I worked on.. Launching an IT company in Indochina

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Having worked as an accountant in business for six years, I joined BP in 1988 as a country analyst, 
focusing on Latin America. I soon moved into the oil 
giant’s East Asia group, specialising in tax matters, 
although this was more of a forensic role. Working in 
both Beijing and Guangzhou, my task was to make 
sense of half-decayed records. Then I was appointed 
finance manager at BP China.

With the ink still wet on that contract, I was asked 
to stop off in Vietnam on a flight from Beijing, at 
which point I was signed on to work there for a year 
instead. I was one of only four BP expatriate workers 
in Ho Chi Minh City at the time. The office was a 
renovated villa in a compound of about 50 
abandoned properties overlooking the Saigon River. 
We lived above the office, so our commute was a 
single flight of stairs. The city was so quiet back then 
in 1991 that you could lie down in the middle of the 
main street and not be run over.

Using my systems experience at BP, where I’d 
installed SunSystems accounting software in both 
China and Vietnam, I started TRG International in 
1994. My friends, many of whom were CFOs in other oil companies, asked me about the systems that BP was using, so I ended up implementing the same technology for them. After I left BP, the software vendor asked whether I wanted to work for it, as I’d implemented its systems so many times.

I started out with ad hoc projects for my friends 
and then, as they moved on to their next postings, I usually received a call asking me to install the same 
systems for them elsewhere. This helped my 
business to expand internationally. Today it has 
clients in 80 countries. As the business became busier, I started to recruit 
people and soon our clients were asking us what else 
we could do for them. We added systems including retail point of sale, enterprise resource planning, 
business intelligence, analytics and performance 
management. I now employ about 250 people and 
I’m still hiring.

Things are going pretty well at the moment, but 
there are always challenges in finding more of the right recruits. As we’re moving heavily into cloud 
computing, we’ve just signed up as only the second 
Amazon Web Services partner in Vietnam, which is 
exciting, and we have some new clients moving their 
systems to the cloud.

We deal with organisations ranging from small 
NGOs and local firms to state-owned enterprises and 
multinationals. Our largest clients operate in the 
hospitality industry, where we provide systems for 
hundreds of hotels in more than 50 countries.

As I have a background in oil, we have a lot of 
custom from that industry too, but we’re particularly 
active in manufacturing, education, real estate and 
financial services, too. We also have new ventures in 
the music industry, food and drink, HR and the 
media sector.

I’m optimistic about the region’s economic 
prospects because of the trans-Pacific partnership – 
a trade pact signed by 12 nations, including Vietnam, 
Singapore, the US and Australia – and the free-trade 
agreement between Vietnam and the EU. I believe 
that Vietnam will continue to attract a healthy level 
of foreign investment as long as the country’s 
workforce continues to improve its skills.

I am chairman of the ICT sector committee for the 
European Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam; a 
board member and treasurer for the British Business 
Group Vietnam; and chairman of the IT group at the 
Ho Chi Minh City chapter of the American Chamber 
of Commerce in Vietnam. I also chair the CIMA 
South East Asia regional board, representing the 
institute at many events, and serve on various other 
advisory committees.

It’s fair to say that it can be challenging for expats to live and work here. Much of what goes on in Vietnam is alien to most westerners. But I do like it here – the people, the culture, the work ethic. 
I’ve grown accustomed to life here and have also 
witnessed lots of gradual improvements in 
regulations covering accounting and the taxation 
system, many of which I believe I have influenced. 

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