K-Biz is the first consultancy of its kind in Vietnam’s Khanh Hoa province to offer marketing, strategy, legal and general business advice to the rapidly growing small to medium size business community in Nha Trang. Focused primarily on the developing tourism industry, four Thunderbird consultants aim to offer K-Biz with a fresh perspective on the local business environment, new tools for K-Biz to use and better serve their clients, and a plan to realize the firm’s potential as a full-service consultancy.
TEM Lab: Vietnam – K-Biz
By Nithin Vinyak ‘10, MBA in Global Management
Our team’s second day in Nha Trang was our first official business day. The client invited our team for a ‘Meet & Greet’ session at the K-biz office. We felt prepared as we approached the client’s office for the first time. We knew the objectives for the consulting engagement, and had thoroughly familiarized ourselves with K-biz’s product/service offerings and organizational structure. We had developed certain schemas regarding how to approach the project, and were ready to hit the ground running. However, this ‘Meet & Greet’ session presented a new reality and immediately put us into ’scramble-mode’. We had expected to use this initial meeting to speak with the company founders and confirm our project goals. Instead, we met with several ‘coordinators’, or consultants, who took turns informing us what they hoped to gain from our engagement. As we began to make changes to our schema and assumptions, we pondered, “Had we not understood the client during our phone calls prior to traveling to Vietnam?”
This session was followed by a feast of authentic Vietnamese cuisine at a beach-side restaurant during which we validated certain assumptions and answered few of our own questions. A ’20 minute walk home’ (which was actually about an hour) helped us recover from the surprising project changes and aided the digestion of the heavy meal.
Soon thereafter, a lengthy meeting with Hang, and Selene, an Australian expat and Hang’s trusted adviser, again at a beautiful sea-side restaurant, helped clarify several assumptions and served as the first step toward confirming the client’s goals and re-defining our project objectives. We spent the next couple of days engaged in brainstorming activities both with our client and internally, and modified our initial work plan accordingly.
During the contracting phase, we developed a plan to execute our consulting project and fulfill our client’s expectations. We adopted a new methodology to execute the project, which was then reviewed and officially approved by the client.
The following is a brief explanation of our overall methodology for the engagement. The discovery and analysis aspects of the consulting project were carried out in four stages:
a. Departure Analysis: An analysis of K-biz’s current state. An inventory of their competencies, services offered, and historical activity. This stage described the current position of K-biz that would provide a fixed point in developing strategies to move to their target destination.
b. Arrival Analysis: An analysis of K-biz’s aspirations regarding where they want the company to go based on their vision, mission, and the opportunities within the local business environment. This provides a fixed point for K-biz that would help develop strategies to move from where they are.
c. Gap Analysis: An analysis and assessment of the gap between the point of departure and the point of arrival, and recommendations on how to address this gap through practical and feasible action.
d. Implementation Timeline: A timeline for each of the recommendations that help K-biz move from current state to proposed state. The timeline was divided into short-term (0-6 months), medium-term (7-18 months) and long-term (18+ months).
Below is a schematic representation:
Each section mentioned above consisted of several sections and sub-sections such as competencies, tools/products, organizational structure, human resources, marketing, processes, and so on. The main responsibility of each of these sections was allocated to one team member based on his preferences and strengths.
Analysis and assessment for all four stages was carried out based on three functions:
i) Internal Consultation: Consulting internally with employees, coordinators and co-founders of K-biz.
ii) External Consultation: Consulting with external stakeholders such as government entities, associations, NGO’s, domestic and foreign business owners and most importantly K-biz’s prior and potential customers.
iii) Team Consultation: Consulting with all members of the team. This played a vital role in proposing most feasible recommendations.
Below is a graphical representation of the different stages and the allocated timeline (in weeks):
At the end of each stage, our team had a discussion with the client to collect feedback regarding our findings. Based on this feedback, we made modifications to our final recommendations. After successfully completing all four stages of our analysis, we provided K-biz with a final report that included our findings, analysis, and recommendations.
