Wednesday, November 25, 2015         

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UH's MBA program succeeds in Vietnam

By Craig Gima


HANOI, Vietnam » It could be a classroom in Manoa.

The students are working toward a University of Hawaii master's degree in business administration.

But UH-Manoa accounting professor Shirley Daniel teaches BUS 624 -- Accounting for Decision Making -- in Vietnam.

Daniel and other business professors travel to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City at least once a year to teach classes in what some say is the top executive MBA program in Vietnam.

UH and the Hanoi School of Business teamed up to offer the executive MBA degree nine years ago after a chance meeting between a visiting UH-Manoa business professor and an HSB professor in Hanoi.

UH-Manoa business professor Dana Alden was in Vietnam working on a U.S. Agency for International Development teaching project when he bumped into an HSB professor. A lunch followed and in 2001, the first 40 students began taking UH-Manoa business classes in Hanoi.

Last month, 36 new UH MBA students participated in commencement ceremonies in Hanoi and another 41 students graduated from a sister campus in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon.

The MBA program expanded south to Ho Chi Minh City three years ago and graduated its first class of 25 students last year.

There are now more executive MBA students in Vietnam (131) than in Hawaii, said Tung Bui, director of the Hanoi program.

Vance Roley, dean of the UH-Manoa Shidler College of Business, said UH is succeeding because the business college had high academic, but low financial, expectations in Vietnam.

"I think other schools have gone in there and they've tried to make money right from the start. We've viewed this more as a long-term investment," Roley said.

After nine years, the Vietnam MBA program finally broke even last year and made a profit this year, Bui said. A donation by business college benefactor Jay Shidler to provide scholarships to Vietnamese students helped put the program in the black.

Nguyen Van Bang, a program manager with CARE International in Vietnam, traveled more than 300 miles every month from Quy Nhon City in Binh Dinh province in central Vietnam to Ho Chi Minh City to attend classes.

"The MBA degree is my dream," a chance to earn a better life for his wife and children, he said.

Nguyen said he wouldn't have been able to afford the cost of tuition, travel, and room and board without the Shidler scholarship.

Roley said the Vietnam MBA program differs from UH-Manoa's MBA programs in China and Japan because UH professors travel to Vietnam to teach all the classes and because most of the students are Vietnamese nationals.

"We're fortunate in that our faculty is very Asia-focused," Roley said. "There's no sense that people are getting tired of it."

Professors say the travel enhances their teaching and research.

"If you don't get out and see what else is going on in the rest of the world, it's pretty useless," said Daniel, the accounting professor. "I learn from being here."

Enrollment in the program is also enhanced by the business college's top 25 ranking in international business by U.S. News & World Report magazine and, in turn, having a Vietnam program helps UH maintain its ranking, Roley said.

"It's very good for our brand," he said.

The students are not all from Vietnam. Recent MBA student Jon Kuba, a 1990 Punahou School graduate, took classes in Ho Chi Minh City while working in Vietnam for a private equity company.

"I think Hawaii can be a link to Asia," Kuba said. "If I want to do business here, it's important in building your ties."

The students and graduates from the UH-Manoa MBA program are among the leading businesses managers in the country, Roley said.

He cites a Financial Times story that estimated 25 percent of Vietnam's gross domestic product is controlled by graduates of the UH-Manoa executive MBA program.

Some, like Tra My, are also becoming successful entrepreneurs.

My has started companies that provide financial support and educational services, and is investing in mining and distributing marble from Vietnam. She said she's even put some of her profits into buying a condo in Hawaii.

My said her daughter carries her graduation picture.

"She's very proud," My said. "She says, 'My mom's an MBA.'"

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