Sramana Mitra: How easy or difficult is it to find that kind of client relationship talent in Vietnam?
Josh Liberman: It is obviously, more difficult to find that than it is a Java developer or a quality assurance (QA) engineer. We’ve been working in Vietnam for 12 years, so we’ve built up a vast network of people who have worked with us and for us. Our goal is to be a thousand-person company. In order to get there, we have to build those skills internally. The market will not develop them quickly enough for us in Vietnam. It is a bit of a challenge, but because we’re privately held, we don’t have a board breathing down our necks telling us how fast we have to grow. We manage our growth through how quickly we can bring people on board.
SM: What is the language situation in Vietnam?
JL: All business is done in English, whether it’s being done internally with our people in Vietnam or directly with our clients. All correspondence with our clients is written in English. Obviously, some people have stronger verbal communication skills than others, but I would say that everybody has strong written English skills. We try to make sure that 30% of our team, sometimes higher, has strong English skills. Our people, as I said, in most cases, are dealing directly with our clients. We do not have any account managers. So, in the U.S. there are no salespeople and no account managers. It’s only billable folks. Even the number of billable folks we have is relatively small relative to the number of people offshore. It’s hard to describe how good their English skills are. But we’ve proven through our relationships that there are enough good English skills to enable us to grow with our clients and work with them directly.
SM: And for the growth you are planning for the 300- to 1,000-person company, what do you foresee from a talent point of view? Is the talent to get to that level easily available in Vietnam?
JL: The biggest challenge for us on that is going to be developing the management level, the middle management level. Our team is probably heavier at the management level than it needs to be. We do have some opportunity for growth, even within the management infrastructure that we have today. But with that being said, we’ve already identified a series of people within the organization whom we know that as we grow from 300 to 400 to 500 and beyond are going to fall into what roles. We know who’s going to move in from a director level, a manager level, a lead level. Contingency planning and growth planning are core parts of how we run our business.
SM: What is the competition for talent in Vietnam?
JL: There is competition. It’s nothing like India. As I said, our attrition level of below 5% demonstrates that. There’s a certain level of loyalty we’ve built within the company. In fact, we [recently] took our entire company and their families to the beach for a weekend. I’ve been getting pictures on Facebook and such of all the celebrations that they’ve been having over there for that. There is competition, as there is anywhere. I just don’t think it’s nearly as fierce as it is in India.
SM: Are there outsourcing companies operating in Vietnam right now?
JL: Yes. I’ll tell you about a few companies. The largest outsourcing is one called FPT, but they predominantly do work domestically and over in Asia. They’ve got 2,000 people. Their rates are peanuts, very low. Their quality’s low. They have a lot of relationships with people in the government of Vietnam and do lots of work over there in that capacity.
There are two or three other companies in Vietnam that are a little bigger than we are that do outsourcing outside of Vietnam. They’re solid companies. I don’t think they’re viewed as innovative, forward-thinking companies like ours. They’re labor arbitrage types of outsourcing companies. And then there’s a plethora of smaller ones, you know, little garage [operations with] 30 people here, 20 people there.
There are a handful of companies that are of similar size as ours, but we have a dedicated R&D team within our company that’s constantly building new products and embracing new technologies. We speak frequently at the technology conferences and universities in Vietnam. We have a very prominent role in the IT community in Ho Chi Minh City and are viewed highly in that regard.