After allowing our client to digest our final deliverable for a few days, we reconvened with Hang and another co-founder, Minh, to give them an opportunity to clarify any doubts and to ensure that they understood our expectations on how to implement our strategic recommendations. To our delight, not only had Hang already met with her network of consultants and employees to discuss and implement the proposed recommendations, but she had acquired a new client for her first marketing project. Hang indicated that our guidance and methods gave her the confidence to take on this new client. Needless to say – we were thrilled.
The conclusion of this meeting signified the end of our official consulting engagement, but not our time in Vietnam. That evening, Hang and her colleagues treated us to a wonderful final dinner in a beautiful Vietnamese restaurant located in the countryside.
Having returned home to Glendale, we all feel a sense of accomplishment with respect to our work as consultants in Nha Trang. Throughout the engagement, our client expressed appreciation for our work. However, seeing our client modify their behavior and adopt our recommendations into their long term-plans provided us with the professional satisfaction of having added value to K-biz through this one of a kind opportunity.
By Nikhil Agarwal ‘10, MBA in Global Management
150 kilometers of winding road lay ahead of us in the Langbiang Plateau in Vietnam’s central highlands on the way to Đà Lạt. Đà Lạt, the capital of the Lâm Đồng province, is named after the Latin phrase ‘Dat Aliis Laetitiam Aliis Temperiem’, which literally translates to “giving pleasure to some, freshness to others”.
An impromptu weekend excursion was planned only a few hours before we left with our new buddy, Benny, and four American exchange students from Hong Kong. Only half expecting the plan to go through, we awoke the next morning to the pleasant surprise of 7 Yamaha scooters (125 cc) waiting for us, ready for the day’s ride.
I have always found bike trips to be a great opportunity for introspection and a means of getting closer to my surroundings. I have always cherished them in the past, but have not had the change to ride since I left India, as a result of my hand injury playing rugby this past winter.
This was my first weekend away from Nha Trang and one of the highlights of my time here in Vietnam. It was notable for more than a few reasons:
1. It was Phil’s first time riding a scooter. On our way up the mountains to Dalat, which is almost a mile high in elevation, he was driving way ahead of us—apparently he caught on well.
2. We were caught unaware that there was a five kilometer stretch of road under construction and covered with 8-10 inches of dry sand and red dirt. The cars and other heavy vehicles passing by made us feel like we were dirt biking with dust flying around. Here are some pictures of how we looked right after the ride.
3. The amazing natural beauty of the central highlands with lush green mountains and beautiful, colorful valleys made me feel good that the natural beauty still remains after what the country has been through.
4. The beauty of Dalat was accented by thousands of butterflies and spans of vegetable farms on both sides of the road.
5. We caught up with a Thunderbird alum, Curtis “King” Kovach, who runs a small café with his wife. At his café we heard him jam on the guitar, vocals and harmonica with equal ease. You are never far from an interesting Thunderbird alumni anywhere you go, right? His life makes me feel strongly on doing what my heart feels like rather than getting stuck in a dead end job.
6. We had one of the best meals during our entire trip at a small house/restaurant out in the middle of nowhere.
7. We grew acquainted with the Dalat style of drinking wine – with a chunk of rock salt in your glass. Surprisingly, it was awesome! I am going to buy some of the rocks for myself.
8. Personally, for me it was good chance to get away from work and the craziness in Nha Trang due to the Tet holidays. It also provided me with time to get my thoughts organized in preparation for the final weeks of the project.
We are now into the toughest stage of our project, capturing our findings in a report to leave with the client. This involves the departure analysis (a summary of the current business and the local business environment), the arrival analysis (identifying where they want to be as an organization in the future), moving on to generate the gap analysis and lastly an implementation roadmap with a little bit of hand holding.
With only one weekend left here in Nha Trang, we have realized that we are yet to see some of the cities key attractions. We plan to definitely take time this weekend to visit these places before we head home. These include a mud bath, a golf driving range on the open ocean, one of the best underwater aquariums in Vietnam, and finally a visit to the most exclusive resort in the country, the Evason Six Senses – appropriate as our project is focused on the tourism industry. We’ll let you know how it all goes!
