The 2018 Weekend MBA cohort were lucky enough to venture to Cambodia and Vietnam for our Global Experience Week. After holidaying in Bali and Bangkok, 75 of us collided in the reception of the Sofitel in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, eager to learn about doing business the Southeast Asian way.
"Nothing is easy, but everything is possible. If there’s a problem there’s a solution; if there’s no solution, there’s no problem."
Two days in Cambodia
The first person we met was Arnaud Darc from EuroCham. He painted an extraordinary picture of Cambodia in the 90s, with no street lights, no electricity, and a suspiciously silent city. He described a country that had ‘lost its memory’ after being ravaged by years of civil war and genocide. But he also described a country with a raw spirit, a sense of belief, and with a progressive, entrepreneurial culture, an abundance of opportunity, and a 7% GDP growth rate.
With no ecommerce, no Google Maps, and no consumer law, doing business in Cambodia has enormous challenges. Innovation is required to overcome things taken for granted in the West.
In Cambodia we also learnt how to run a social enterprise like a business through the inspirational story of Benoit Duchateau-Arminja and the Krouser Thmey Cambodge. The ‘humanitarian with no humanity’ showed us that managing a charity like a business can drive change much more effectively.
Three days in Vietnam
After two days in Cambodia it was time to leave for Vietnam, to visit a country that is evolving from economic reliance on agriculture and becoming renowned for its manufacturing and technology.
We spent a morning working through a case study on fashion manufacturing company Esquel with our Course Director Paolo Taticchi, before visiting the Esquel factory in real life, touring the floor where thousands of busy women sewed logos onto our favourite brands
What we saw felt hugely progressive and refreshing: a factory with sustainability at the heart of their strategy. Esquel is committed to improving the quality of lives for employees through a simple motto: making employees succeed to make the company succeed. It was compelling to see the company’s core metrics in their corporate presentations: driving down employees’ overtime and driving up employees’ salaries.
Throughout our time in Vietnam we met local investors and entrepreneurs, who put growth down to unique Vietnamese quirks. Firstly, credit is unacceptable to many, meaning day-to-day spending and consumption is higher.
Secondly, the spirit of local entrepreneurs means they are not afraid to take risks, fail and learn. They just try stuff. This attitude reminded one speaker of the Japanese who paint the cracks on broken vases with gold paint, and proudly display the improved product.
Finally, we were given a warning. If you want to do business in Vietnam, don’t expect your private life to stay private. Your Vietnamese employees will know what you’re favourite restaurant is, what you did at the weekend, and who you’re dating.
A week with friends
While most of us would say our hope for the trip was to learn about and be inspired by businesses in a context that is at odds with our normal worlds, the real value was derived out of the office.
The conversations and debates that we had on the bus journey on the way to the meetings, and in the bar after the meetings had finished, were where we learnt the most.
This is where new products were conceived, new businesses were started, and future commitments to each other as friends were made.
This year’s Global Experience Week’s biggest success was the bonding of a group of 75 people, who will undoubtedly spend many more hours together in business, buses, and, of course, bars.
A big shout out, once again, to the amazing Naz for making everything happen.
If you’d like to hear more about the great Cambodia charity we met, you can hear their story here.