Category Archives: Winter Term 2013 – Vietnam and Singapore

Winter Term 2013: Singapore/Vietnam – January 18, 2013

Friday was the final day of our business visits. It came with both bitter and sweet feelings as we made our way to see UPS (United Parcel Service) in Singapore. We knew that we would soon be traveling home to see our families but we also knew that it meant parting from the group that had learned and grown together as friends and colleagues during the days spent abroad.

Our visit to UPS consisted of an in-depth exploration into how shipments are transported around the world. We were able to experience how a sorting facility receives, sorts, and transports packages that arrive at the facility. Following the visit to the sorting and holding facility, we made our way into a conference room where a UPS representative went over the strategies that have helped UPS become a global leader. We all have an entirely new view of, “what brown can do for you.”

I believe I speak for everyone when I say that the trip was a tremendous experience that we will never forget. I urge anyone who can take advantage of this opportunity to do so. Upon reflecting on my previous viewpoints regarding international business opportunities, I am highly disappointed in how closed minded I was before this trip. Even with my sister being an ex-pat in Hong Kong, I had no intentions of considering becoming an ex-pat myself. Going forward I will not only be open to this possibility, but I will be keeping a look out for opportunities to work in one of these countries.

Over the course of the trip we were able to learn about two business cultures that are relatively polar opposites. However, the major takeaway for me was the embracing of entrepreneurship in both Singapore and Vietnam. For example, the government of Singapore will do whatever it can to facilitate the the launching of new business ventures if they feel that the business will have a positive impact on Singapore’s economy. This method is sometimes seen in the United States but the reach is far less broad and is usually tied into ecological or political efforts. Vietnam is actually on the other end of the scale when it comes to providing government assistance to new ventures. However, it is a common theme that members of this culture work their entire lives for hopes of one day opening up their own store in front of their house. This was often referred to as their “retirement plan.”

My only disappointment is that I will not be able to take the International Business class again. I would like to thank each member of the faculty and administration at Elon University who had a part in making this trip an unforgettable experience for all of us.

Written by: John Watlington

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Winter Term 2013: Singapore/Vietnam – January 19, 2013

Our day in Singapore started right after we landed in Chaingi International airport. The group, led by a local guide headed to the sky flyer place to make a tour and enjoy the ride. The group later enjoyed the river tour on Ferrari in Clark Quay water.

The second day consisted of different visits:

  1. Singapore International Arbitration Center (SIAC) a business facilitating litigations issues between companies.
  2. American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham), a chamber of commerce managed by an American expat.
  3. CSE Global, a technology company involved in automation and represented in America, Europe, Asia, Australia.
  4. A lecture from Professor White from Singapore Management University.

The visit to UPS hub dominated all activities on Friday. The group had the opportunity to tour 3 facilities and listen to a presentation of UPS operations in East Asia and more specifically in Singapore.

Written by: Mayedana Saguintaah

Winter Term 2013: Singapore/Vietnam – January 16, 2013

After a lovely time in Vietnam. The JDs and MBAs trekked across Southeast Asia to the city-state of Singapore. For everything Vietnam lacks in aspects of a first world country, Singapore more than makes up for. It is a skyline filled with modern skyscrapers, malls filled with high-end stores, and streets so clean you could eat off of them. The best way I can describe Singapore is by referencing the classic PC game, Sim City. Singapore is the city you end up with in Sim City after you spend hours upon hours carefully crafting your city. All the zones are all either heavy commercial and heavy residential, your Sims are happy, all aspects of the budget are fully funded, crime is nonexistent, and every available piece of land is developed. Essentially, it is a perfectly planned modern city.
Now, onto the events of the day. We began our morning with a visit to the Maxwell Chambers. This is a facility solely designed for the use of the growing arbitration service sector in Singapore. Arbitration providers such as The Singapore International Arbitration Centre and The American Arbitration Association use their facilities for their arbitration cases. It is a wonderfully designed facility with every convenience possible.
Next, we went over to the American Chamber of Commerce who was kind enough to let us use their facility for some presentations. First, was a professor at Singapore Management University who gave us a presentation on Islamic finance. It was fascinating to learn about how companies are able to create financial products and services that are in line with the teachings of the Islamic faith. That presentation was followed up with another presentation by the CFO of CSE Global. CSE is in many industries like healthcare, energy and mining. The CFO gave us an overview of the company and how they grow through acquiring other, smaller companies. This is a Singapore founded and based company. So it was interesting learning how they were founded with help from the government and able to grow. Lastly, a couple of the directors from the ACC gave a presentation on their work with American and Singaporean companies and how they work together.
To end the day, the students were given free time to explore the city on their own. Some went on a night safari given by a local zoo, while others explored Little India and tasted things like fish-head curry (it is exactly how it sounds).
Thank you for reading!
Written by: By Paul McDonald

