Expatriates In Love With Vietnam

When you talk to expats who have lived in Vietnam for a long time, they often say it started with a short visit. What is it that makes people fall in love with this country and set up their lives and businesses here?
Paul Stoll started his story about his love for Vietnam by saying that being here seems to be his destiny. In 1988, he was involved in the New World Hotel Saigon development albeit in a corporate position from Hong Kong. “Vietnam then came to me again in 1992 with the Furama Resort Danang, and finally in 1996, I couldn’t resist its call and I decided to stay here,” he says. “I was intrigued by all the work which has to be done and I faced it supporting the creation of central Vietnam.”
The reputation of the bald-headed Briton gradually grew in Danang City and the central region. He became more famous when he suggested the idea to establish the current World Heritage Road in Vietnam’s central region.
In testament to his love of Vietnam and his ambition to develop the hospitality industry here, after leaving the resort in 2005, Stoll and partners opened Celadon International, a real estate development and management company.
Destiny with Vietnam
Paul Stoll is just one of many foreign business people who have decided to stay here long term and make it their second home. Whether by chance or by act of will, these foreigners say they love the country despite the challenges of adapting to a different culture and a few of the people’s annoying quirks.
Claude-M Balland is another foreign citizen in the central region. The French national was sent to Vietnam in April 1996 to work for a Thai company in Hanoi after completing terms in China and Tibet.
“While I had lived in many countries, I felt happy to work in Vietnam because my company created a good working environment and Vietnam was at that time a new country with big potential in tourism and hotel business development.” He then worked for his employer, Victoria Hotels and Resorts, by managing its facility in Hoi An Town, Quang Nam Province. Balland, who is a vintage car collector, is still with this company.
Another well-known foreigner in the hospitality industry in Vienam is Stephen O’Grady, who has got the Ho Chi Minh medal for service to the hospitality industry. “I recall the morning in Bangkok, when my boss asked if I would visit Vietnam and consider managing the Caravelle Hotel. I refused the week-end visit and agreed on a one-way ticket. That was early 2000 and I’ve never looked back,” he recalls.
In 1995, Eckart Dutz, who worked at a logistics department at a university in Germany, was offered a ticket to anywhere for some work he did for Lufthansa. He had no where particular in mind so after collecting some information he decided on Vietnam.
“I found the country interesting and wanted to come back,” he says. In March 1996, he came back to work, teaching at some universities. Soon after he started working for Unilever Vietnam, a job that took him to the Netherlands, Thailand and Germany. Then, after leaving Unilever, he decided to come back here to do business. In 2006, he opened Cartridge World in HCM City. “At first I only saw optimism,” he says. “The second time, there were still a lot of optimism but with many things developing.”
Dynamic working environment
American Jonah Levey says that he moved from New York City to HCM City in mid-2002 to live and work after he fell in love with Vietnam on a vacation in late 2001. “I love the energy, business opportunities and vast potential,” he says. “The food is delicious, which helps. And my wife is Vietnamese. But the biggest thing keeping me and my family here is my work. I am the chairman and founder of Navigos Search and VietnamWorks.com.”
Meanwhile, Levey’s colleague, Chris Harvey, who has lived here for six years, says that he focuses on making VietnamWorks and Navigos Search the most challenging, most rewarding and most fun place to work in the country. “In my personal life I’ll continue to take advantage of the vibrant life in Saigon such as Swing and Salsa dance. I’ve just turned 40 this year, so it’s time to begin taking action to start a family. And yes – I’ll probably marry a Vietnamese woman.”
This May also marks the twelfth year Julien Brun has lived in Vietnam. “Initially, I planned to stay one or two years,” Brun, CEO of CEL Consulting Co., says. “But then I found Vietnam to be very exciting. So I and some Vietnamese partners opened a supply chain consulting company. At first it was very difficult. After a year, life became more comfortable and the business developed.”
Dutz also stays because of the dynamic business atmosphere. “I have a good business here. I am also teaching supply chain subjects,” he says. Claude-M Balland wants to open more hotels with his company, and be recognized as a professional hotel manager and team leader. Paul Stoll has won the confidence of the Government that expects him to contribute to economic development here. “Celadon International is a success story which I have just started to tell,” Stoll adds.
After many years working for Caravelle Hotel, Stephen O’Grady has joined the hospitality department of VinaCapital to manage several hotels in Vietnam. “I shall be able to continue in the future as I do today,” he adds. “Striving for excellence, sharing knowledge and enjoying the time with my colleagues and friends and hopefully finding time to learn Vietnamese are what I want.”
Friendly, hard-working people
Another thing that keeps the long termers here is the friendly, hard-working Vietnamese people they work with who inspire them to improve their businesses.
“What I always enjoy in Vietnam is that when you work with people who are eager to improve in work, you can create something,” Dutz says. “Vietnamese people are very enthusiastic.”
Paul Stoll has been working with his team of specialists for more than 10 years. He thinks of them as part of his family.
Chris Harvey says: “I especially like working with the Vietnamese people. They are friendly, hard-working, optimistic and very hungry to learn international business standards.”
While enthusiasm and hard work is important, all the foreigners see HR training as the key to the country, making the next leap forward.
Jonah Levey says Vietnam should move away from rote education. Students should be taught to think critically and analyze rigorously. And importantly, real world examples, workshops and internships should be adopted as part of university-level curriculum before graduation. With such changes, Vietnamese students will be better prepared for the standards expected and required in a world-class workplace.
“Being part of a society you become concerned about its values,” Paul Stoll says. “Via Celadon International, we provide employment and develop people to become great members of society.” Some of his family members are also actively involved in working on social issues especially relating to gender equality, domestic violence, child protection and education, and charity. The approach is wide and inter-active making young people understand that respect is the key to a better, happier life.
Chris Harvey says developing Vietnamese businesses will bring great benefits to the Vietnamese people. The easier it is to start a business, the clearer regulations are and the more equal the opportunities are under the law, the more people will start businesses and invest in Vietnam and the more Vietnam will develop.
Meanwhile, Claude-M Balland finishes by saying how concerned he is about the level of environmental awareness in Vietnam. The country is growing rapidly at huge environmental cost. If nature here is not protected, he says, the country’s image will be damaged.

©2019 by CEL Consulting.