Thirty Years in the U.S.: A Vietnamese Lady Entrepreneur Goes Global
By Jackie Bong-Wright
LTA’s Mission and Approach
“L.T. Associates (LTA) has a long and successful history of providing leadership and management training, in both English and French, to middle and senior managers in World Bank-assisted projects and those sponsored by the International Fund for Agricultural Development in Africa and elsewhere,” wrote Mr. Balroop Rambocus of the World Bank resident mission in Nigeria. “Africa has many professionally qualified, high caliber and dedicated individuals who nevertheless lack the managerial expertise to run large donor-funded programs and projects. LTA has met those needs.”
Another public sector management specialist at the World Bank acclaimed, “LTA was engaged by the government of Guinea to help with the preparation of an original operation, the “Capacity Building for Service Delivery Project,” in the area of primary education, basic health and rural development. LTA’s performance was excellent. It has developed a participatory, problem-solving approach to involving rural population in service delivery. The Guinea operation is a path-breaking one, which has been justly praised across the World Bank.”
Highly regarded for its 15 years of consulting services with the World Bank and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), LTA has serviced 35 countries, most from Sub-Sahara Africa. It pays special attention to policy analysis to ensure smooth implementation of policy changes and their enduring impact. It works with leaders and managers of client organizations to develop their leadership and managerial capacity to implement policy changes.
Further training in effective organizational and interpersonal communications, team building and negotiation are also included in LTA’s curriculum. Study tours have been carried out in the United States, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and Brazil tailored to clients’ special interests.
LTA also provides evaluation of donor-assisted programs and projects. In sum, the firm’s mission is to assist developing countries improve the living conditions of their peoples, by helping improve their government agencies and the quality of their services.
The founder and principal officer of this well-considered firm is a Vietnamese lady in her late sixties who fled Saigon in a tiny boat thirty years ago, Dr. Lem Truong. She brought nothing with her on that traumatic journey on the Pacific Ocean but a mother in her sixties, a teenage daughter, a teenage niece, and a baby, four months old. Dr. Lem Truong had to use part of her own clothing as diapers for her baby. She was separated from her husband and two older boys, who could not find a way out in the last chaotic hours of war-torn South Vietnam, which was taken over by the Northern Communist troops in the last days of April 1975.
Just a day before her flight to the unknown, Dr. Lem Truong (LT) had been the highest ranking female government official in Vietnam. She was Vice Minister in the National Commission of Civil Service and Administration Reform, a ministry-level agency attached to the Presidency. For two years, she had been in charge of coordinating the 1973 public administration reform program, involving various ministries and government agencies. This included the decentralization of public services, restructuring of central departments, and re-training of civil servants.
Before that, LT had been the only woman to reach the rank of Vice-Rector of the National Institute of Administration (NIA) where she taught courses in Policy Analysis, Administrative Behavior, and Social Research Methodologies and Statistics. Promoted in 1971 as Director of the Executive Development Program, she contributed to the design of the NIA Master’s degree program and the first leadership and management seminar for top Vietnamese public servants.
Determined to excel in her career, LT went back to school after having four children. Within three years, she earned an M.S. and a Ph.D. in Public Administration with a concentration on Development Administration at the University of Southern California. She was also selected as a Fellow in Overseas Administrative Studies at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom.
Armed with a strong will to succeed in anything she tackled, LT had to start from scratch as a refugee on American soil, still supporting an elderly mother, two teenagers and a baby. Undaunted, she has sailed through her new life with resounding brilliance. She found a job as Director of Programs with the American Society for Public Administration, a membership organization composed of some 20,000 Public Administration academics and practitioners from universities, governments and think tanks. She provided professional support to six special committees from 1975 to 1979.
During that same period, she also managed to hold a second job as a lecturer in the School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University. She taught graduate and undergraduate students on Comparative Administration and Development Administration.
A year later, she became an Assistant Professor in the School of Government at George Mason University on Policy Analysis, Development Management, and Public Administration. And from 1980-81, as Associate Professor of Public Administration, she taught in the School of Government and Business of the George Washington University.
For the next eight years, Dr. Lem Truong, fluent in French, went to work for the World Bank as Public Sector specialist and Project Officer, mainly in the French- speaking countries of Africa. She supervised the design and implementation of agricultural projects, structural adjustment programs and economic management capacity building projects.
Armed with the experience she had accumulated over the three past decades working in public and private sectors, LT founded her own corporation in 1989, L.T. Associates. Her motto became “Leaders meet challenges and create opportunities.” She believes that pursuing the right strategies and policies has allowed many countries to achieve economic growth in spite of lack of natural resources, and that misguided policies have brought ruin to nations that are well endowed.
Therefore, LTA specializes in the provision of advisory and training services to the governments of developing countries, often on World Bank contracts. LTA courses have included modernizing public sector organizations, human resource and financial resource management in the public sector, and creating wealth through micro-enterprises and improved investment climate. In addition to the courses, LTA organizes study tours in the U.S. and other countries to allow policy-makers to observe public sector reforms, private sector development, and reform in education and other sectors, as requested.
LTA also contracts with USAID in basic education by identifying critical issues, designing programs, developing strategic plans, and making recommendations in rural education. Countries serviced include Benin, Zambia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Uganda, India, Zaire, Cote d’Ivoire, and Morocco.
Asked what motivates her to do so much for so many, she humbly replies, “Simply because I enjoy my work and trust in God’s guidance and protection. From my long experience and struggle through life, I have drawn a number of lessons. One is that self-motivation and self-esteem are the keys to success in terms of meaningful work and peace of mind. This implies an acceptance of oneself and recognition that others have their own special talents; no one is superior to others. Secondly, an individual has a determining role in creating opportunities for success. I believe that it is the individual, with his/her determination and persistence, who can make a difference, even though some contexts may make this easier than others. Finally, for me, the word wealthy means more than financial and material comfort; it means mental and spiritual enrichment as well. To be wealthy, one must provide valued service to others. By serving the needs of others, we attract real wealth.”
And Dr. Lem Truong practices what she preaches. She manages to find time to go to church almost every day and participates in teaching catechism to middle school students on week-ends. She also serves as Eucharistic Minister on Sunday masses at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic church in Falls Church, Virginia.