Published: August 27, 2019
Updated: August 28, 2019
Collection: Gerry Greeve
Catalog ID: 2570
Published by: Dane Elliot
Tags: India, Manufacturing Assembly and Test Plant, Vietnam
In May 2005 Intel was down to the final decision process on where to locate their next Assembly Test Plant. The final Candidates were India or Vietnam near Ho Chi Min City. You may not realize that, in these massive investments that multinational companies make, there is a type of bidding war in which the potential countries engage. The countries offer up an array of benefits such as tax breaks, free utilities, new dedicated infrastructure like roads, power lines, sewers, and subsidies or contributions of many types. These get wrapped up for ease of
discussion into a single number. For Instance, “India was offering $100 Million in support to Intel if they put the plant there”. Vietnam was concerned that their proposal might not be sufficient but were putting everything they had into winning. This story, thanks to Gerry Greeve, provides a rich perspective of the explosive changes in
Vietnam culminating in Intel’s selection of Vietnam for their next Manufacturing, Assembly and Test facilities. It gives us insight into the process by which Intel (Paul Otellini) reached a decision to choose Vietnam over other alternatives. It is rich with the cultural perspectives of the Vietnamese people.
Paul Otellini: CEO Intel
Gerry Greeve: General Manager and Vice President of Intel’s Asia Pacific Region
Phan Van Khai: Vietnam Prime Minister
(Phu) Than Trong Phuc: Intel Country Manager Vietnam, Cambodia Laos
Truong Gia Binh: Dean of the School of Business of Hanoi University and Chairman of the Vietnam Software Association.
A Wonderful Dinner Party
This is a story about four men and a wonderful dinner party.
Phu, who drove a blossoming and aligned a country;
Binh, a powerful technocrat in Vietnam who helped Phu;
Paul, who had to make a very difficult and risky decision;
Bernard, who may have had an impact, although he had been dead for 40 years.
Me? I am Gerry, and I achieved a bit of redemption in this journey.
Intel was the egg in the center of my universe. So much of my life has been made rich by working for, what was then and may today still be, the world’s best company. It is impossible to think of the many blessings my family and I have received without thinking of how Intel helped shaped so many of them. I traveled to over eighty countries; my children, Nick and Jenny, have been to about forty, my wife Margo over fifty. Waynette, my kid’s mother, and I took Jenny to Paris at four years and Nick to Castiglione della Pescaia for a whole summer at three months age. In forty-plus of the countries visited I did business for Intel. Some trips have been on vacations or sabbaticals. I’ve been to Everest Base Camp and hiked into the mountains of Ladakh; scuba dived around the world; trekked the Alps hut to hut; rode elephants in 5 countries (I think); climbed Sigirya and Kinabalu; sailed the Great Barrier Reef; all while having a great job with Intel. Intel was extremely generous with its money and its time. And we operated within a firm construct of ethical purpose, and with smart, ethical colleagues.
Intel gave my friends and me a never-ending stream of tasks which, frankly, no person had ever done before. That is because no one had ever before had the microcomputers, systems, and devices – Intel was an invention engine and I was lucky to have been hired to be part of its lubricant.
To give you an idea of how special my life at Intel was, my first ever trip for the company, in 1978, was to accompany Bob Noyce to Paradise Island in the Bahamas for three days where he presented his strategy for microprocessors to Burroughs Computing. In 1985 I arranged and accompanied Gordon and Betty Moore on their first trip to China. In the first 24 months at Intel I organized and participated in day long “Introduction to Intel Processors” seminars at every IBM Development Lab throughout the US and Europe – I don’t think any other tech company or person had ever done that. These things just happened – it was like riding on the head of a comet through uncharted space. I worked in EProm’s, Static RAM’s, D-RAM’s, Single Board Computers, Real Time Operating Systems, Ethernet and Bit-Bus, Math Co-Processors, Video Conferencing, Retail Channels, Distribution, Major Accounts, Third-World Development, sold Data Center Services, traveled with Andy and Eva Grove to Broadway and the horse farms of New Jersey to sell to Beneficial Finance and AT&T. And I wasn’t a big deal at Intel, even though I sometimes carried a big number (like $15 Billion for Asia). In official capacity I met Presidents or Premiers of China, Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Zambia, Sudan and Cabinet leaders of numerous other countries, many with Craig Barrett. It was amazing.
