How Tan Hiep Phat made fortune and turned down Coca Cola's $2.5 billion buyout offer

By Minh Thu - May 06, 2019 | 09:00 AM GMT+7

TheLEADERAppearing staggeringly in the bold and powerful red outfit as usual at Vietnam Private Sector Economic Forum held last week, Tan Hiep Phat Group deputy CEO Tran Uyen Phuong shed light on her refusal to be a billionaire yet undertaking a grander task to help enhance the international stature of Vietnamese entrepreneurs.

No favour for family members

As the eldest daughter of the founder of Vietnam’s second largest beverage firm, it was well anticipated for Tran Uyen Phuong to return home to work for her family business after graduating in Singapore. She started off as a secretary to the director of the company.

For Phuong at the time, this was a rather struggling decision. The initial agreement between Phuong and her father, Tran Qui Thanh, who is founder of Tan Hiep Phat Group, was all about negotiating a salary. “I told my father that if I didn’t know an exact pay, I wouldn’t know what my responsibilities would be.”

Despite being her father’s beloved daughter, Phuong noted that there is absolutely no favour for family members at Tan Hiep Phat. Not many people would know that she had gone through a lot of talking, discussing and even debating in tears with her farther, who is also her boss, to reach a consensus.

Working at Tan Hiep Phat is indeed a progress of striving from the bottom to the top of the ladder, and it even includes doing tasks without getting a pay rise. She has gone through almost every position, from marketing to sales or being interpreter for the company’s experts to explore Ho Chi Minh City.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s day or night, I’m willing to do every task as long as it gives me the opportunity to learn”, she shared.

After six months of tough work, Phuong was appointed to be a project director, then gradually moving up the hierarchy to take up various senior positions prior to officially becoming the deputy CEO of Tan Hiep Phat at present.

“As a woman, I’ve put a lot of effort into proving myself in a manufacturing enterprise and also overcoming the prejudice of being a daughter of the boss”, Phuong said.

Phuong is now rather proud to gain trust of employees and colleagues in her own ability and dedication.

According to Phuong, many young women are afraid of and often doubting on their capability to succeed in a society that is largely governed by men.

“I always say to my employees, particularly the female ones, that if you don’t dare to dream, how can you manage to fulfill it, and you should think of the day you could become a director or the CEO of this company and then nurture that dream,” she said.

Phuong has upheld the pride of being a woman, who can wear stunning outfits and shine among a bundle of men at the same time.

“We don’t need to be like men. We’re like water, being flexible and gentle enough in our own right, but still being decisive, powerful and persistent when needed. These are the crucial traits that lead to success, and definitely nothing to do with the gender”, Phuong emphasised.

“Nothing is impossible if we dare to go the extra mile and do not give up,” she added.

How Vietnamese drinks company turned down Coca Cola's $2.5 billion buyout offer and made its own fortune
Phuong has launched her own book "Competing with Giants".

The tale of Phuong has in fact illustrated how things at Tan Hiep Phat can be turned from impossible to possible.

Competing with the giants

Some 25 years ago, after establishing Tan Hiep Phat, Tran Qui Thanh, a mechanical engineer at the time, decided to buy and restore Saigon Beer’s waste production system to utilise its technical frame. Nobody did then believe he could operate such machine.

Nevertheless, after two years of hard work to restore the machine with all creativity and zeal, the system was alive and could actually reach 80 per cent of its design capacity. This helped Tan Hiep Phat to venture into the beer and soft drink segments with the lowest initial costs.

A series of products, including the No.1 Energy drink, Zero Degree Green tea and Dr. Thanh Herbal tea, has helped Tan Hiep Phat become the country's second largest non-alcoholic beverage producer, overtaking giants such as Coca Cola or Pepsi.

“By scrutinising the failures of domestic enterprises in the beverage field, we knew that in order to succeed, Tan Hiep Phat must rise in line with the global leading firms, in terms of all quality, technology, production and even marketing, which once seemed to be something impossible for Vietnamese businesses”, Phuong recalled of the old days.

As a result, Phuong urged for modernisation and corporate governance to be incorporated at Tan Hiep Phat.

In 1997, Tan Hiep Phat drastically switched from the non-systematic management to internationally recognised ISO system.

Not long after venturing into the field of non-alcoholic beverage production, Tan Hiep Phat conducted researches on the corporate governance model, employing computerisation and then becoming the very first Vietnamese enterprise in the fast moving consumer goods industry in Vietnam to deploy ERP application to generally manage the enterprise resources, in a bid to keep up with the development of multinational companies.

Such system has even received the compliment from the CEO of Carlsberg in the UK, who commented that Tan Hiep Phat had in fact moved on from riding a bicycle to maneuvering a rocket when it risked itself to implement the ERP system.

Tan Hiep Phat has invested heavily in up-to-date technologies and research and development to launch appropriate products that suit local tastes. Its has also contracted eminent marketing and communication consultants like Saatchi & Saatchi and Dentsu.

Throughout her speech at the Vietnam Private Sector Economic Forum held on May 2 at the National Convention Centre in Hanoi, Phuong fervently repeated her motto of “dare to dream, dare to make the impossible possible.”

And indeed it is the very spirit and aspiration that Tan Hiep Phat family decided to turn down a $2.5 billion buyout offer from Coca Cola in 2012, to keep on its mission to strengthen a local brand.

“I want to introduce a new Vietnam” were Phuong’s very words when she eagerly talked about her own mission as the next Vietnamese entrepreneur generation, in promoting the country to the world.