Winter Term 2013: Singapore/Vietnam – January 16, 2013

Well, here goes nothing. Today is our first day of business tours and discussions. We are very fortunate to have contacts with two prominent companies close to Saigon. The first is Theodore Alexander, which manufactures high-end home furnishings. Their market is those consumers (worldwide) who view a pair of US $25,000 end tables to be a casual day of shopping. Their products are certainly in the luxury category. Our second visit is Sprinta Manufacturing. Sprinta is a cut and sew textile operation that has contracts with the likes of Adidas and North Face. We researched the company specifically within the context of intellectual property protections during their manufacturing of North Face products.

My first impression upon arrival at TA is that we just entered a militarized zone. There is a gate much like the one the RV crashes through multiple times in the movie Stripes. As it would happen, TA suffered a devastating fire only days before our scheduled arrival. The facility behind the aforementioned gate is actually the foundry (metalworking) as opposed to the main manufacturing facility. This facility is intact. Originally, we were scheduled to tour the main furniture factory that is located in a government sponsored export zone. This facility, as we later saw, is a burnt out shell of a five story manufacturing plant. TA’s leadership is very generous to even continue a conversation with us during this stressful time, much less take a day out of their schedules to tour us around.

The foundry is incredibly interesting from a business standpoint. TA is an extremely labor intensive company. Judging exclusively by the foundry, I can say that they have made no efforts to move toward reduced labor practices. TA is employing old world hand craftsmanship. The resulting products are remarkably beautiful. The business result is that TA’s very existence is dependent on (essentially) free labor. This point is only solidified by the company’s expressed belief that the only other two countries that could house TA are Myanmar and North Korea. Think about that for a second. When we asked the company’s leadership if they plan to leave Vietnam, they said no because the only substitutes would be Myanmar and North Korea. This is the level of reliance on cheap labor that keeps the company alive. TA was very gracious to host us in its facility, and it was incredibly educational. However, it left a palpable concern in the minds of many of the students as to why the company was leaving itself so vulnerable to the whims of country policy and a depressed Vietnamese economy. Worth noting is that Vietnam will not be depressed (by its current standard) in another couple of years. This place is growing at an incredible pace and is a wonderful destination. The growth is noticed and recognized by TA as well. TA makes constant changes to the pay of its workforce, and does so in a very generous manner to glean both goodwill and loyalty.

The day’s second visit is to a very modern industrial park. These parks are set up by the Vietnamese government to support industry and trade. It turns out that the TA main manufacturing facility (the remaining bits) is also in this park. The group did take a picture alongside the building and we wish them the best in their recovery. TA will certainly use this setback as a display of its resiliency.

Our second visit (Sprinta) is also in this same export zone. Sprinta’s facility is a very substantial two story manufacturing plant. On the first floor are the administrative offices, fabric lay out and pattern cutting, shipping, and receiving. The second floor, however, is where the action is. Frankly, this sight is shocking (in a good way). Upstairs are the sewing stations arranged in very organized grids. Each product begins with station one of its line, and progresses from there. Each line is maybe a dozen stations deep. Then we realized that there are probably a half dozen columns of these sewing lines. Overall, there are probably between three and five hundred sewing stations on the second floor of this factory; each one working at a feverish pace. It is positively amazing how much product is flowing through this building. Again, this is a very labor-intensive process. Textiles tend to be so, especially cut and sew of clothes.