Intel Founders in 1988
The reason I am telling you all this is to ask you to put in perspective my background as I tell you a story.
I want to tell you about a magic night I spent with Paul Otellini in a candle lit, red room in Hanoi. It was a night which I believe defines my life.
So, I’d like to believe when I say “it was one of the most important evenings in Vietnam’s history, certainly in the post war reconstruction period, and one of the most important events there since our American forces killed over 2 million Indochinese people, largely non-combatants”, that you think “Ok, arguably, he might be right. ” And I want to try and let you feel what I felt, sitting on the right hand of the Intel CEO, while General Vo Nguyen Giap’s, son-in-law sat on his left, and the sense of timeless eternity enveloped us.
In June 1966 I graduated from the University of Santa Clara – only a few mile from where Noyce, Moore, Vadasz, and Grove, the founders of Intel, were working at Fairchild; 12 weeks later I was pinned down in a ditch, ambushed from an old graveyard in Central Vietnam’s Binh Dinh Province. This was almost a decade before General Vo Nguyen Giap defeated the American led armies and freed Vietnam from almost a century of foreign domination; and just over a decade since General Giap had defeated the French in the watershed battle of DienBienPhu.
General Giap on right, Ho Chi Minh in center
I was in Vietnam early in the war: there was little electricity, no televisions, no private transportation but bicycles or horse carts – no motorbikes. Water buffalo were the primary power source; most families cooked meals on charcoal.
I was a Lieutenant and a Convoy Commander. A “convoy” is a group of ammo and supply loaded trucks, traveling through combat and enemy held territory, with protection of gun jeeps, tanks, and air. We would get into fire fights frequently and ran roads that were mined and subject to ambush. I ran 300 convoys and drove over 20,000 miles in my gun jeep – all throughout central Vietnam from the South China Sea to the mountainous high plateaus near Cambodia.
I would take off with my trucks before dawn and not return until hours past twilight. I would typically start my drive with the rising sun at my back its rays lighting the bright green rice paddies, the clouds over the Central Highlands, and the mountain jungle. As we passed through the villages the folk were just rising, washing themselves naked in the open shower stalls or from porcelain tubs, feeding their babies, chasing their dogs away. Men and women squatted in small groups smoking pipes and chatting. The peasant girls in white pantsuits and straw conical hats walked slowly to the fields, holding hands; sway back pigs wandered along the road; boys on water
buffalo backs would wave as we passed. Early rising rice paddy workers were bent over, planting or scything.
This was the idyllic farmland life that our entire world had lived in for centuries – even lovelier since we had no winter in Vietnam. Three crops, warm, sometimes wet. It was the most beautiful place I had seen. The green and the light. I had a few girlfriends – they were beautiful with soft skin and always laughing and singing. One was Ann – rumored to be a spy for the Viet Cong, but as sweet to me as possible; often we would sleep together on thick quilts on her spotlessly clean dirt floor – her hut with mud walls and thatched roof. It was the most beautiful place I had seen. The green and the light. The people were wonderful. But we were killing them.
More Recently – Margo and I Meet Phu
I left Vietnam and went on a long and winding road for thirty-eight years, and didn’t return until Paul Otellini, our CEO, assigned me to become the General Manager and Vice President of Intel’s Asia Pacific Region. Starting in February 2003, I was responsible for sixteen countries, from Korea and China in the West, to Pakistan in the East, and a thousand people under my charge. I lived in Singapore, which was closer to both SouthEast Asia and the India Subcontinent – two areas which we viewed as holding a great growth potential but were being somewhat obscured by the enormous shadow of the PRC. With this emphasis, I traveled to work in India thirty times in the
thirty months I had this assignment. I also learned quickly that, in SE Asia, the wild card for growth was Vietnam. So, with the memories of my war times years before, I shortly made my first trips back to Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City or HCMC.
India and Vietnam – two wonderful countries, as different to one another as samosas and pho.
