Joining Castrol Vietnam Limited in 1991, just as its project with Ho Chi Minh City begun, the then graduate Ms Mai was able to work with the company to build her skills and develop her career in the marketing field.
“When the Vietnamese government adopted Đổi Mới (renovation), it introduced reforms intended to facilitate the transition from a centralised economy to a socialist-oriented market economy,” Ms Mai recalled. “The US embargo was lifted, and new regulations were legislated that allowed private businesses to open and Western companies to enter the domestic market.
“At that stage, marketing was very new to the market. Fortunately, my first employer took my professional development seriously. I was sent to Oxford in the UK to attend an intensive and mind-blowing course on marketing which not only provided the major foundations for my career, but rocked the way I thought and worked totally.”
After three years of tireless work with the company that began in a sales assistant position, Ms Mai was promoted to Marketing Manager then Deputy General Director of Marketing and Sales.
In 1995, she set up a J Walter Thompson office in Vietnam and handled the firm’s two major FMCG clients - Unilever and Foremost Friesland when the brands first arrived in Vietnam.
Embracing one of her mottos - don’t think outside the box, think like there is no box - Ms Mai founded her own fully integrated marketing communications agency in 1996 – Mai Thanh Advertising & Marketing.
“My company provided implementation consultancy for companies at the dawn of free market system era in the country,” she said.
In 2003, she also joined the first cohort of RMIT Master of Business Administration students.
“I was searching for a quality MBA program, and RMIT University was the only university that met my needs,” she said.
“I learnt a lot from my classmates who were all very experienced and held senior positions in local and international organisations, and the program helped me to connect theories to real-life case studies for working smarter with higher yeild.”
In 2007, Ms Mai’s career pathway shifted to one with more impact after she accepted an invitation to become the General Director of TNS Media Vietnam, known today as Kantar Media Vietnam. The company specialised in media research, audience measurement, media and product consumption survey and media intelligence, a mysterious area at that time.
“Without market research data, we are reliant on instinct and anecdotal information to make key business decisions which are not always accurate,” she said.
“Media not only serves communication purposes, but also impacts largely on our society, preserve and promoting our cultural values and heritage,” she said.
“I recognised quickly that I wanted to do more than just earn a living. I wanted to help the local media grow, to attract its audiences using relevant content while helping brands reach their target audiences effectively.”
Since then, a unique combination of international perspectives and approaches, as well deep insights of local context meant Ms Mai and her team have continuously given advertisers, agencies, broadcasters and content owners a true understanding of the merits of individual media, and help to make informed decisions to optimise their business and media strategies.
As a true lifelong learner, Ms Mai has never stopped acquiring new skills and knowledge to stay on top of the evolving world of information, and she encourages all young people to do the same.
“There is a well-known finding from Darwin’s Theory of Evolution - survival of the fittest,” she said. “My long journey together with the rapid growth of the industry can be a great example of it. We cannot rely on our experiences but our learnings to adapt and survive in such a fast - changing media landscape.”
“Take time to reflect on what you have read and learnt, and apply your reflections to your work, study and life. You’ll be surprised by how dramatic the intellectual wisdom can help you grow personally and professionally.”
Story: Ha Hoang