By Ben Balden ‘10, MBA in Global Management
This past week, our project underwent an important transformation as we switched phases from discovery to data analysis and dialogue. Up until the events of this past week, most of our activities revolved around research as we gathered information about the client’s business and the local business environment. As of last week, the only tangible evidence we had of our hard work was the many meeting notes, documents, and reports that we had collected as a team. We all were eager to see something more come out of our work and for this information to start to come together and form something tangible and valuable.
It was at this time that we entered the analysis stage of the project, which we are in now. Our first meeting last week, which began this process, started out by getting a feel from the team exactly what we all felt about the project. I discovered the other team members shared my eagerness to see the information put together into something valuable for the client. I must admit that at that point, one of my primary worries was whether our final deliverable was going to add value or meet the client’s expectations. I questioned whether we had gathered sufficient data and whether it was enough to put together a convincing and valuable report. Therefore, this week’s activities of analysis and producing the draft of the initial report were going to be revealing activities.
We began the process by laying out our final steps here in Nha Trang, task-by-task and day-by-day. The process evolved as we went through our plan. We could not predict what parts would work and what parts would need adjustment. During the process, we came up with new ideas for analyzing the data and held discussions on our different conclusions and models. The information at this stage was starting to take form. We soon had the beginnings of our draft document: the first tangible evidence of our analysis. Better yet, it looked quite good. This initial document captured the current state of the client’s business and that of the local environment. As it began to take form, we were pleased to see how and where this deliverable was going to add value to our client, K-biz.
As we continued to edit our analysis, it became apparent that there were several insights that would mark the beginning of a series of critical decisions for K-biz. Additionally, there seemed to be several elements that confirmed some of the client’s suspicions. However, we realized the biggest value we would add to our client was a healthy shot of confidence. The exercise of having an external group of professionals examine your business in an emerging market with the intent to add value would make you feel that everything has been checked over by competent individuals. This process alone has instilled confidence in our client, who is already a talented individual. The fact that we are also adding recommendations and building a plan together with the client just adds to the already sweet package.
On another level, our work here adds value in a unique way beyond our stated deliverables. This added value stems from our approach and methodology as we provide consulting services to a local consultant. By observing our example, she has seen how we have come in and spent considerable time making sure that the deliverables we offer will be of use to her. Our client has also witnessed how we have taken time to thoroughly research the scenario before we launch into our diagnosis, let alone provide our prescriptions. She has observed skills, which we learned in our basic consulting practicum course: contracting, discovery (including asking her clearly how she feels), engagement, and diagnosis. Not surprisingly, she has been very engaged. And she has been learning, as evidenced by her comments, insights, and her plans going forward. Our client’s feedback indicates that she is very pleased with our work to date, and I am confident that her clients will benefit from her newly acquired consulting skills.
When she received our first deliverable today, her response was, “It’s a great job! Thank you so much. We will study it and see you tomorrow morning to discuss more detail.” Not only are we adding value to her business as a whole, but we are also adding value to her skills as a consultant. It is a good feeling to provide assistance at this level. For reasons like this, I really like consulting. Providing value like this is a great feeling.
By Nikhil Agarwal ‘10, MBA in Global Management
During my time at Thunderbird I’ve had the opportunity to study and work in Monterrey, Mexico, Beijing, China and most recently, Nha Trang, Vietnam. I have realized that while these are invaluable learning experiences, sometimes it is easy to feel like an alien in your surroundings and long for some of life’s comforts waiting for you back home. This is typical of countries where you do not speak the language and if you are working, the evenings especially are hard to kill with no company.
Thankfully, our experience in Vietnam has been filled with amazing scenery, new friendships and little downtime. Also, we lucked out with respect to our choice of hotel. The rooms are nice and clean, the staff is very friendly and we use rooftop restaurant as our office. At the hotel we often meet interesting people traveling through this part of the world with whom we share stories about our adventures abroad.
