By Michael Tatarski

In March of this year, an event hosted by the Business Executive Network brought together dozens of members for a panel discussion with three prominent CEOs.

The discussion on how CEOcs can improve organisational performance in Vietnam saw Gary Malcolm, Managing Partner at Lee Hecht Harrison; Marco Civardi, Area Managing Director for Maersk; and Warrick Cleine, Chairman and CEO of KPMG Vietnam share their views to attendees at Le Meridien Hotel.

Questions for the panellists covered a range of topics, drawing on the broad expertise and experience of Malcolm, Civardi and Cleine. One guest, for example, asked how to address unscrupulous competitors offering quotes for projects that he couldn’t match while still doing good work.

“Foreign companies sometimes say that they can’t do what local ones do,” Cleine replied. “Ultimately though, doing what is right pays off, not cutting corners. It feels painful at first when someone is eating your lunch, but there’s no shortcut there.”

A conversation on how to get employees and executives to ‘unlearn’ bad habits followed, with input from all three panellists.

“Being here in Vietnam in and of itself forced me to unlearn everything and embrace the new,” Civardi said. “You can work with someone who isn’t performing but is open to new ideas; the real problem is having someone who doesn’t perform and doesn’t have an open mind.”

Cleine added: “You need to build agility into your recruitment process so you hire people who aren’t too fixed. Workforces are excellent at passive resistance, so find people with agility and move them into the right positions.”

“People who say they are open-minded but aren’t are very dangerous,” Malcolm concluded.

Another prominent topic was the challenge of finding a good head of HR and building a strong HR department in Vietnam.

“We know that people here can be immensely talented and good at learning, so if you bring someone from the compliance side into HR, there’s no better way to get them up to speed than to bring them into strategic meetings and to the C-Suite table,” Cleine advised.

Malcolm noted that it is important to give employees in HR and across a company exposure to regional and global settings to broaden their mindset and allow them to see settings where human resources are more developed.

When it comes to CEOs themselves, Cleine said that executives must understand the local culture of the country they are based in, and then use that to their advantage once they do.

The session closed with the panellists asking the audience questions of their own, and also providing closing thoughts on what executives can do to ensure top performance.

“If someone makes it to the executive level at a big MNC, you need to keep the empty stomach,” Civardi said. “Don’t shift gears down; maintain your ambition.”

“Understand how external forces will impact business in the short, medium and long term,” Cleine added. “We can control a lot, but there’s a lot that we can’t – what will you do to respond to that?”

Malcolm, meanwhile, who also does executive coaching in Vietnam, stressed the importance of communicating a company’s vision and mission statement throughout all levels: “These often don’t make it down through the organisation, so there is a disconnect between what the executives say and what their employees do.” [C]

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