India is one of my 3 favorite foreign countries, Japan and Italy being the others. India is a lot like Italy: great food, rich layers of history going back through several epochs for thousands of years, countries of majestic ruins and marvelous architecture, a strong religious framework with amazing iconography, deeply spiritual heritage, terrific music, beautiful women. I have had terrifically fun trips there dating back to my first trip with Hugh Swift into Kashmir in 1981. But India has enormous issues that debilitate their ability for growth and modernization. Many of these issues prompt India’s leaders to “get in their own way” and create the chaos and unfulfilled
promises that one experiences too often there. This penchant would ultimately lead to my dinner in Hanoi.
Margo, after shutting down her very successful art gallery in Portland, arrived on Friday July 4, 2003 to join me in Asia She landed at 0100hrs in Changi Singapore. At 1000hrs we were back at Changi catching a flight to Saigon on Vietnam Airlines. I had been up to Vietnam twice to get acquainted with the business. This time I was to be the keynote dinner speaker at the annual meeting and trade show of the “HCMC Computer Association”.
My host was our Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos Country Manager Than Trong Phuc. “Phu”, as he was known by us “gweilo’s” has an amazing story of how he, and his mother, aunt, and cousins, made the last day, helicopter, rooftop escape from the Saigon US Embassy on April 29, 1975. He was 12. In the chaos he and his cousin got separated from their mothers. The boys were sent to Guam while the
mom’s went to the USA. They had NO IDEA where each other was for many, many weeks and they were not reunited for six months! Once I asked Phu if he was scared being alone, with no knowledge of where his mom was or when he would see her again. “No” he replied, “we were too busy going to the beach and playing every day to worry”. Phu grew up in Southern California and joined Intel in
Santa Clara shortly after his graduation from the University of California, Davis. In 2000, Intel assigned him to lead Intel’s business in
Vietnam, an assignment that forever changed his life and, some might say, helped change the trajectory of a country.
On that Monday July 7, 2003, Margo, Phu, and I went into the Hotel Caravelle ballroom for the banquet. Across the Opera House square was the Continental where I had enjoyed steak-frites in 1966, my first day in country. At the banquet, Margo sat next to the Vice Mayor of HCMC, Nguyen Then Nhan, the senior leader for the evening, (he’s now head of the CP in HCMC and member of the Politburo). As speeches started, he told that I had been in Vietnam in 1966 and welcomed me back with warm greetings of friendship. I started my speech saying “how very happy I was to be returning to this most beautiful of countries”, in a quite poor attempt at the extremely complex
I then stressed Intel’s strategy of building local “computer and communications” infrastructure. Vietnam’s unique problem was hundreds of thousands of computer educated, university grads with no jobs. While there were a few international companies building factories for the textile and clothing industries, no major technology oriented companies, even in consumer electronics, had begun to invest. It also had a bad reputation for investment protection. The country’s population had soared from twenty-five million souls during the war to over seventy million in 2003 but neither job creation nor FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) had grown much. At that point their strategy was “grow from within” so Phu and our regional teams were driving market development programs critical to their well-being.
I guess my talk was well received because Vice Mayor Nhan directed his assistant to meet Margo the next day and take her to the best dressmaker in Saigon, where she would be fitted with a beautiful, pale blue AoDai.
Such was my official reintroduction to Vietnam – 38 years later.
Two Key Players
Over the next years I made many trips into Hanoi and Saigon, meeting with all of our channel members, indigenous computer value adders, software companies, user groups, and telecommunications players. Very early on I met Truong Gia Binh. Phu told me Dr. Binh was one of the most important people in the technology industry.
Whenever we were in Hanoi we made it a point of seeing him. As with many Viet leaders, Binh was educated in Moscow. He had pursued a career in “private industry” founding a computer company in 1988 which today employs 28,000 people. He was Dean of the School of Business of Hanoi University and Chairman of the Vietnam Software Association. He was a leader in driving youth education in
computer and software technology, and later founded a University with that aim.
(l to r) Phu, Dr.Van, Navin Shenoy, Dr. Binh, Craig Barrett
Also of importance was that he had married General Vo Nguyen Giap’s daughter and was his son in law. Of course next to Ho Chi Minh, Giap, co-founder of the Viet Minh and the hero of the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, is the most historic and important person in Vietnam’s fight for independence. Dr. Binh was a friendly guy; full of energy. He was a font of bright ideas, and was particularly adamant about the need for students to learn computing skills.