I’ve put a few points down that have helped me tackle being home-sick in the past. I thought I’d share, as they might be useful to you too:
1. Try walking to places instead of taking a taxi. This helps to experience the sights, sounds and smells of the surroundings and gets you more accustomed to all of them. A word of caution: you should make sure you know the way when walking and should know in advance if it is safe to walk.
2. Work out: Going for a run in the morning or evening along with light stretching will help keep the blood flowing and reduce stress levels which may arise from being in a foreign environment.
3. Try to reach out the student associations or groups that have an international presence. Often they can provide a feel for the local culture and they usually speak English. AIESEC, the world’s largest student organization, has worked for me in the past. Also Thunderbird has hundreds of alumni chapters all across the world. These groups help make connections in the area for local advice and you never know but some of these connections end up lasting a lifetime.
4. The internet has definitely brought the world closer with Facebook, Twitter, Buzz and a host of other applications where you can share your experiences with friends/family almost instantaneously. There might be some places where Internet is not so readily available. In those cases, maintaining a journal will help you recall details when you share your experiences with folks back home and it also ensures to give you something to do in your free time.
5. Food and entertainment are two things that most people miss the most. There have been Western/Indian restaurants around nearly all of the places I have been, so every time I feel nostalgic, I head over for a taste of home. Also, when I have internet access I sneak in a movie online.
6. Always try to keep a smile and exude positive body language. Anywhere you go people can read body language and when they see yours as friendly and welcoming, they will reciprocate and soon you will find yourself with local friends to curb some of the loneliness.
The TEM Lab experience has given me all the above and some more. This experience, in addition to enhancing my consulting skills, has given me time to think about my future career path and my responsibilities to myself, my family and my surroundings. Over various conversations and through my observations of the entrepreneurial spirit present here in Nha Trang I am leaning more towards an entrepreneurial venture right out of school with all these fresh ideas in my head.
From the pictures of our awesome beach location it may seem like that we are on an excursion disguised as a consulting project, but it’s not. We have been pretty deep in work from the beginning of the engagement; however, we certainly are not complaining about the location. We do take the appropriate amount of time off to immerse ourselves into the culture. Another integral part of my learning over the last couple of weeks has been to work in such an environment. Living right in the center of the tourist district in Nha Trang, just one block from the beautiful beach, while maintaining our disciplined work schedule to meet and exceed our expectations, as well as those of our school and our client has been challenging.
By Ben Balden ‘10, MBA in Global Management
Culture is an interesting thing. People can see the world through many different viewpoints and all see the same thing. What we have seen by being here in and amongst the culture has been a discovery of a completely new world and way of life. Specifically for me because of my language abilities and contacts in the area, being here has been enriching. Learning about people, about what makes them tick, what motivates them, and what they look forward to in life has been an invaluable experience. I have had the opportunity to visit many people in many homes, to see how they live, to see how they celebrate their customs and traditions. We have conversed with locals about some of the deeper questions in life. My work on the project has allowed me to speak to a wide variety of people both foreign and national, both rich and poor.
Looking at the world through the eyes of another has an ironic way of making you see your own life in a different way. This is always a valuable exercise of self-reflection. I have had this opportunity for self-reflection as I have observed the cultural beliefs, the local cuisine, the modes of transport, and the methods and customs of celebration. These have all given me a rich vantage point of for self-reflection—to which I am very grateful.
I understand a little more clearly my own cultural beliefs regarding my individual responsibility to those around me as I have observed this dimension in a different setting through the eyes of someone who lives in this other world of Vietnam. I spoke to four or five nationals who told me their duty in life was to live where their ancestors have lived and to pray for them as they have gone before. I have witnessed through the stories of others the stresses of living this cultural belief and not having sons who will stay and pray for you when you go on. I have witnessed the blessings of this practice, as a rich purpose and sense of security are valued above material possessions or social status. Looking inward, as an individual who easily moves from continent to continent and who is content to live anywhere and associate with anyone, I see where my individual responsibility lies. Perhaps it too has root in the religious beliefs I have adopted from my family. My sense of individual responsibility to those around me, I have realized, is forward thinking as everything I do seeks to add value to others into the future of others.