The group discussed the intensity of the labor, and the worker conditions compared between the factories. Sprinta is a very comfortable atmosphere. I inquired why this is so from one of the managers at the plant. His honesty was really fun. The cooler temperatures are so the employees are not inclined to drink so much; employees who drink a lot of water to stay cool need to use the bathroom more. The cooler temperatures increase productivity. The airflow also serves an efficiency purpose, while having a very pleasant side effect. The airflow drives lint out of the building’s open windows. By pushing the lint out of the building the machines get less dirty and require less maintenance. The airflow, fortunately, also is comfortable to workers. Gotta love it.

The evening activities included a panel with many of our expatriate hosts and contacts. We are very fortunate to have guests from a wide range of industries from infrastructure to sandwiches. The panel was held on the rooftop bar of the famous Rex hotel in downtown Saigon. The panelists entertained questions about everything from nation building to dating. This group painted Vietnam in such a positive light, possibly drawing one or more of us to submit applications for positions here in Saigon.

Written by: Charles Gaylor

Winter Term 2013: Singapore/Vietnam – January 13, 2013

A day in the Mekong Delta

Today our MBA and law group escaped the hustle and bustle of Saigon and made our way through the countryside of Vietnam to the Mekong Delta. Quickly upon exiting the city, we realized we were not in Kansas anymore as the hotels, restaurants and shops were replaced by rice paddies and rural towns.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by our tour guide for the day, Mr. “Happy,” and began our journey down the Mekong River, known locally as the River of Nine Dragons. Along the river, we had the pleasure of stopping to learn how bricks were made, try coconut candy and coconut wine, also known as “happy water,” play with a six foot long python, learn about local fishing and lifestyles, watch sleeping mats be woven, and for some, being introduced to a new kind of “happy room” (restroom).  Obviously the trend here is that everything is happy – can’t beat that!

The afternoon continued with a deluxe lunch of elephant ear, a kind of fish, and about eight other dishes. This appears to be customary, as though they are in fear that we may waste away to nothing without generous helpings of soup, spring rolls, shrimp, chicken, beef, fish, tofu, rice, etc. (Not that anyone’s complaining!) From there the trek continued on small boats able to hold only about four people each to wind our way through the narrow canals of the Mekong River. This leg of the trip would not have been complete without a couple of old camp songs and a hearty round of “99 Bottles of Bababa on the Wall”. Bababa, 333, is a local beer.

With that our trip to the Mekong Delta concluded, but it is safe to say it left a lasting impression. Seeing the more remote areas of a third world country always reminds you of what you have to be thankful for, no matter how lovely your visit there was.

To round out the day, we returned to Saigon and everyone went their separate ways. For some this meant exploring the night market, one of the biggest counterfeit markets in the world while for others it meant a motorbike food tour around town or an endless quest in search of a karaoke bar that instead ended at the Emergency Room.  (No worries, it is just a bar.)

As we say farewell to another day in Vietnam, we look forward to tomorrow and the new experiences and learnings it will bring.

Written by: Julia Williams

Winter Term 2013: Singapore/Vietnam – January 11, 2013

The Journey to Asia Begins—Vietnam and Singapore (Day One)

A group of JD and MBA students, led by four faculty members from both the Elon graduate business and law school, embark on a 10-day visit to Vietnam and Singapore. The study-abroad trip is a component of an International Business course—a joint venture between the two professional programs—that utilizes the experiential learning approach in the education of the business, legal and cultural challenges facing two uniquely different countries in Asia.

The goal of the course is to provide students with the opportunity to work collaboratively across professional programs and to integrate their expertise in addressing the business and legal implications of conducting business in Vietnam and Singapore, guided by the expert facilitation of distinguished professors in this learning process. Field study involves research, daily personal interactions with locals, company visits, and cultural excursions to better understand the complexities that exist through the interplay of the cultural, legal and economic dynamics.