So there is one more player to sketch for the non-Intel reader and that is Paul Otellini.
It has been said the “Intel Measures Everything”, which is a truism when building trillions of things every day at the nanotech level. I was excited to get hired at Intel because, in my previous job of selling silicon wafer substrates, Intel asked us to measure characteristics of the
wafers that no other company ever did – that was the type of company to work for! Paul was an SI & USF grad who started in finance & accounting, which naturally measured a boatload of performance indicators for the business – having a good finance team supporting you is a key factor for success and Paul accelerated from that foundation into numerous business management slots.
He ran Sales and Marketing and Intel’s core business – the Intel Architecture Group. He was asked by Andy Grove to be his Technical Assistant when Andy was Intel’s President. In May 2005 he replaced Craig Barrett as CEO. Paul had certainly been around the block, but yet had a reputation for not liking to travel overseas, especially to the Third World. My experience traveling with him in India, one of the toughest places to travel, was that he was fine, a good trooper, although he did bring his own cases of American bottled water! I remember him one evening at an outdoor evening banquet in southern India dressed up somewhat like a Maharaja and having to dance with men
dressed up as horses – fantastic. When I was with him he was totally focused on business and had no attributes of a nervous or novice travel.
Paul – FOCUSED even in the Rickshaw !!
Well, that sets the stage for my story.
In mid 2004 Intel began a detailed analysis to determine in which country to locate its next assembly and test manufacturing plant. Intel had been in the forefront of building these “final steps” plants in Asia. They had built plants in Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia, and several in China. As the year wore on, the choice was resolving itself to be either in Southern India, or Vietnam, near Ho Chi Min City. This was a “fight” between two countries vying for billions of $’s of investment that would take their technology communities to a whole new level. And the decision maker would be Brian Krzanich, head of all manufacturing, as approved by Paul Otellini, CEO.
The stakes were higher for Vietnam. An Intel move into Ho Chi Minh City would finally be a ringing endorsement that Vietnam was “safe” for large, medium, and even small companies to invest in by building manufacturing plants. It would also test, teach, and help the chosen city to upgrade their infrastructure in key areas like electricity, water, emission control, industrial gases, etc. It would provide thousands of great jobs and teach and train the employees. Vietnam really needed to win the day and break loose from the image that they were only fit for textiles and coffee. Vietnam also had a bad reputation on financial rules and intellectual property protection – in fact Intel Capital, one of the largest venture capital funds in the world, had refused to invest despite Phu and my best efforts. Clearly a win would revolutionize Vietnam’s economy. Foreign Direct Investment might go from negligible, to greater than Malaysia or Thailand – two of the “Four Tiger
For India the stakes were not nearly as high. Intel had already invested hundreds of millions there in software development, and the country’s budding call center business was riding a modest wave of job creation. It had a robust, electric appliance business and was making lots of tv’s and computers. Even so India had been stuck at a 6% GDP growth rate for decades. Everyone kept demanding from me “When is India going to start growing like China? Huh? Huh?” India had a strong rooting section at Intel headquarters in Santa Clara. My direct boss, the WW Senior VP of Sales and Marketing, pulled me aside and told me that I should do every thing possible to make sure India won the plant deal; that would give us special access to its supposed hundreds of millions prospective computer users. I did not think a demand explosion was likely, and even today India GDP growth has seldom risen above its 6-7% average – never coming close to the PRC growth. I told my boss that I was committed to Vietnam as the better choice.
By May 2005 Intel was down to the final decision process. You may not know that, in these massive investments that multinational companies make, there is a type of bidding war in which the potential countries engage. The countries offer up an array of benefits such as tax breaks, free utilities, new dedicated infrastructure like roads, power lines, sewers, and subsidies or contributions of many types. These get wrapped up for ease of discussion into a single number. Like “India is offering $100 Million in support to Intel if they put the plant there”. Which was what our estimates were; but our confidence was not wholehearted that the Indian government would actually come through. Vietnam, being an agrarian society at this point had difficulty coming up with such a sizable number. It looked like their contribution would be estimated at somewhere around $50 Million. Phu Than was nervous, “Gerry”, he said, “India is putting up such a BIG number. How will we ever compete? Are we going to lose this deal?” However we thought India’s commitment was shaky. There were multiple state, city, and federal governments involved – the situation was murky with different stories from different government leaders. I told Phu “Relax, you just focus on Vietnam; there’s a good chance India’s commitment may not show up”.
