Heir to a Vietnamese beverage group, Tran Uyen Phuong shares how she took on the industry’s behemoths, her father included, and won.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Heir to a Vietnamese beverage group, Tran Uyen Phuong shares how she took on the industry’s behemoths, her father included, and won.

Six years ago, Tran Uyen Phuong and her father, Tran Qui Thanh, were sitting in a meeting room at CocaCola’s headquarters in Florida, eager to hear what the beverage giant would offer them. The two run THP (Tan Hiep Phat) Group, Vietnam’s leading beverage company, and its success had attracted global brands like Pepsi, the Philippines’ Universal Robina Corp and Japan’s Ito En, all of whom were hoping to form partnerships. CocaCola’s final offer? US$2.5 billion (S$3.4 billion). The Trans’ answer? Thanks, but no thanks.

“Our visions and goals were not aligned. We wouldn’t have been in control,” explains Phuong, deputy CEO of the family business. CocaCola didn’t want THP Group to expand outside of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, but the latter was already exporting to 16 countries, with plans to grow that number. It was a decision they didn’t regret and an experience she illustrates in detail in her upcoming book, Competing With Giants, published by Forbes Books this month.

It will be Phuong’s second, after the biography she wrote about her father, and it combines business advice, Vietnam’s socio-economic history, and personal experiences in a narrative she hopes will show others that size doesn’t matter when it comes to turning multinational. An example she cites is how THP Group was the first in Asia to use aseptic technology in its bottles in 2004, eliminating the need for preservatives. “It was only in the last three years that Suntory and Pepsi adopted it too, so there are other ways to win,” she says. “In my book, I share our successes, failures and winning formulas that start-ups, family businesses and even larger companies can use. It’s my opportunity to introduce a new Vietnam to the world.”

Phuong’s fearlessness in the face of global competitors may stem from the fact that she’s had plenty of practice. The first giant she met was her father. He is a multimillionaire, a rags-to-riches entrepreneur who became so successful that his company holds an annual concert for its 4,000 staff  that’s broadcast around the country. Phuong knew she would have to work hard to get out from under his shadow, and considers her first milestone to be her salary negotiation with him, when she started out as a secretary at the company. “I wanted to draw a clear line between us, and a fair wage would help him see me as an employee, while also reminding me to be responsible.”

Disagreements between father and daughter occur practically daily, but Phuong knows how to hold her own. “Once, I wanted to organise Vietnam’s first family business seminar. When I told my father I wanted to charge for it, he was furious. He said the project would fail, that I would fail, and that unless I could get 500 attendees, he wouldn’t show up,” she recalls. “So I told him that if things didn’t turn out the way he wanted, I would shut it down and take full responsibility. But, first, I needed him to not tell me I would fail for three days, and, if I could get the numbers, he had to show up. The seminar turned out to be a hit, and, despite him claiming to have a fever, he kept his word.”

With her spunk and next generation moxie, Phuong has no qualms about meeting her father’s revenue target of US$3 billion by 2027. “I’m excited, because the game is finally big enough.”