Vietnam awards prestigious Friendship Medal to American Businessman

Since 1993, Anthony Salzman has been greasing the gears of economic, social and diplomatic developments within Vietnam

HANOI (14 May 2010) — Seventeen years after Anthony Salzman relocated to Vietnam on a wing, a prayer and a passion for winning hearts and minds with business, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam has bestowed one of its most prestigious honors, the Friendship Medal, on the New York native.

Tony Salzman, V-Trac ChairmanOn May 14, President Nguyễn Minh Triết recognized the American’s enormous contributions to Vietnam, principally as a pioneer whose personal and business commitment opened a new chapter of friendship and forged the way for others. Along the way, there were numerous contributions which increased the productivity of Vietnamese companies, and made the nation’s capital a better partner for diplomats and business leaders.

The chairman of V-TRAC is the first investor whose contributions to the growth of Vietnam’s economy have been recognized.

In addition to the Friendship Medal, the Hanoi People’s Committee has awarded Salzman with the Capital Development Medal for contributions to the city’s economic progress.

Beyond Salzman’s business acumen, first as an enabler of productivity in Vietnam’s mining industry and then as a stimulus for the country’s adoption of the automobile, the Friendship Medal also hails his work in dismantling the U.S. trade embargo against Vietnam (Feb. 3, 1994) and his influence in promoting the Bilateral Trade Agreement between the U.S. and Vietnam (Dec. 10, 2001).

The citation also lauds Salzman’s contributions to Vietnam’s social development. He was one of the first trustees of the United Nations International School in Hanoi, and he was instrumental in the development of programs at the Hanoi University of Technology.

“I’d like to credit altruism for these developments, but the simple fact of the matter was that we needed to upgrade the pool of applicants that fed our businesses,” he said. “I also needed a good international school for my daughter.”

Salzman’s tenure in Vietnam is remarkable for a number of firsts:
He issued the first check in Vietnam’s history on April 4, 1996.
He delivered the first fleet of western mining trucks to Vietnam.
He was the first American to own a car in Hanoi.

And he sponsored the first bi-lateral exchange on Intellectual Property law.

A graduate of Yale University and Duke Law School, Salzman arrived in Vietnam after having served as managing director of Salzman International Investments (1983-1993), vice president for Lehman Brothers (1981-1983), and corporate strategist and marketing manager for the American Express Company (1976-1981).

With his wife and four-year-old daughter, Salzman settled in Hanoi in 1993 and received one of the first two licenses to open a representative office in Vietnam. The following year, he founded V-TRAC and imported a host of First World best practices to an economy that was reeling from decades of war and privation.

The citation credits Salzman for helping myriad Vietnamese ministries increase productivity and lower operating costs.

“It wasn’t easy,” said Salzman. “So many of the ways and means of international commercial activity were brand new to Vietnam. I used to take pajamas to meetings, packed in a briefcase, to demonstrate my preparedness for lengthy negotiations.”

Five years after launching V-TRAC, Salzman introduced financial leasing to Vietnam, founding a new company which became the only 100% Western-owned, financial leasing operation in the country.

“In the early days — and by early I’m talking as recently as a decade ago,” said Salzman, “doing business in Vietnam was like playing basketball blindfolded.”

Today, Vietnam is flush. PricewaterhouseCoopers, in an Outlook Report published out of the UK in November, called out Hanoi as the fastest growing city in the developing world. Though the Friendship Medal ranks as a type of Lifetime Achievement Award, Salzman believes the opportunities in Vietnam are fresher now than when he started nearly two decades ago.

“The trade embargo is gone. The United States normalized relations. There’s a bilateral trade agreement. Vietnam recently joined the World Trade Organization,” said Salzman. “There’s transparency here that we only dreamed of a decade ago. We used to say there was nowhere to go but up, though there were so many ifs to that sentiment. ‘If’ is no longer part of the equation. Now, we’re sprinting from milestone to milestone.”