My understanding of myself has been refined as I discover the wonders and delights of Vietnamese cuisine. In many societies, you can learn a lot about a people through the food they eat. Vietnam is no exception. Time spent in preparation, the types of food selected and savored, and the social activities surrounding what and where people eat tell stories about the beliefs and values of the Vietnamese people. A wife and mother expresses her affection for her family by putting in hours of time preparing the families meals. In contrast, mother in America tries to get by with ten-minute preparation, and expresses affection through other means. Leisure time is higher on the list of values for a local Vietnamese individual than what was imprinted on me by the society I grew up in. Evidence of this is the groups of people sitting in the evening or the afternoon eating, drinking, with family and friends. Groups of men sit to drink, nhau, as the women and children sit separately. The food itself tells a story about local life from beef noodle soup, pho, for breakfast, to exotic dragon fruit for lunch, to the extreme embryonic duck egg, hot vit lon, for appetizers. I have had the pleasure of sampling all of these the last of which, hot vit lon, is perhaps the most frightening to people outside the culture (an embryonic duck egg with a partially formed duck in it which is boiled and seasoned with salt, pepper, and fresh basil). It tastes like chicken soup! I have learned how wide and varied a simple thing like food can be and I have learned more about who I am and am not. I have also learned what my limits are with food.
I learned my limits when it comes to local transportation. It amazes me the way the local society has adopted the motorcycle as an ideal mode of transport. The United States never went through a stage where motorcycles could fill the needs of the population. Cars came first, and before that horses where ideal. Both the timing of Vietnam’s development and the specific resources available to the public make motorcycles ideal. They are affordable, available, practical, and they can go anywhere. What I discovered about myself was the risk factor. Anyone who has been in a motorcycle economy can tell you that driving can be hectic if you are not used to it. While I am somewhat comfortable as a passenger, I do not know if I am ready for that part of cultural immersion yet. That and blood-pudding are some of my limits. It is good to learn where my level of risk tolerance will allow me to go.
Observing the locals celebrate the most important holiday of the year has caused me to think about how I value traditions, holidays, and celebrations. Methods of celebration are rich and run deep in Vietnamese society. Tet Nguyen Dan, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, is rich with tradition and culture. From the rice cakes to the dragon dances, the local people really value their native culture. However, in everything they do, they treasure their relationships with family and friends. As I have traveled the world, I have adapted to the local cultures and traditions trying to learn more about the people around me. This time in Vietnam, I have looked inward at my own traditions around the celebrations I observe. I have learned there is much more I can learn from the Vietnamese people when it comes to enjoying the holidays with family and friends.
Hoping to learn about Vietnam and the people, I have learned about myself. This is, I suppose, one of the benefits of cultural exchange. I love this kind of learning. The ability to apply the knowledge I have picked up at Thunderbird and before Thunderbird in a real setting has been wonderfully practical. The ability to do so at an international destination has been inspirational. For me, this experience has been a cultural learning experience both of the culture of Vietnam and my own individual culture. In the brief short time I have been here I have reassessed my individual responsibility toward those around me, my affinity to an assortment of foods, my low appetite for risks on the road, and the importance of family in celebrations. Seeing life lived in a different way has presented me with a new vantage point to view the way I live my life. Learning about the local culture has not only taught me who the Vietnamese are, but also who I am. This is what makes this experience so rewarding.
By Nikhil Agarwal ‘10, MBA in Global Management
Our colleagues at K-biz decided to take us out to the countryside to enjoy the second day of the New Year in a traditional way. It was very kind of them to do this, as the second day of the New Year is typically reserved for visiting extended family and friends. Additionally they expect to receive guests at their house, but instead they made arrangements to take us out to experience the real Vietnam.
