He decided to apply to business school. But in spite of working in big-league finance, Huynh’s own finances were strained. While colleagues spent lavishly and salted away the excess, Huynh was busy passing along some of the benefits he’d been given: he had brought his brother to the U.S. from Vietnam and was supporting him fully as he attended community college and later enrolled at Occidental College in Los Angeles.
Huynh figured getting an MBA would mean struggling to make the most of school while also working, then spending at least another couple of years on Wall Street afterward to pay off a large student debt, during which time, he expected, he’d probably marry and start a family. Life would continue to get deeper and narrower.
Still, he was committed to his business school plan, and remained strongly connected to Vietnam, visiting every summer. Huynh began to focus on figuring out how an MBA could help him help his country. In one application essay for HBS, he highlighted his ambition to run a venture fund investing in Vietnam. HBS offered him admission.
HBS had made a decision that would bring another major change to the course of Huynh’s life. Admissions officials saw promise in the young man who had come from a rural farm, worked in high finance, spent his income on helping his brother, and remained dedicated to the sustainable development of his native country.The school, in admitting Huynh, offered him need-based grants – a Paulson Scholarship and a Kemp Fellowship – covering almost full tuition. Huynh was free to devote his time and intellect to B-school, and he wasn’t going to have to base his post-graduation strategy on the need to pay back a heavy debt.
THE DOWNSIDE TO ‘BEST IN CLASS’
He ended his third year with Morgan Stanley early so he could make a trip to Vietnam before starting at HBS, in order to gather ideas about how he might later apply his business education to opportunities in Vietnam. “I traveled from the north to the south meeting a lot of business owners and people I consider my mentors, and asked them what I should do after completing business school,” Huynh says. Some advised him to build his career in the U.S. and return later to Vietnam. Others suggested a quicker return to his home country. Says Huynh, “The U.S. presented “a lot of wonderful opportunities” and the chance to “be part of something that is best in class.
“However that also means that I would serve as one of the small pieces in that wonderful machine.”
Vietnam, meanwhile, was behind in many progress indicators, but the country was clearly ramping up, “just like China 20 years ago,” he says. The choice about whether to divert himself from Vietnam, it appeared, came down, Huynh says, to this choice: “You either look from far away and come back 10, 15, 20 years later and do some small little thing, or you come back sooner and be part of the change.”
Once at HBS, finding himself surrounded by other extremely smart people, Huynh absorbed everything he could.
“I learned so much from it, just by listening, asking questions, participating once in a while,” he says. “Just having that excessive amount of intellect and discipline in class every day, that was part of my intellectual development.
“Everyone I met, every coffee chat, was an educational opportunity.”
Along the way, he developed confidence in himself, in his knowledge, in his leadership potential, and in his decision to go back to Vietnam sooner than later.
FINDING A WAY IN THE WORLD
By the time he graduated from HBS in 2012 – his parents having made their second trip away from Vietnam to see his business school graduation – he had found the holistic view that he had sought, of his place in the world, and his role in it.
“The number, quality, and quantity of the people who are engaging in those significant changes are few in Vietnam. I thought with my fortunate background, my network, the knowledge, I can actually be involved in many transformative and landmark developments in Vietnam.”
He went back home, and was soon working as finance director for a 500-hectare “Ecopark” urban development, and as a contract expert for a titanium-mining company, then taking on additional jobs, teaching corporate finance at the national university, and working as a restructuring consultant for Vietnam Industrial Investments, an Australian company with subsidiaries in Vietnam manufacturing steel construction materials.