Meet the woman who turned down a $2.5bn offer from Coca-Cola - Business Leader News

Meet the woman who turned down a $2.5bn offer from Coca-Cola

Phuong Uyen Tran

Phuong Uyen Tran is the deputy CEO of THP – Vietnam’s largest privately owned beverage company. The family business started as a ‘one man band’ and following decades of growth in the region, the company drew interest from soft drinks powerhouse, Coca-Cola.

In 2011, Coca-Cola made an offer of £2.5bn to buy the company – which was rejected.

Since then, the company has gone from strength-to-strength, and Phuong puts a large part of the success down to turning down the large offer.

Phuong talks to Business Leader about the brave decision, the growth of the company globally and what the future holds for the industry.

Can you give an overview and brief history of THP?

Dr Thanh and his wife Madam Nu built their company Tan Hiep Phat (THP), Vietnam’s largest privately owned beverage company, into a billion-dollar business against a devastating backdrop of war, crippling trade sanctions and record hyperinflation. Their empire was created from a drink – green tea – that was traditionally given away for free.

Today, THP produces herbal and green teas, sports and energy drinks, soya milk and purified water across Vietnam. THP exports to 16 other countries, including China and Australia. It has four factories and employs 5,000 people.

What is your day-to-day role within the business?

In addition to running Number 1 Chu Lai plant, I am responsible for THP’s procurement, domestic and international marketing, public relations, and corporate social responsibility programs. I am an executive of the Beverage Association of Vietnam and also sit on the executive committee of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) Vietnam chapter.

How has the business grown from a ‘one man band’ into a billion dollar business?

Key to the businesses’ success has been a commitment to sticking to our family values. We live by an expectation of achievement and rejection of entitlement. We also have clear standards of behaviour and achievement, and acknowledgement that joining the family business is not a right, but something to be earned.

Respect for elders is also an Asian value that’s key to business success in any culture. Culture comes from the top and the senior members are responsible for its tone.

There is also an understanding of the beliefs of the second generation. Second generation individuals have grown up in different circumstances to the first, so it’s important that the first generation understands what motivates them.

As a business we have a respect for ‘stories’. Stories are how successful companies communicate their core values and mission. They create provenance in business, while also helping family members understand and remember what makes their family unique.

Finally, THP’s key strengths lie in its intimate understanding of local markets and leveraging its local knowledge and expertise. Localisation helped THP achieve a 50% market share, making it attractive to Coca-Cola.

What have been the main challenges to that growth?

The war presented the country with a lot of challenges, including a total lack of all kind of resources, not only capital but technology and human resources – it was a very difficult time for everyone

What products do you offer?

THP is today Vietnam’s largest privately-owned FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) company and sells over 1.5 billion bottles of herbal tea, green tea, water, soya milk and energy drinks a year to 16 countries around the world.

Can you tell me the story behind turning down a $2.5bn offer from Coca Cola?

This was of course an incredibly difficult decision, but taught us all some dear lessons about not being dazzled by the might of a multinational – even one as great as Coca-Cola. Our business was not aligned with theirs at the time – their vision for THP was not one we shared.

So, after some negotiation we decided to walk away from the deal. It was the greatest lesson for me personally, and showed me that success can be achieved even when competing with giants. For THP, without business mission and vision alignment, there can be no business partnership

Did you regret not taking the offer?

No, we did not regret and we are happy to share our story with the world right now. We continue our journey to serve our global consumers.

What are the company’s plans for the future?

We expect to be generating over $3bn revenue in the next 10 years, with 10-15% of that coming from our ever-growing international market.