According to Vietnamese culture it is a great honor to receive a guest at your house during this time of year. The Vietnamese consider it good luck to have guests at their house, which resonates with a very popular saying from Indian scriptures: “Atithi Devo Bhavah” which literally translates to “Guest is God”.
The journey was very interesting as the landscape converted from tightly-packed buildings to lush green rice fields only 15 minutes into our drive. We also quickly realized how hot and humid it could get in the countryside in the afternoons. During the course of the day we visited a water reservoir, two pagodas (one big and famous and the other one still under construction), ate lunch at a nice spot by a stream on top of a mountain and visited a modern yet authentic Vietnamese restaurant that re-created the feeling of a traditional Vietnamese house in a village. It was a day full of lessons about Vietnamese culture and customs around New Year and lots of traditional food. An interesting event of the day was to catch so many people selling and buying lottery tickets this day. Later I found that it is customary for this time of the year as people are feeling lucky because it is the beginning of the New Year. Additionally we observed people crowding around the head monk who was telling fortunes to those who wanted to find out what the New Year held for them.
On the third day of the New Year we were invited to visit the houses of three K-biz coordinators: Hien, Phoung, and Mai. This day just reaffirmed the belief of how warm-hearted and welcoming Vietnamese people are. They spent half a day taking us to different places on the back of their motorbikes and making sure that we enjoyed every aspect of this auspicious time of the year. The city of Nha Trang happens to hold the record for the longest rice cake (Banh Tet) in the world. This massive rice cake was 35 meters in length. They also made about 1000 foot long rice cakes (Banh Tet) for charity to give the poor people also a chance to enjoy the New Year by eating the traditional dish.
After having loads of traditional and unique snacks which include spicy dried squid, pumpkin, sunflower and watermelon seeds, frozen banana with peanuts, pickled raw mango, sweet and spicy dried mango/pineapple and meat ball soup with fish and home made sticky noodles, we had to roll ourselves home. We profusely thanked our K-biz counterparts before we handed out the lucky pockets to their children and wished them goodbye and good luck for the New Year.
While the New Year celebration officially lasts three days, most of the country fills a whole week with activities spent with friends and family. This gives our team a few days to finalize the discovery phase of our project, consolidate our findings regarding the local business environment and K-biz, complete our analysis and develop our recommendations to help K-biz build capacity. With a great opportunity to enjoy two New Years celebrations in a span of just forty-five days and having enjoyed in the last one in true Vietnamese style, our team has a couple of weeks left and we are all excited to provide K-biz with the best New Year’s gift through our consulting service.
By Nikhil Agarwal ‘10, MBA in Global Management
Over the last week, we have been greeted with streets full of yellow flowers, yellow watermelons, fermented rice cakes and millions of small light bulbs arranged in various shapes and sizes decorating the streets as if it were literally laying out the red carpet for the Year of the Tiger (according to the Lunar Calendar). Popularly called Tết, short for Tết Nguyên Đán, it is the most important holiday in Vietnam and we are lucky to be here to experience the preparation and celebration of the New Year.
This holds great significance for everyone as most of the older and some of the younger people in the country do not know the exact date of their birthday. Thus, they advance their age by one year on eve of every Lunar New Year, effectively making Lunar New Year literally a celebration of a lot of birthdays. The kids have additional incentive to look forward to the holiday as they all receive ‘lucky money’ from their elders wishing them a new year. I received two of them yesterday (hey can’t say no to free money, right?). This tradition is very similar to parts of Indian culture.
Preparation for the Tết: The kitchen god is offered a farewell and thank you a week before Tết for his mission to heaven. To ward off evil spirits while the kitchen god is out on his mission, people put in their homes a bamboo pole stripped of its leaves, except for a tuft on top. After the farewell of the kitchen god, the people start their preparations for the new year. This includes cleaning, scrubbing, and observing last days of office and school, both of which include parties with co-workers and families. We also observed mad rush for shopping as Tết approached, very similar to Christmas shopping in the US. We observed many shops closing down before Lunar New Year’s Eve putting signs out telling customers when they would re-open.
