Thomas Friedman, Viettel and 'The World is Flat'

By Minh Quang, TN News

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The author of “The World is Flat” thinks that leading companies must “destroy themselves” before others do it. In Viettel, the philosophy is “Must change before there is a need for change.”
Lessons about globalization from the renowned author of “The World is Flat” actually are very close with many Viettel staff – one company is on the way to globalization.
A speech by Thomas Friedman, the author of many best-selling books about globalization, including “The World is Flat,” at Viettel Group’s headquarters was expected to start at 6:30 p.m. But by 6 p.m. the meeting hall was already full.
Most Viettel executives and staff there had brought with them books and pens to take notes, and videoconferencing was arranged for the 63 Viettel branches around the country to attend the event together.
Mr. Nguyen Xuan Thai, political deputy head of Viettel, arrived at the hall very early. The man in charge of political thought at Vietnam’s biggest telecommunications group said: “Viettel is still young on the way to becoming a global company and, of course, we are not fully aware of all the challenges and opportunities in going out and integrating with the rest of the world.
“Therefore, anecdotes and thoughts from an outstanding writer on globalization will be very useful for us.”
He added that he did not hope to immediately find a panacea for globalization from the talk by the author of “The World is Flat,” but the world-renowned writer on globalization would help him and other Viettel staff get a clear and comprehensive overview of globalization in the 21st century and recognize what they have missed about the things to be done.
“But I believe that Thomas Friedman will also learn much about Viettel, a company from a developing country like Vietnam that nevertheless dares stride firmly to join the globalization process,” Thai said as his eyes brightened with pride.
When Friedman appeared on stage, Thai and all the other participants stood up and applauded enthusiastically.
During the discussion with the most famous writer on globalization, the 50-year old man seemed excited like a student in his favorite class. He carefully listened and took notes, sometimes shaking his head as Friedman’s spoke about globalization and its success stories.
At “Viettel talks with Thomas L.Friedman,” the stories and experiences narrated by the author of “The World is Flat” seemed familiar to Mr. Thai and many other Viettel staff.
Asked “What should top companies do in a flat world where globalization is happening at a rapid pace?” Friedman replied: “Let’s ‘destroy’ your company ourselves before others do that, and never be satisfied with your number one position. If you feel satisfied, that is the most dangerous feeling.”
At Viettel, Mr. Thai and the others are familiar with the sayings “Must change before there is a need for change” and “You are allowed to enjoy the glory of top position for one second; after that you must think you are number two or lower to keep moving forward.”
When the well-known The New York Times columnist talked about risks of multinational corporations might be a man with a smart phone and credit card, the Viettel staff also looked back on one familiar image. That was the prospect that in the near future Viettel would no longer be “Mr. Alo” (whose major income was from telephone calls and text messages), but is on its way to introducing information technology and telecommunications to every aspect of daily life.
Viettel has to do this, before the revenues from calls and text messages are severely hit by free calling and messaging from over-the-top (OTT) applications, which are likely to usher in massive changes to the telecom market in the coming years.
“We don’t consider OTT a threat but an opportunity to quickly renovate Viettel,” Mr. Nguyen Manh Hung, general director of Viettel Group, said.
“If we find a way to adapt to the OTT trend, we will be able to enter international markets with 100 percent mobile phone density, not like now when Viettel only enters markets with a low density.”
Asked why he accepted an invitation to speak with Viettel, he replied that he graduated in business and always wanted to learn about business wherever he went.
Viettel is on its way to integrating with the rest of the world, and Friedman said he would like to learn something from the company.
The general director, Mr. Hung, said Viettel Group is trying to become a multinational company and he wanted its managers and staff in Viettel to listen to and learn from the best international thinkers about globalization in the 21st century.
Relating about theme of Vietnam in The New York Times, Mr. Hung suggested that the differences between Vietnam and the US would be a good story.
“We started our business after US companies and we must do it in a different way to be able to compete.
“Why don’t you write about one Vietnamese company that does not have a board of management but still competes?
“The US might be number one in the world in many fields, but Vietnam might also be number one somehow.”

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