City’s Education and Training department.

As in all countries, family business is an integral component of economic growth in Vietnam. The second generation Duc Thanh Wood Working Company JSC, which produces kitchen goods and toys for customers such as Costco and Walmart, provided an insightful look at this sector.

“Their motto is ‘to keep the prestige is to keep the customer,’” says Hart. “They shared a lot of their business philosophies with us and opened the conversation for general and administrative expenses. They are an employee stock ownership company, and are very generous. We were given some wood toys!”

A factory visit led by CSUF alumna Ms. Quinn, a Vietnamese family business leader, demonstrated the impact that Titans are already having on Southeast Asia.

Then, on Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 28), it was off to the countryside, to visit the second generation owners and CSUF alumni siblings Johnson and Yen Nguyen, who own a farm.

“On the bus ride to the countryside, we saw the rubber trees that are so common for wood products, and they also produce latex, which are used in so many items,” says Hart.

Caring for the Less Fortunate on Black Friday

While millions of Americans spent Black Friday at shopping malls or in front of their computers and smartphones turning their materialist wishes into reality, the Cal State Fullerton group in Vietnam made an impact on that country’s less fortunate, providing a gift at the orphanage of the Linh Son Buddhist Temple.

“All the little children have the same haircut, whether girl or boy, so you have no clue of which are which. It’s quite emotional,” recalls Hart. “This particular location is just for the young ones, and they accept babies without question. When they get older, they move them to a location further from the city, where they live until age 18, when they are free to leave.”

Just before embarking on a long flight to California, the group returned to the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, getting a memorable view of the megapolis from the 77th floor of one of the nation’s tallest skyscrapers, a testament to the economic vitality that this country represents.

The learning excursion to Vietnam, led by Ed Hart’s Center for Family Business, underscores Mihaylo College’s global perspective on business and the future of the world economy.