Doing business is to challenge myself

10/15/2013 12:00:00 AM

Younger than the age of 44 with the firm body of a person who practiced material arts and played sports usually – that was what the writer felt in the first time facing with Mai Huu Tin. In the National Assembly, Mai Huu Tin has been also known as a keen parliamentarian in many questions.

Mai Huu Tin is now President of Vietnam Young Entrepreneurs’ Association. He is also a salient entrepreneur in Binh Duong province in the role of Chairman of U&I Investment Corporation (Unigroup). However, perhaps not many people know the story about how he joined business.

19 years old, being the third-year student of Foreign Language University, Mai Huu Tin was an English interpreter of Song Be Import and Export Company. The excellent foreign language ability changed the way of a Vovinam coach’s life (Tin was the champion of the nationwide Vovinam competition when he was the 12-grade student.)

After the translation job, Mai Huu Tin continued to work as employees for some other big multinational companies and Vietnamese companies before establishing U&I Investment Corporation in 1998, with the initial capital of VN$ 200 mil. At that time, Mai Huu Tin was 29 years old.

After 15 years venturing out solely, till now Mai Huu Tin is holding a group of more than 30 subsidiaries and 8 affiliates under U&I Investment Corporation that the effect is not just in Binh Duong (among them, he holds the leading shares at 21 companies).

Uniaudit, for example, used to be in the list of the best 50 employers in Vietnam; Toan My was the first company delivering inox water tanks in Vietnam; Unicons, a great constructional company; or Unifarm with a 500-ha high-tech agricultural park that was the first company reaching the Global GAP certificate in Vietnam.

People who love televition programs and movies will surely know HTV3, an entertainment channel for children and youngsters with the whole contents made by Tri Viet Media Corporation (TVM), an other investment of U&I.

Recently, after the transaction of buying back all shares of Japanese partner in Sai Gon Paper, the name Mai Huu Tin was one more time recalled. The writer has nourished the idea of an interview with Mai Huu Tin with his title of Chairman of Sai Gon Paper. But the latest info that the writer got was that Mai Huu Tin just received the Eisenhower Fellowship. This Fellowship was born in 1953 but till this year there were Vietnamese persons being awarded, and Mai Huu Tin was one of very few of those Vietnamese persons. The interview started there.

You received this Eisenhower Fellowship from where. How long is it?

Candidates for Eisenhower Fellowship are introduced by many different sources: American companies, American embassy, members in the Director Board, sponsors, etc. After many rounds of interview, the official candidates will be selected. The program lasts 8 weeks in America and it is designed by Fellows themselves to suit with their needs of research and with the support of an EF Program Officer.

What will you research in this program?

I am paying attention to two matters: American institutes of independent economic policy and agricultural policy research.

Talking about business, what is the business model of U&I?

Holding company, U&I Investment Corporation, specializes in investment, investment consulting and capital management at its subsidiaries.

Why did you decide to launch your company by this business model?

I started my business by a company that consulted for investment and import-export, because these were two fields that I was well aware of at that time. Nowadays, the mother company is still doing the investment consulting job while the field of import and export has been separated to logistics group. The model of holding company was born much later, when we invested in many different fields. There are 8 specific fields including manufacturing, construction, logistics, financial services, agriculture, entertainment, realty and retail.

How much is the registered capital of U&I and how many shares are you holding at U&I?

I am holding 88% the registered capital of the mother company which was registered at the rate of VN$ 500 bil. The rest is of senior staffs of the company.

Does U&I have any plan of incresing capital?

U&I doesn’t have any plan of increasing registered capital now. However, the real capital is increasing yearly according to the operation effect of subsidiaries and affiliates that U&I invested in. U&I’s business capital is now about VN$ 3,000 bil.

How were the revenue and profit of U&I last year?

I will not declare this matter.

U&I’s operation seems like that of investment funds – capital distribution and hold shares in other companies?

The difference among U&I and other investment funds is that we always calculate in long-term investments and totally don’t have any idea of taking back the capital if those investments are still as good as we expect. There are some companies we have invested in more than 10 years but still keeping or increasing the owner rates.

With so many subsidiaries like that, how can you control to be sure that U&I’s capital is being used effectively?

You can see there are many holding companies that invest in hundreds, even thousands other companies. What we are doing is not very different from them. “Tight” is not our great goal but our goal is “real” productivity.

What is usually the reason when you invest in a certain company?

The goal of any investment is just to find legal and stable profit from the capital spending. Sometimes we invest when we feel interested in a certain specific person or idea. But such investments are rare.

What are conditions for a company that U&I can invest?

Firstly that’s human. We are not good at management so we do have to find people who really have abilities, wholeheartedness and good moral to be our partners. Next that’s business fields. We just invest in those that we can understand clearly.

Why did you invest in Sai Gon Paper?

In Sai Gon paper, we saw all the necessary conditions like mentioned above. We believed in the management ability of Mr Cao Tien Vi, founder of Sai Gon Paper, and staff in this company. We understood clearly about the business lines of Sai Gon Paper and could see its bright future. It’s true that the friendship between Mr Vi and I helped everything go more smoothly, but that was not the deciding element.

Till now, which investment do you feel pleased the most?

I am pleased at any good investments. But right now I am paying attention much to agriculture. I believe Vietnam can do better in this field.

How about failure?

Quite a lot. Most of the failures were because we chose wrong partners. It means the human is always number one element.

Many Vietnamese business owners think that selling their own businesses is a failure. How do you think?

I don’t think so. Being able to sell businesses built by ourselves with good prices and being able to see them developing more and more are a great success.

Recently, so many people also know you by the role of Vice President of Kien Long Bank. Is joining Kien Long Bank a way of creating financial gate for U&I to have capital to invest in other projects?

My title of Vice President of Kien Long Bank is an independent member of the Board of Directors. U&I doesn’t use Kien Long’s capital.

Doing business, but you also join politics. Why? And will you follow politic career in the future?

I join National Assembly with the title of a representative of entrepreneur community, just like other persons. And right now I don’t have any other plans.

Your idol is Warren Buffett, do you have ambition to be a USD billionaire like him?

Totally not. I always strive as hard as I can, but to me, doing business is just to see how my ability can reach. I don’t put any goal of having any specific amount of money at all.

According to Nguyen Hung (

Translator: TM (Unigroup)

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