Asia

Working Lives Vietnam: Milk magnate

  • 14 August 2013
  • From the section Asia

The formidable Mai Kieu Lien is at the forefront of the economic revolution that has been transforming Vietnam.

She comes from a family of committed communists who answered revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh's call for the nation's intellectuals to return to the country, after independence from France in 1954.

Her destiny was decided by the communist regime which decreed she would study meat and milk processing in the Soviet Union.

After studying in Russia, she joined the then tiny state-owned dairy company Vinamilk in 1976, and has not looked back. She reshaped the business, piloting it through privatisation, and building it up to become the biggest private listed company on the Ho Chi Minh stock exchange, and one of the largest dairy businesses in Asia.

But she sees no conflict between a 'dirigiste' communist system and the market enterprise which now dominates the world economy.

"As a socialist country we focus on the people. Privatisation is just a way of making companies operate more efficiently," she says. "If they're more efficient, they'll contribute more in taxes and so the country will benefit and grow."

Madam Lien is determined to create an indigenous dairy industry in Vietnam.

Under her leadership Vinamilk has signed contracts with 5,000 small cow breeders. She's also set up a series of huge dairy farms in Vietnam's highlands.

But she thinks that the secret to her country's future lies with how well the country develops its workforce.

"Vietnam is a newly developed country. To develop we need human resources. Knowledge of the workforce is the most important thing. All failures or successes depend on people," she says.

A wealthy woman, Madam Lien holds stock in Vinamilk worth of more than $15 million. And she has bigger plans for the company.

"Vinamilk will become a multinational corporation and will reach revenue of $3 billion in 2017," she declares.

Outside her work, Madam Lien leads a rather low-profile personal life.

She usually practises yoga, swimming and occasionally travels with her husband for holidays.

Madam Lien smiles as she says: "My life hasn't changed much. It's still the same. Work is still work. I work, work, and work."