Seasoned leaders Ai Hien Nguyen from Cosmo Laundry, Paul Bardeleben from Paul is Sales, David Archibald from Al Naboodah Group, and Cong Ong from PERSOLKELLY offer valuable insights on how to scale your business in Vietnam. Learn how clear internal processes, strategic culture, and leadership are just a few of the key components towards success.

Scaling a business in Vietnam presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities, driven by the country’s dynamic growth and distinct market conditions. In this article, we gather insights from experienced business leaders who have successfully expanded their operations in this vibrant landscape.

The panel — Ai Hien Nguyen, former General Director of Cosmo Laundry/ Linen Supply Services; Paul Bardeleben, Founder of Paul Is Sales; David Archibald, General Director at Al Naboodah Group Vietnam; and Cong Ong, Head of Regional Business Group at PERSOLKELLY – underscored the importance of clear internal processes, a robust scaling culture, and strategic leadership in navigating the complexities of growth.

Ai Hien Nguyen shared the compelling story of scaling her laundry business, emphasizing the necessity for clear processes and steadfast focus. Starting with a modest capital and a small team in 2008, she expanded to four factories serving 70 cities, becoming one of Vietnam’s top companies in her sector.

“It started in 2008 with about $220, 000. Fast forward, 14 years later, we were one of the top companies in Vietnam,” Ai Hien recounted.

The journey was marked by phases of steady organic growth, strategic pivoting during her partner’s departure, and resilient hustling amid the challenges of COVID-19. Ai Hien highlighted the crucial transition period, “The second period is when my then operation partner left Vietnam fortheUS,soIleftmyjobandranitfull time… I did it out of necessity to protect our market share.” Her adaptability and commitment were further tested during the pandemic, as she aimed to protect her staff and keep the business afloat while seeking a strategic investor.

Ai Hien attributed her success to maintaining clear internal processes, focusing solely on the laundry business, and leveraging her humble background and quality education. She emphasized the importance of operational clarity, “By having standard operating procedures, clear reporting lines, job descriptions, financial reporting systems…that’s how I did it. That’s why this is what I achieved.” Ai Hien’s journey, marked by growth, resilience, and strategic acumen, serves as an inspiring example for entrepreneurs aiming to scale their businesses.

Paul Bardeleben shed light on his unique journey and strategies in leadership, culture building, and business scaling.

Starting as the youngest CEO in BP World at Namanos at the age of 28, Paul faced immediate challenges, including dealing with government-based joint venture partners and a pressing need to drive the company’s growth. “My directive was clear: double the business every six months or face closure,” he recalled, highlighting the urgency of his mission. This period marked his first realization of the substantial profits left on the table, and his high-energy approach pushed for rapid advancement.

Paul delineated the crucial difference between growth and scaling, specifically the importance of maximizing business with fewer resources. “Scaling, for me, means doubling the business yearly while utilizing fewer resources and money,” he explained. He underlined the role of company culture in this process, pointing out that a conducive culture is like a thermometer, indicating the business’s readiness to scale. He stressed customer-centricity and the involvement of key leaders in customer interactions as pivotal elements. On personal branding and leadership dynamics, Paul advised, “As a CEO, establishing a strong personal brand and mission statement is non- negotiable,” and highlighted the delicate balance needed in supporting, not overshadowing, the sales team.

Cong Ong

Cong Ong, Head of Regional Business at Persol Kelly, believes in using the “six P’s” for successful business scaling: Product, Plan, People, Processes, Performance, and Progress.

Paul encapsulates the essence of scaling, touching on resistance, financial backing, and the power of slogans and emotional connection to engage employees and align them with the company’s vision. “When the time came to aim higher, I introduced the slogan ‘Let’s go to the moon,’ creating an emotional connection with the company’s vision,” he shared, demonstrating the lasting impact of such strategies on corporate culture and the scaling journey.

“A business must be capable of operating smoothly in your absence if it is to scale successfully,” David Archibald explains, drawing parallels between the charisma-driven success of a restaurant and the consistent quality of global brands like Starbucks. Achieving consistency across locations is a challenge, met through strict accountability and meticulous process monitoring.

David Archibald

David Archibald underscored the significance of experienced staff, established processes, and talent cultivation within an organization.

Acknowledging the varying definitions of scaling across different contexts, Archibald highlights the need for alignment across several key factors. “For me personally, scaling might mean opening a new dealership on the other side of town,” he shares, showcasing that scaling is a tailored journey unique to each business. In his view, having a team with domain-specific knowledge surpassing your own is paramount. “Finding the right people to take charge of specific functions is vital, as it allows you to focus your attention on other crucial aspects of the business.”

Archibald is a staunch advocate for the business’s self-sufficiency, stating that robust processes are the backbone of successful scaling.

Faced with the challenge of finding the right people to facilitate scaling, especially in Vietnam, Archibald takes a unique approach, focusing on internal talent growth and mentorship. “I believe in growing talent internally, carefully selecting individuals to invest time and mentor,” he shares, adding that his ability to judge character and potential has been honed over time. Viewing himself as a teacher, he emphasizes the importance of instilling essential skills such as sales processes and customer engagement within his team.

Cong Ong, a renowned business leader in Vietnam, shares his extensive expertise on successful business scaling through the ‘5 Ps’: Product, Plan, People, Processes, and Performance. Emphasizing the significance of selecting a product with broad market demand, he illustrates this with examples from his food business, highlighting the necessity of staples that guarantee volume. He underlines the importance of starting with a clear plan, assembling the right team for execution, and establishing cohesive processes to ensure alignment as the business grows.

Adding a sixth P, Progress, Ong stresses the importance of continual monitoring and adjustment, acknowledging that challenges and missteps are part of the scaling journey.
Scaling a business requires a multifaceted approach, combining strategic thinking, strong leadership, and a deep understanding of the market.

Whether it’s through fostering cus- tomer-centric values, nurturing internal talent, or diligently monitoring progress with precise KPIs, these invaluable insights serve as a guiding light for emerging entrepreneurs and established business leaders alike.

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