New Year’s Eve: Traditionally the people are awaiting midnight and are whispering fervent prayers to thank god for the last year and asking blessing for the next year. This is also a time families invite their ancestors to spend some time with their family. The head of the family lights incense with hands folded and invites the ancestors to come join the family.
In modern times, people are seen socializing with friends and family over dinner and cities have fireworks at midnight. We walked to the beach to see the fireworks and thousands of people on motorbikes going towards the beach for the same purpose greeted us. People were buying fresh shoots of sugarcane from the street on their way back. My guess is that it is a sign of good luck and prosperity as it had new leaves and it signifies a new beginning.
First day of New Year: The first day is typically reserved for visiting people in the immediate family who are older then you. The younger people get lucky money in red envelopes and the elders give words of advice (almost comparable to the New Year resolutions we make). On the altar of the house, an offering is made to the ancestors who are amongst them now. This is no less than a feast and includes food, liquor, betel leaves and even cigarettes. After the ceremony the family enjoys traditional food.
Second and Third Day: The social visits become broader on the second and third day. Second day would be for wife’s close family and friends while the third day is usually for the community outside including teachers, bosses and even high school and college reunions etc. The family then wishes the ancestors good bye by burning money, paper gifts and gold for their journey to heaven.
Food is an integral part of the celebration and includes different and unique items like fermented sticky rice pancakes with meat filling, roasted watermelon seeds, pickled onion and cabbage, and dried and candied fruits which include potato, coconut, ginger, bitter melon etc. Nha Trang has the distinction of holding the world record for the longest Tet Cake, which measures 35 metres in length.
It was great for our clients to give us a whole package of these traditional treats for the Lunar New Year.
We have been invited by the coordinators to go to the countryside and experience how the Lunar New Year is really celebrated. We are excited and looking forward to our visit!
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By Nikhil Agarwal ‘10, MBA in Global Management
Over the last couple of days we have been interacting with Ms. Hang Thi Huynh CEO and co-founder, and Selene Alcock of K-biz Consulting based out of Nha Trang in Khanh Hoa province located in South East Vietnam. We have had couple meetings with them at beach café’s (Yes! According to Ms. Hang they are better place for brainstorming! We agree) to understand their current situation, finalization of the work plan, and making sure we are meeting each others expectations for this consulting engagement.
Today was different though. We had the first business meeting in my life involving a translator. Mr Minh Quang Le, one of the co-founders and chief financial consultant for K-biz consulting, spent some time talking about the current situation at K-biz. The meeting involved Ms. Hang who acted as a translator for the team. Trying to gain knowledge from colleagues about business meetings with translators helped me make the most out of the meeting without crossing any cultural or business boundaries.
Meetings involving a translator can be quite a frustrating experience for a lot of people. My observations about preparing for a meeting involving a translator:
1. Always maintain eye contact with the person speaking to you. It is difficult as you do not understand what they are trying to say, but looking at them helps the speaker subconsciously feel that you are paying attention and are 100% committed to the conversation.
2. Smiling, nodding and copying the facial expression of the speaker also makes him/her think that you are keeping up with the conversation and would enable a smoother flow of information.
3. While listening to the translation from the translator, try to swap looks between the translator and the speaker and do not hesitate to nod or smile at the speaker in between if you agree with something he/she said. This ensures sustained interest of both the speaker and the translator.
4. Try to look at the speaker even though you are talking to the translator while addressing a question. This along with a little bit of hand motions or animation helps the speaker to get some clues about the question, sustains his interest, and also signals to him that you are giving your 100%.
5. On occasion, the translator will start answering the question themselves, forgetting to translate the question to the speaker. The easiest, and most polite way to deal with this is to take the name of the speaker in the next question, and frame the question as “ We want to know what Mr. XYZ thinks about this ?”
