The Scandinavian community in Ho Chi Minh City is shrinking as more non-Scandinavian expatriates take over positions previously occupied by Scandinavian personnel.
“The Swedish companies are doing great here – it is just the number of Swedes they employed, which is declining,” says Mr. Nils Sundvik, Consul General of Sweden in Ho Chi Minh City.
One example is IKEA, which used to employ several Swedes in its offices in Ho Chi Minh City for sourcing and quality control of goods before shipment. This company has within the past year swapped a number of former Swedish employees with expatriates of other nationalities. Today, British, Australian, East European and expatriates of other nationalities manage their former Swedish colleagues’ jobs.
One reason for this trend is that these non-Scandinavian expatriates are typically less expensive in terms of fringe benefits like school expenses, free home travel for vacations, etc. than their Swedish predecessors.
“I believe you could also argue that coming from relatively small countries like Sweden, Denmark and Norway it becomes increasingly difficult for multinational companies like Volvo, Ericsson, etc. to fill all expatriate positions in their overseas offices with people from back home,” Mr. Sundvik adds.
For the Norwegian community in Ho Chi Minh City, the biggest drain within this year has been the departure of Statoil from Vietnam. As the Statoil operations were taken over by BP, a substantial number of Norwegian families left Vietnam for other positions in other countries.
Mr. Morten Bruel, Managing Director of APM Saigon Shipping – a company in the Maersk group of companies in Vietnam – points to his own organization actively giving people of other nationalities career opportunities within its organization. Young talented trainees are sent overseas for business training before getting their chance to prove themselves in positions elsewhere.
“We have recently welcomed a young Sri Lankan on his first overseas posting. This position was previously managed by an Australian expatriate,” he says.
More and more positions are also filled with local Vietnamese. This is, however, quite natural for any foreign company which establishes a presence in a new location. After some years, their local staff grow more and more qualified and will naturally be promoted to jobs previous managed by expatriates. Because many of the Nordic companies opened up in Vietnam about the same number of years ago – in the early 1990’s – this transition from expatriates to local employees now takes effect more or less simultaneously.
Sigmund Stromme, Chairman of the HCMC branch of the Nordic Chambers of Commerce in Vietnam recommends that certain key positions in any Norwegian and other Nordic companies in Vietnam, should preferably remain on expatriate hands- although not necessarily Norwegian.
“Some jobs like business development managers and quality control managers are simply better filled with expatriates. Their decisions are more respected, they have a more instinctive understanding of the needs of the foreign organizations, they serve, and they also understand market demands in Europe better than any local employee,” says Sigmund Stromme.
All three Scandinavian businessmen stress however the growing business opportunities which companies from Denmark, Sweden or Norway currently enjoy in Vietnam. Vietnam was among the first countries to recover from the Asian economic crisis in 1997 and the business climate is rapidly becoming friendlier to foreign companies operating in Vietnam.