Phu had a big job to do. In June Paul was going to make his first trip into Vietnam. For Vietnam to have any chance at winning the factory, Intel’s CEO would have to come away believing that the country was up to the task. Paul needed to feel that Vietnam’s leadership would do everything to make the plant successful – there could be no failure, no serious stumbles. And very few Americans had a feel for the Vietnamese people. Did they still hate us? Could they develop a competence in ultra sophisticated automated manufacturing?
Phu had to come up with an array of technical and financial benefits but also had to develop a rational but aggressive PC market growth plan that necessarily had to include communications infrastructure. He had enlisted as far back as 2001 a small cadre of Vietnamese political and tech leaders to help. Leaders like Nguyen Minh Triet, later Vietnam’s President but at the time the HCMC Party Chief; the Head of the Saigon High Tech Park; various Ministers, and most of all Dr Binh. He had made good progress using the numerous Intel teams that planned new factory establishment and aligned our needs with the government’s. Locations were being scouted, infrastructure evaluated, financial plans and policies developed, Phu insuring all was moving forward.
Meanwhile demand rate for PC’s in Vietnam continued to steadily grow by thousands every month as local assemblers and system integrators stretched their wings and internet cafe’s sprung up. One early Saturday morning, as I prowled around the Hanoi open-air food markets around Gia Ngu St., I heard a screeching of voices up an alley. Exploring, I went up it to find a small room with two dozen young boys, all lined up around a dozen computers, gaming away – it wasn’t 7 am, yet they were in full swing! Vietnam’s PC demand was surging towards 2 million units a year – with encouragement and education we could envision demand hitting as much as 3-4 million units a year –
that would be about a third to a half of India’s internal demand – a country that was well over ten times larger. But the government had to drive this growth with connectivity, manufacturing, and localized software. Phu and Binh derived an aggressive local growth model that had to be included in the Intel deal offer. But Paul Otellini was coming for his state visit – would he feel the fever?
Paul’s trip had been scheduled to coincide with an annual meeting of youth and university computer societies from all over the country. A few months before I asked Binh whether this would give Paul a good feeling for the enthusiasm of the nation for technology. He assured me it would be a good setting for Paul to interact and see for himself how important the Vietnamese citizens felt technology was. Also Dr. Binh asked me if I would approve of a special dinner for Paul. In the evening of the big visit, at the end of surely a long, long day, he would like to have Paul and us to his home for dinner where we would be joined by a few national technology leaders. Hmmm?
To step back for a second, one needs to understand that, in those days, a visit from the CEO of Intel, one of the world’s most valuable companies to a Third World Country, or even to London, New York or Tokyo, was like a rock star appearing at Bukodan or Wembly. The CEO traveled with a US based entourage of writers, graphic artists, soundmen, lightingmen, and video teams. There were numerous technical staff to make sure the “not yet released” new technology actually worked when Andy, Craig or Paul demo’d it before 10,000 people…PR people, right hand aids, government specialists, marketing and business deal makers; and local geography based leaders like Phu and my staff were there – his chief guides. A couple of platoons of supporters.
A typical CEO’s day would start the night before with a briefing as we drove to the base hotel after meeting the private jet, then a “full dress” review of local business at 0700, followed by several political or guest meetings – including a meeting with the country’s President or Prime Minister where deals and relationships were discussed, then the first BIG speech of the day (always showing off the latest), then a big lunch at round tables typically with partners and customers, then another visit or two, then another BIG speech at a different location, then a press conference, then another visit, then an email break, then another big round table dinner with either a third BIG speech or just remarks. Then the CEO might leave on his private jet to another day a couple of hours away. It always varied a bit but the evening dinner was always a major production. It was a time for team building with the local Intel team, entertaining important guests in restaurants’ private dining rooms, or speechifying in hotel ballrooms. However, I had never heard of a private dinner in someone’s home. Binh’s invitation was a new twist.