Over the next ten days the team will divide their time between the emerging country of Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam and the exemplary and well-established market of Singapore, “The Lion-City.” This field work will provide the basis for an interesting comparison and contrasting study of these intriguing economies to that of the U.S.

During our pre-trip January meeting, student groups presented their background research on business/legal topics and on the companies to be visited while abroad, in an effort to gain a greater awareness of the current state of various overseas corporations.

The team began their journey on January 10th with an early morning 8:45 am United Airlines departure out of the Raleigh-Durham International airport.

The second-leg of the trip was a connection through Newark International Airport with an approximately 5-hour layover, which provided a wonderful time of fellowship. The flight out of Newark was originally scheduled to depart at 3:35 pm, but due to a plane delay our actual departure was not until 5:20 pm that made our estimated time of arrival into Hong-Kong at 10:24 pm. This provided only a brief period to make our expected 11:00 pm connection into Vietnam.

Interestingly, our plane took a polar route across the North Pole and then coursed south into Hong Kong. We arrived in Hong Kong and were able to take the last flight of the day out at 12:30 am arriving in Ho Chi Minh City at 1:55 am on Friday, January 11. After collecting our bags we were greeted by our wonderful host “Queenie” who directed our pick-up and transportation by bus to our hotel location for much needed rest before days of work and exploration.

Travel to Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City) was fabulous and largely uneventful. Of course, there were the minor, yet joyous and inherent challenges of international travel—flight delays, fluctuations in plane cabin temperature, anxiety concerning the status of checked baggage, and time-change adjustments. We are all very grateful to have arrived safely on day-one of our venture. Frequent the MBA Blog and stay tuned over the course of the next week and a half as we make a fascinating trek through the culture and society of Vietnam and Singapore.

Written by: Daniel Newby

Winter Term 2012: Singapore/Vietnam – January 12, 2013

Ho Chi Minh City

The first 48 hours of our 10-day trip to Ho Chi Minh City, still affectionately referred to as Saigon by the locals, and Singapore have been eventful to say the least. En route to Southeast Asia we crossed the North Pole, the date line, and the equator. We arrived at the Duxton Hotel in Saigon this morning at 3:30 a.m. after spending nearly a day and a half in the air or running through airports.

After getting settled, we were finally able to relax a little after 5. That didn’t last long because we hit the ground running this morning at 9:30 with a walk to a park in the city for an early morning tai chi class. Needless to say, we thoroughly embarrassed ourselves by the general lack of coordination and flexibility of the group. Some of the pictures are priceless. It was a great way to start the trip.

After an authentic pho lunch, we boarded the bus with our guide, Queenie, to take a tour of downtown Saigon. We started at the Independence Palace that served as the location for the Vietnamese government during the war. (Side note: Vietnam is hot and humid. We’re in the Southern hemisphere, so it is summertime.) The visit to the palace was interesting. Queenie is an excellent guide and clearly demonstrates a lot of knowledge and pride for her country, but she also loves Americans – which is critical because our next stop was at the War Remnants Museum, a museum dedicated to depicting the atrocities committed by America during the Vietnam War.

This was an eye opening experience, from War Crimes to the graphic images of those that were either killed or are still suffering from the devastating effects of Agent Orange. Multiple generations later, there are still children born today that are affected with either physical or mental disabilities stemming from the chemical warfare. Overall, it was an extremely valuable experience, albeit depressing.

Tonight we are dividing into our discussion groups and going out to dinner at various restaurants. It will be fun to see the vibrant city at night… but it will also be nice to get some sleep.

The last thing I’m going to comment on are the hordes of mopeds roaming the streets, which are EVERYWHERE. A relatively small city in area, Saigon is home to more than 7 million people. At least 6 million must own a moped. There seem to be very few traffic laws governing the roving gangs of mopeds, but in the madness exists a strange sense of structure and order. You just need to be extra careful crossing the street.

Written by: Alex Worth