Indochina: Starting up an HR Function from Scratch

Indochina: Starting up an HR Function from Scratch

Sheena Graham (Graham Reid Associates, Hong Kong)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8167-5.ch005


This short case looks at an organization in the travel and tourism sector that was set up 20 years ago and how it gradually built up an HR function that is designed to be sustainable for the coming decades. Seen as one of the most dynamic groups in its sector in Asia, the company started with a handful of employees and has grown to over 2,000. Now winning awards for innovation and fast-growth, the organization started small and stayed that way for its first decade then took off – and needed an HR function. The group needed job contracts, job descriptions, and to apply for all the licenses needed in Vietnam, a Communist state. Recruitment by word-of-mouth and then online processes, promotion and retention, performance management, salaries and benefits, training and development, disciplinary procedures, the preparation of guidelines, rules, an employee handbook – there was a lot of work to do, which is still ongoing.
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Setting The Stage

The organization was founded twenty years ago by the CEO with only five people – one of the original employees recalls that it was necessary to walk through the CEO’s office to reach the one toilet in the small shared space! The company stayed small for some years. The HR manager, joining in 2005 when the group was nine years old, reflected that there were only thirty members of staff – she was the first person to be appointed in an HR role – and her first job was taking over the pay roll – which was really the only HR activity being carried out at the time. Then she set to work to set up the company’s policies and employee guidelines and rules – at that time there were no job contracts or job descriptions. There is still an ongoing need to drive the company’s HR policy for the future.

This start-up operation was then based in Hanoi, in northern Vietnam, at a time when the country was just opening-up to foreign tourism and foreign business. Most visitors from overseas would go on organized tours – independent travel was then quite challenging. It was difficult to obtain a visa, and even now the queue to enter the country with a visa on arrival can take hours to get through. There were few flights then, and even now only a handful of airlines go there. But word started to get around that Vietnam was one of the most fabulous, un-spoilt places on the planet. Then, gradually, it was joined by Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, more amazing places that hardly anyone from Western countries had ever visited before.

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