Well, we decided to give it a try. Hanoi was still pretty basic – there were a couple of nice hotels and a few exquisite restaurants. Binh’s idea might work and give Paul a chance to feel out some of the men, gauging their commitment to Intel and America. Margo and I were up in Hanoi a few months before the big trip and were taken to check out Dr. Binh’s home. We drove into a comfortable neighborhood; as we walked through a small garden to a lakeside setting we were impressed. The home was a beautifully rebuilt, old, northern Vietnamese town home; single story, thick stucco walls, tile roof.
The rooms seemed to be separately built, with foot tall sills which one had to step over to move from room to room. The walls were deep crimson. There were polished wood ceiling beams and heavy, carved, wood doors. Polished wooden pillars and shelves abounded; ancient Viet art everywhere – a museum of magnificent craft, speaking of the history and rich tribal lore of the indigenous, aboriginal tribes and Viet people. Brass and wood masks, beautiful musical instruments, carved idols, vessels of all types. A luxurious, exotic home. The dinner tables would be placed in the two living rooms, separated by raised doorsills, looking out on the garden – a wonderful setting.
Vietnamese living room style
(As an aside, Vietnam has some 50 indigenous tribes. In ’66 I often visited with the Gia Rai Montagnards – animist people, with log-walled villages, built around a central, stilted, thatched, long house; also one person, thatched, sleeping huts the size of a small cot, on stilts, with woven stick walls. Hanoi has a terrific museum honoring the indigenous tribes – a hi-light of any visit.)
Paul’s Day in Hanoi
Paul Otellini, Intel CEO, meets with Vietnam Prime Minister Phan Van Khai
The June 2005 day arrived for Paul’s visit. We met him at the airport and on the way to the Metropole Hotel briefed him and his “aide de camp” and Technical Assistant, Navin Shenoy. In the early morning we had regional reviews, then headed to the Vietnamese State House where we met for an hour with Vietnam Prime Minister Phan Van Khai. Gifts were exchanged, and the PM gave his assurances of the importance of Intel and computer technology to the country.
Next on the agenda was Paul’s address to the assembly of student computer societies from throughout Vietnam. It was being held in an enormous indoor sports arena that had been built for the ASEAN Games in December of 2003. I was afraid the stadium was not a wise selection, thinking the student audience would never fill up the 5,000+ seats – it would look like a paltry turnout. Binh said I underestimated the importance of the conference – they would be turning away applicants for attendance. With the reticence of cultural sensitivity and difficulty of language I deferred with some skepticism; still I imagined a half full ground floor, thousands of empty seats, and dozens of empty rows reaching up to the rafters of the hollow complex. I feared Paul going away scorning and patronizing the small potatoes of Vietnam’s farming economy.
As we waited in the green room we could hear raucous applause and cheering as the previous speakers wrapped up their talks and then began the introduction of Intel and our CEO. Soon we were led out into the sports arena where a sustained roar broke out, rising to the
domed roof. I imagine it was as if the SF Giants had just won the World Series in Candlestick on a Wille Mays or McCovey homer!
Paul is welcomed to the Vietnam “Digital Summer” Student Conference
Paul walked down the middle row towards the stage and as I scanned the crowd I saw that almost all the attendees had donned Intel logo regalia – shirts, hats, banners. It was pandemonium with Paul’s face and waving arms shown from enormous screens. As the cheers subsided Paul went into his multimedia presentation – greeted by massive applause at every significant point. It was wonderful.
Paul at the finale with young Hi-Tech leaders from all over Vietnam
These young men and women, whose families had fought and died for self determination, soaked the air with enthusiasm, and thirst for change, and shouted out for Intel to join their bandwagon – just as Dr Binh had predicted.
After that adrenaline laced event we returned to the hotel where a number of meetings, and press interviews took up the rest of the afternoon. All the reporters wanted to know what Intel’s intentions were on investing in Vietnam – Paul was circumspect.
Later we had more photo ops as we signed the agreement that Phu had developed for the market expansion plan.
