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Kelly Chi Nguyen, ’17, moved to the United States from Vietnam at a formative time for herself and her country, in the late 1990s. Vietnam had just begun to open up. “As a teenager, my goal was just to be able to explore and see what the world was like,” she says.

But as a consultant in the United States in 2010, she felt the pull to go back. Vietnam’s economy was liberalizing, and foreign direct investment was starting to pour in. She knew that domestic companies could do more—and pursued an MBA focused on data analytics at Booth to get a stronger foundation in finance and business that she could use to help Vietnamese firms reinvent themselves.

After a stint in global strategy at Amazon, Nguyen returned to Vietnam to serve as the director of strategy and chief of staff at Vinamilk, one of the country’s leading dairy companies. She describes herself as a “change agent,” working with the executive and management teams to decide how Vinamilk should operate as a brand, set its goals for the next five to 10 years, and strategize on the internal changes it will take to get there.

These forward-facing questions, she says, are being asked across Vietnam as it aims to become an upper-middle-income country by 2030 through economic development and further market-oriented reforms.

“A lot of companies in Vietnam are trying to transform, and I think it’s still a testing period for different approaches and methods of what will be the most effective way,” Nguyen says, adding that digital transformation and company structure are particularly important questions right now.

Nguyen tries to volunteer as much time as possible to mentor Vietnamese students who are heading to the United States to study or start their careers. One of the biggest challenges for young students, she says, is learning to understand the difference in mindset between Americans and Vietnamese people, and negotiate a path between them. 

“The key mindset I learned from my time in the US and then revalidated at Booth was that sometimes the outcome doesn’t really matter. It’s more about the process,” she says. “A grounded, principle-first approach might take a longer time in the beginning, but once you get the foundations right, you will be able to scale and do everything else very quickly.”

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