Creating Social Value Blog / Social Innovation

4 Lessons Learned from Competing with Giants

written by Khanh-Linh Ha ’21


One question for all of the entrepreneurs out there:

How many of you would say “no” and walk away from billions of dollars offered for your business?

That was exactly what Tân Hiệp Phát (THP), the leading beverage company in Vietnam, did after receiving an acquisition offer at the evaluation of $2.5 billion from the beverage giant, Coca-Cola. How could a local family-owned business, founded at the beginning of the economic transformation towards privatization after the Vietnam War, rise to compete with a global corporation?

Competing with GiantsOn September 18th, Babson’s Food Sol had the honor of hosting Phương Uyên Trần, deputy CEO of THP and author of the new book, Competing with Giants, as she shared her family’s inspirational story and lessons learned.

It was raining heavily outside before the talk started, but the weather did not prevent people from going to one of the most exciting events of the semester. The room was packed with passion, energy, and enthusiasm.

There have been guest speakers from all over the world coming to Babson to share their stories and I’ve learned a lot from all of them. But this time with Tran was different. Having a Vietnamese businesswoman come talk about her book and share her extraordinary journey was a completely different experience. It was a mixture of being proud, inspired, and connected. Her presence on campus was truly a strong dose of inspiration for me as a Vietnamese student at Babson College.

Tran shared stories and insights as the audience asked her a wide range of questions about food entrepreneurship, scaling a family business, navigating family/work dynamics, leading as an Asian woman, succession planning, and building a legacy.

Here are some key lessons shared by Tran with us:

1. Always stick to your mission!

One of the reasons that THP Group rejected the offer from Coca-Cola was their lack of consensus in the future vision and mission. THP Group wanted to bring its drinks all over the world, proudly representing a Vietnamese brand in the international market. However, Coca-Cola did not align with this. The agreement restricted THP’s market expansion to only Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia, and required them to stop producing new products.

2. Wear the right hat at the right time

One of most difficult tasks in running a family business is how to draw the line between “family” and “business.” How can you confront and handle conflict with your boss, who also happens to be your father? How can you gain trust from your colleagues, who are your relatives and family members? Tran’s advice was that you need to wear the right hat at the right time. Being a daughter, for Tran, is a completely separate role from being an employee. There is no mixing between these two. She worked hard to build her credibility in the company and gain the trust of her father.

3. Leverage your strengths to make an impact

Before joining her family business, Tran always wanted to run a company on her own in order to prove herself to her father. She soon realized that it is much more important to create values and make an impact on society. By leveraging the strength of her father and her own strength to create a stronger team, she could help bring her family’s “giant” to next level.

4. “Nothing is impossible”

If a local company in a small southeast Asian country like THP Group could rise to compete and win over a multinational giant like Coca-Cola, then nothing is impossible!

The message of “Nothing is impossible” from Tran was the wonderful ending note for the talk. Tran’s charisma absolutely impressed everyone who attended. Her charm totally won the heart of everyone. And her story of “competing with the giants” will remain as a beacon of light that inspire generations of entrepreneurs, to dare, to do, and to rise strongly and proudly.

Khanh-Linh Ha ’21 (left) pictured with Phuong Tran (center), Food Sol’s Rachel Greenberger (on Phuong’s right), and other Babson students from Vietnam