Managing Asia

Managing Asia

MP Logistics CEO Minh Phuong Dang on IPO plans, global ambitions and being a businesswoman

Lengthy Customs procedures, underdeveloped traffic infrastructure and intensifying competition make navigating Vietnam's logistics industry a testing experience but Minh Phuong Dang is unfazed. To her, these challenges are unique opportunities.

Dang is the chief executive of MP Logistics, the company she founded in 1995 as a forwarding business, that has since grown into one of the leading local solutions providers in Vietnam's burgeoning logistics scene. And Dang has no plans on letting up just yet.

"I am confident [on becoming] the best [logistics] player in Asia," the entrepreneur tells CNBC's "Managing Asia." "I don't want to say number one because you can be number one but you may not be the best."

Dang expects to float MP Logistics in the coming five years, amid plans to expand in the region and further afield.

"For logistics, you can make it global," Dang says. "I [want] to have agencies around the world, not only in Vietnam."

MP Logistics takes on the big players in Vietnam

Southeast Asian markets are especially attractive to Dang, who cites resilient economic growth and cultural proximity as factors that make Vietnam's neighbors good potential markets for her company.

"The first market I want to expand to is Myanmar," she says. "Besides that, the Philippines … [and] other countries like Cambodia and Thailand [that] are experiencing stable growth rates."

The number of free trade agreements (FTAs) Vietnam has recently signed - including ones with the European Union and South Korea - work in favor of Dang's expansion plans. The most significant of these is perhaps the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is forecast to result in GDP growth rates of more than 20 percent for Vietnam when it is ratified.

"With [the] TPP, more investors will come to Vietnam," Dang explains. "Our company will grow with Vietnam's economy."

She projects that these FTAs, along with Vietnam's inclusion in the ASEAN Economic Community, will increase the company's growth rate of 30 percent this financial year to 40 percent next year.

However, along with economic benefits, these pacts promise to bring tougher competition; MP Logistics is not the only one cashing in on the Southeast Asian growth story. By Dang's estimates, there are about 1,200 logistics companies operating in Vietnam today - 30 of which are foreign multinationals (MNCs).

While Dang rues the superior financial firepower, networks and experience that MNCs possess, she remains confident that MP Logistics has an edge over its more experienced competitors.

"Because we are a company with 100 percent domestic capital, we understand the local culture, customs, habits and the Vietnamese people, … we can tailor our solutions to best suit them," she says.

Hai Phong port in Hai Phong, Vietnam on July 1, 2015.
Chau Doan | Light Rocket | Getty Images

In addition, Dang is convinced that competition can only improve her business by preparing it for a bigger market and ultimately, the global stage.

"We have more to gain than lose," she muses.

Dang is equally sanguine about local challenges. One of these is the issue of corruption, a pervasive yet sensitive problem that many businesses in emerging markets face. Vietnam ranked 112 on Transparency International's 2015 Corruption Perception Index of 168 countries, with its score of 31 points unchanged since 2012. A score of zero equals "very corrupt" and 100 is "very clean."

Dang says that since most of MP Logistics' dealings are with foreign investors and customers who share similar values, so-called facilitation payments are not a major issue for the business.

Still, Dang notes that there is room for improvement when it comes to transparency in Vietnam. As the country modernizes, she looks forward to government plans aimed at simplifying business procedures and facilitating a more open business environment.

For now, Dang, who started out in the industry as a sales manager for a logistics company before starting her own business, continues to focus her energies on managing her company. She says that being a businesswoman in Vietnam is an exhausting role to play.

"In Vietnam, people always think that a woman should be a wife, a mother and a homemaker, and when we step out to do business, we cannot fully fulfill these roles," she explains. "I think if I had kept to being a homemaker, a wife and a mother, I would not have the successful business I have today."

But Dang says her employees and colleagues have lessened the burden of heading a company.

"When you trust someone, they will do the same to you," Dang says. "I think that's the motivation that brings everyone [at MP Logistics] together, and they're still working with me til today."

While she admits that she may not always be the best boss possible, Dang says that she is always willing to listen and discuss problems with her colleagues and that this makes people happy to work at MP Logistics.

"Do you know that some of my employees even named their children Minh Phuong as their middle name?" she says, "That makes me so proud that I can earn the respect and trust from others. I think that's success itself."

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