The Minister of Technology and I sign the agreement
So far Paul was pleased, to say the least, although these types of big conventions were somewhat old hat for him and the other Intel CEO’s. They were always competing with Jobs and Gates for adulation from the tech fans. Therefore, they would soon forget such an event as they moved on to the next capital or the next COMDEX, CES, or Davos keynote. It would take something special to firmly plant the seed of Vietnam’s commitment in Paul’s core and the dinner party was what did it.
A WONDERFUL DINNER
As evening fell we headed over to Dr. Binh’s home for the final meeting. It was almost 30 years to the day since General Giap had finally won after 35 years of fighting the Japanese, then the French, then the US, and now we were going to his daughter’s house. I thought of the struggle that the Battle of Dien Bien Phu represented, as we walked up the small garden path to the massive red wooden doors of the house.
Evening dusk had settled so the home was gently lit with candles and art lighting – flowers were everywhere. We were met by a group of six senior men who all wore soft tunics, almost uniforms, without ties but some with standing collars. Binh had rolled out the red carpet as we were served a fine French Bordeaux and we stood for 10 minutes chatting as Binh took Paul around the room showing him pieces of ancient craft. Navin, Phu, and I looked at the interesting old style architecture and the carvings and chatted with the Viet guests. Soon Binh invited us to all sit and begin a wonderful meal.
It took me back 40 years…back to one night on convoy, when I needed help to protect some disabled trucks near the Anh Khe Pass in central Vietnam so went to the Korean Tiger Division camp, out in the dark rice paddies, where I was escorted to the officers’ mess tent.
The CO and his team were eating dinner in dress uniform. There was only the dim light of Coleman lanterns. I came in to the large tent and the staff came to rigid attention in honor of the visiting American officer.
The light in Binh’s room reminded me of that evening. The dusky shadows of the candles veiled indistinct idol forms. Carved, lacquered, wood pillars separated the rooms. Icons and effigies stood on Asian cabinets. The crimson walls created an otherworldly atmosphere. There were 10 of us at the beautiful tables – frankly it was like sitting around a campfire off in another world – far away from the noise and crush of a city. And as the wine was passed the atmosphere too became one of travelers together resting at an evening way-station..
There were no big speeches, although both Binh and Paul exchanged brief toasts. Congenial conversation carried the meal. As the dessert finished, Dr. Binh stood. He thanked us all, and especially Paul, for joining, and then an extraordinary thing happened. He said: “I would like to do something which is traditional here in Vietnam.” He turned to Paul: “When we gather together we love to sing and, Paul, with your permission we would like to sing to you one of our most beloved songs. Is that ok with you?” Paul of course gave his consent.
With that, Binh moved over towards his comrades and as they moved their chairs, still seated, and gathered around, he gave them the pitch with a hum. These six, powerful, communist revolutionary, ex-warrior leaders of the country began a soft and measured paced ballad in simple two part harmony. Their lovely baritone voices were full with emotion, and they looked at one another’s faces in the muted glow, or looked off into space. The song was a gentle one, and we were told after that they sang of the beauty of their country, and their love of their people for one another, and of course, of the scenic wonders and their beautiful girls and families…some of its lyrics were:
Young girls smile in the lovely life, green trees are on the hills;
Rice fields show their full waves, while storks fly o’re the fields.
Phu remembers the evening atmosphere this way: “I recalled the dinner ambiance at Binh’s home as serene and peaceful. The dining room looked out to the garden by the lake (Westlake) – dimly lit with traditional Vietnamese lanterns, giving us a sense of timelessness, a place where time stand stills. That’s what I remember.”
The evening ended with all of us feeling that something very, very special and quite important had just happened.
Well to wrap this up, the Indian governments were not able to fulfill their support commitment. They did not offer the $100M of incentives and Brian K. and team decided to move on. Brian made the manufacturing recommendation to Paul to put the new plant in Vietnam and Paul ok’d it. A few months later it was announced and in 2010 opened with Paul’s return. As Intel’s press release stated: “First announced in 2006, the facility represents an investment commitment of $1 billion and opens up extensive new opportunities for economic development in Vietnam. The facility is the largest assembly and test factory in Intel’s global manufacturing network… .”