6. Using common words in languages, such as English, that the speaker understand and saying those words while looking directly at the audience helps to make a connection. Also using the audience’s name on multiple occasions strengthens that connection.
7. Overall, keeping a positive outlook towards the meeting, patience, a smiling face, and courteous mannerism goes a long way.
We dive into more interviews tomorrow with K-biz clients and prospective clients which include both English and non-English speakers. Hopefully we can make the best out these meetings to enable our discovery process.
After four flights and 30 hours of travel, we’re here! The team met in Ho Chi Minh City on Wednesday before the final leg of the journey to Nha Trang. We were greeted at the airport by Hang Huynh, co-founder and CEO of K-Biz, along with two of her colleagues. Hang and her team arranged for our transport to our hotel and new home for the next six weeks, and graciously gave us 24 hours to get settled in and caught up on rest before our scheduled meet and greet with her team.
The next day at the K-Biz office Hang introduced us to several associates of K-Biz. Later we would learn that most of the people we met were not actually employed by K-Biz, but rather former colleagues of Hang’s who work in the tourism industry in Nha Trang and aspire to be independent consultants.
Notably, we met Selene Alcock, Hang’s trusted advisor and colleague. Selene specializes in media services and consulting, and recently helped launched the redesigned K-Biz website (http://www.kbiz.com.vn/). Selene hails from Australia, but has lived in Nha Trang for the past four years. She has worked with Hang since the inception of K-Biz, and will be a valuable resource for us in understanding the organization, it’s challenges, as well as the local business environment. Unfortunately, Selene’s commitments as a documentarian will require that she spends a few weeks in Australia while the Thunderbird Team is in Nha Trang.
After the introductions, we briefly revisited our expectations for the engagement. We quickly gleaned that K-Biz is very entrepreneurial and opportunistic. Hang handles the majority of the business plan writing and consulting. Her administrative staff take care of business license applications. The majority of the consulting that she offers is outsourced to one of many experts that Hang has in her professional network. This model provides K-Biz with flexibility to quickly scale itself when work presents itself, but also allows the business to avoid the costs of employing full-time consultants.
Speaking of flexibility, we quickly realized upon arriving to K-Biz that we would not have enough room to work at the office. Hang indicated that she often meets with her colleagues or clients at local cafes, and urged us to do the same. Thankfully, our hotel (and many other beach-side cafes) has a roof-top lounge with WiFi and a restaurant.
Another point of flexibility revolves around the presence of translators. Prior to the start of the engagement we had an understanding that we would be provided translators, as only one of us speaks any Vietnamese (Ben received an Advanced – High on the OPI). Given that the majority of our interactions will be with Hang (who speaks English) and Selene, we should have no communications problems without translators.
Towards the end of the formal meeting, Hang discussed one of the largest hurdles for her business. Consulting, especially smaller economies such as Nha Trang, is not considered a legitimate service. Hang indicated that because her consulting services do not offer tangible goods, potential clients are highly skeptical of the value that K-Biz can offer. As a result, the majority of K-Biz’s clients are those with whom Hang has established credibility: family, friends, and former colleagues. All of K-Biz clients are acquired through word-of-mouth efforts – there is no formal marketing budget.
We finished off the evening with a dinner hosted by K-Biz at a seaside restaurant, chatting with her associates and enjoying some authentic Vietnamese fare.
On Friday we met with Hang and Selene at a beach-side cafe for a meeting to revisit the project work plan. Despite the fact that we had created and agreed upon a work plan prior to our arrival in Nha Trang, this discussion provided some additional objectives for our consulting team to consider. We have committed to internally determining the projected time required to deliver these new objectives, as well as their value relative to other objectives. Our follow-up conversation on Monday afternoon will reveal which areas Hang would like us to focus upon for our remaining five weeks.
Thus far, we have had very positive interactions with Hang and Selene. Our meeting on Friday really helped them understand the value that this team can bring to K-Biz. In an email, Hang indicated that she was thrilled with the methodologies that we are employing to structure the project. So far, so good.