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Leading the Charge

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Property management has grown rapidly in Vietnam in recent years and while foreign brands and foreign faces have long dominated its upper ranks, the tide is slowly starting to turn, with one Vietnamese company, in particular, making waves. Leading corporate figures are of­ten associated with foreign businesses or entrepreneurs. More than a few local property firms have sought to better their images through clinching contracts on property operation and management with foreign partners. Foreign players, with their expertise and professionalism, not only brought fresh concepts to top-tier office towers and apartment buildings which were under their management but also added their property brands. That was why it came as a surprise when an array of high-end properties, including Sunrise City apartment complex in Ho Chi Minh City, and Hanoi's Agribank and VNPT Towers came under the management of a local enterprise - the property management company PMC. To date, PMC provides management, operation and management advi­sory services for over one million square metres of property. PMC's general director is Nguyen Hong Minh, a graduate of the Maritime University's wireless electric techniques faculty. "I was enrolled by the Maritime University in 1987. At that time, like numerous other peers, I opted for a faculty not based on personal passion or future career orientation - it was mostly an impulsive act driven by potential income," Minh recalls. He secured thanks to his English skills. Later, in 2002, during his time working at a container shipping firm under Vietnam National Shipping Lines, Minh was tasked with founding a professional property management firm to manage the Ocean Park building - the first top-tier office tower built by a state corporation. "When I took on the new task, as usual, I tried to perform my duty as well as possible, nothing more. My career as a property manager began that way," says Minh, who has now been in property management for a decade. Asked what keeps him going, he says: "Since this profession is novel in Vietnam it entails myriad challenges which have inspired me. Challenges include those related to human resources management, service standards and hospitability. One can never get bored with this sort of work." Property management is still a young business in Vietnam, even after more than a decade of booming devel­opment in all market segments. Several businesses operating in this field have experienced periods of doubt about their future. Each property sector, including hotels, resorts, trade centres, apartment buildings, office towers and private villas demands different quality standards and service requirements. The underestimation of the capability of local businesses inspired Minh and his colleagues in their endeavours to ramp up service quality. "Theoretically, property management aims to extend space for human activities. The demand for quality seems to be limitless and this is what makes the profession appealing," Minh claims. In fact, service quality is a big challenge for Vietnamese labourers who are often weak in terms of personal skills and the ability to work in groups, particularly in technical operation and maintenance, meanwhile property management requires a whole chain of service providers. Hence, Minh set out to establish standards for providing services that would be much more important than simple staff training. "I outlined diverse standard sets for every specific property line based on common international standards when founding our property management business in 2002," Minh says, adding that shaking hands with prestigious foreign consultants for technology transfers is a smart way to thrive in this field. But it is not simple to replicate foreign managers' success, as Minh explains: “Duplicating models is an easy task, but there are countless lessons of failure because of replication. We can only survive once we have deep knowledge about the profession and the market while adopting distinctive business strategies." However, for a local firm to secure a slice of the property management market is by no means simple; this problem stems mainly from the fact that Vietnamese people have a preference for foreign-run services. As a result, many developers have chosen foreign names for their properties and insist only foreign players have control of their professional management services. "Local enterprises working in property management are often associated with disorderly and less effective service provision by property developers," Minh says. The underestimation of the capability of local businesses inspired Minh and his colleagues in their endeavours to ramp up service quality.  The idea behind recipes for success of foreign players with their simple and seemingly patchy management process has often occupied Minh's mind. Minh also often mulls over why foreign managed buildings can operate smoothly despite having just one top foreign executive overseeing a Vietnamese workforce and whether such models will continue to be feasible once the foreign executive is moved out. This prompted Minh and his colleagues to develop building management processes and systems to pave the way for this eventuality. The task has proven very challenging, as even global hotel management groups like Accor, Hilton or Intercontinental have outshone others in their fields by choosing experienced people to hold management posts. “The human factor is of paramount importance in property management,” Minh asserts. He says to maintain a quality workforce it is not adequate to simply pay them a good salary, they need a chance to participate and devote themselves to their work, plus they must have their contributions recognised. To abate the weaknesses and shortcomings of manpower when applying international and professional service standards, PMC's human resources strategy is based on three pillars: understanding of the chosen and trained background; working attitudes; and occupational skills. Each employee needs to possess general social-cultural knowledge and have a good grasp of what they were trained to do. The employees need to take the job as their chosen business carrier and must then be totally devoted to working. Minh's business philosophy is founded on honesty and a no-compromise approach to quality: "Each of our customers is very discerning, with multiple demands that a management firm needs to satisfy,” he says. This non-compromising approach to service quality has fostered PMC’s rising position in this previously foreign-dominated market.