This first ever, significant, high tech investment kicked off an investment boom. Before the 2006 Intel announcement, Vietnam FDI was under $2Billion a year a year – in 2007 it catapulted over $20Billion and has been between $15 and $20 Billion annually since then. As per The World Bank, “Vietnam now is one of the most dynamic emerging countries in East Asia region.” President Nguyen Minh Triet told President George W Bush in 2006 that Intel’s decision to build its plant in Vietnam was the most important event for Vietnam since the end of the war.
Again, Phu’s thoughts: “The notion of 2 nation at war with each other now come full circle in doing business with each other, letting the past be the past. With Intel’s stamp, Vietnam is seen as rising from the ashes of war into the new century. What a symbol that is!”
To me particularly that magical dinner at Binh’s gave me the pleasant relief of completion. In late 1965 I had begun believing that our war of interference was wrong as I talked to other members of SNCC while working on civil rights awareness campaigns at college. I have always felt uncomfortable about my fighting over there. But I came from an almost completely military family; my dad was Secretary of the General Staff of the 8th US Army in WW2; my uncle was Captain of the battleship USS Arizona; my godfather was a Navy Chaplain; my parents had been married at Annapolis; my sister Kay was the first female Army nurse to go into Vietnam. As early on in the war as I went
there, 1966, I had little chance of not going – it was go to Canada, go to jail, or go to Vietnam. Besides I wanted to go, having been raised in that tradition, and so I had volunteered. But I knew then and know now that we were on the wrong side of that war. So I was happy to have played a roll in some compensation to the people of that lovely country and to truly feel their forgiveness as they sang to us that evening.
So that is my story of Phu, Binh, and Paul…but I said there was a fourth person – Bernard.
One of my contributions to this whole Vietnam factory decision was to tell Paul why I thought Vietnam was a great place to build a factory. Way back in early 1966 I had read a book by Bernard Fall called Hell in a Very Small Place. Written in 1966, it is about the crux battle in the French Vietnamese War, the battle of Dien Bien Phu. I believe everything one needs to know about the American Vietnamese War is in this book including the hubris of big countries, the overconfidence in technology, and the power of will, determination, love of country, and the desire for self determination. There is a paragraph in the epilogue that talks about what General Giap’s army did to bring Vietnam’s power to bear from the hills above the French fort – it is a word painting of almost superhuman commitment. I told Paul in a note, accompanying the book I sent him, that if we could harness the Vietnamese’ people’s energy like that then the factory was sure to be successful. I think it made a difference. Here is an excerpt from my email to Paul in May 2005, accompanying the book:
“The key take away for me in studying their struggle is the depth of their commitment (nonstop fighting for 30 years), their never-ending pursuit of the goal, the suffering that they were willing to go through (2.5Million non-combatants were killed in the US war – primarily by us), their optimism and self-confidence in the face of terrible odds set against them, and their resourcefulness and versatility in overcoming objections. These guys are an inspiration to me. Please see page 452 for some surprising statistics on what they needed to do to beat the French in this battle. If we decide to build a plant here sometime in the future, I think this book portrays the type of people who will be working for Intel.”
Bernard Fall died with the 9th Marines in February 1967. On that day I was in An Khe with the 1st Cav running convoys. I had been in Vietnam five months, he had been there 13 years; I was 22 – he was 40.
Read the book – you’ll like it. …and many thanks to Phu Than who helped me write this, and who, by the way, has other amazing stories of Vietnam.
Gerry Greeve, Portland, Oregon, Aug 2017, retired Intel after 30 years in 2011. Phu Than, Venture Capitalist, DFJ VinaCapital in Saigon
Postscript: In preparing this essay I checked with several of the attendees to insure reasonable accuracy. I received the following comments on the work from Paul who is now retired from Intel and living in San Francisco:
“… It brought back great memories of my trips and, of course, you are correct that the evening at
Dr. Bhin’s home was absolutely the most memorable evening I have ever had in 40 years of Intel
business. Your description was perfect. I recall as we were driving into Hanoi and you pointed out
the “Hanoi Hilton” from the war and then the Phantom that they had shot down into the lake and made
into a monument to their victory. You are right that it put trepidation into my thoughts. You are
also right that the seminal event was the arena. At that point, I was pretty convinced that this
would be a great place to operate and grow. The dinner put the icing on the cake…Best to you and thanks for sharing this with me! paul”