An honest interview with the “first American” Tony Salzman – How did this tiger earn his stripes?

As I sat opposite Anthony Salzman, better known in the media as “The First American,” I couldn’t help but wonder what on earth could rattle such a charismatic, over-performing, innovative man. Let me tell you not much …

Having lived and worked in Vietnam for over 18 years, this native New Yorker is cool as a nail. I mean, how else could he have survived and been successful in a country under U.S. But with nonexistent banking system, no cars and poor infrastructure?

When you search Salzman on the Internet, you find that I have played a key role in normalizing Vietnam-US relations as well as signing the Vietnam-US bilateral trade agreement.

But you also read that he was “the first” of everything in Vietnam … Really? I ask him … the first of all?

Every powerful man has his violators, I argue, and they probably wonder if Salzman was really the first to ever issue a check … Wasn’t there a banking system in Vietnam before Salzman arrived in 1992? – Was Salzman really the first ever to own a car? it seems so unlikely that a country like Vietnam in the 90s would not have cars? and then comes the biggie, the Chicago Tribune says Salzman was “the first” American to ever do business in Vietnam. Come on! there were certainly other Americans who flew to Vietnam with a dollar and a dream and somehow did business there in 1992, right?

Tony Salzman alias “Tony the tiger”, the president of V-TRAC Development Co. is a soft spoken, charismatic (yes, I already said that), almost humble man … As he sits across from me as I play the Devil’s Spokesman, he hums at my questions and smiles quietly … unnoticed he explains:

TS: “Banks. No, there were no foreign banks in this country when I arrived. Nothing means zero. While I was here, sometime after I arrived, the ANZ Bank Australia was the first. Citibank was the second. the Australian bank was a wonderful guy named AM.I chose to supply the larva bank business to him.

I ran one of the most successful and innovative marketing programs ever: it was a competition to find the oldest operating piece of caterpillar equipment in Vietnam. The reward was $ 1,000. At that time, the average monthly salary was $ 80. Submissions poured in from all over Vietnam. And I thought it was high time for the first check to be issued in Vietnam. After all, it was a 100% cash community. A virgin banking market. So we found the oldest caterpillar in the country still in operation, a bulldozer built in 1937. The runner was 1939.

There should be some kind of archive photos of this place, I’m trying to find them. When we announced the winner, it was a party that many people attended, and the winner, there was an engineer who owned a tug. Sorry, the oldest engine was on the tug, the second oldest on the bulldozer. On tug it was used for propulsion. I remember seeing the huge controls when I was a kid at game shows. The ones the size of the bed. I decided that was exactly what my company and the bank needed. A gigantic check with both of our logos on it completed to “bearer”. One of my co-workers described the smile on the winners as ear to ear Ivory! Ivory disappeared when he saw this thing, the check that I announced he had won. During the ceremony, I went on to explain what a check is: a negotiable instrument. I told the audience that it was time for Vietnam to start using negotiable instruments and here is the first one! I invited the very confused men to come on stage and then I gave him a cheap plastic pen. I looked even more confused. The huge check was held by two bankers as a backdrop to me and the very confused winner.

At this point, I asked the bankers to turn over the check to show the blank page to the audience. They did, and then I asked the winner to sign his name to support it. You can imagine I looked even more confused than more confused and more confused! He would not sign. Then I directed his attention to another representative from the bank who had two plastic bags with the bank’s logo. The shopping bags were full of cash. The ivory smile returned. I have started going towards bankers. I said no, you need to sign your name on the back of the check. He really didn’t know what I was talking about, but he realized he wouldn’t get near those bags of cash unless he signed his name

So I’ve signed his name. Then he headed for the bags of cash and once again I told him no, the other two bankers holding the giant check gave him to transfer to the guy who had the two bags of cash, he kept the big check to another man, then an assistant took it from him and the bags of cash were delivered into his hands. At that time it was probably only me, my wife and bankers who understood what the heck was going on! Certainly no one else did! Either way, it was the first check negotiated in the history of Vietnam, no matter what government regime one is talking about.

Now you have become the fifth or sixth person in the world to understand the nature of this ceremony and transaction. Unfortunately, I have never written anything about this anywhere or told any reporter. In the end, I find the check photo I hope is a fair story in any case. “

In fact, quite a story, and it takes care of how the tiger earned its streak as “the first” American to ever issue a check in Vietnam’s history.

But what about being “the first” businessman to do business in Vietnam, that you’re pretty rude, I tell him, now how do you explain that Tony?

He smiles, and without a roar he says: “About being the first American to do business, here I admit that the media took some liberties. In fact, there were two others, none of them had any employees, but there were two others. Oh yes, I am referring to two other Americans in Hanoi, there were some others in southern Vietnam, I never knew who they were. “

So it determines Anthony Salzman may not be the only “first American” to ever trade in Vietnam, but he was certainly “the first American” ever to have employees in Vietnam. And that is precisely why, in 2010, he was awarded the most prestigious honor by receiving the Vietnam Friendship Medal from President Nguyễn Minh Triết, who acknowledged Americans’ enormous contributions to Vietnam, primarily as a pioneer whose personal and business commitment opened a new chapter. about friendship and forging the way for others.

While impressed with all the anecdotes Salzman shared with me, I point out to him that the devil’s lawyer is rarely satisfied …

IDG: I have to ask Tony, the “first” who owns a car in Vietnam? Are you laughing? It was the 90s, every civilized country had cars … how could that be?

Without a break, Salzman explains, “NN-35-01, so 35 means the US, and 01 means the first person to sign up!

The problem arose when the first US ambassador was appointed. According to the protocol, I should have the number one from the United States!

So I hated negotiations and sued where I was told I had to surrender my 01 license plate. There was a solution, typically Vietnamese style: I got license number 00 001!

There is also a story about how I found the fight between the ambassador, whose wife tragically died away due to terrible illness, and, you guessed it, the female bank manager from the Australian bank.

Now, if your friends, detractors don’t think I introduced the first US ambassador to his wife, they have to read the next installment of the story!

Tip: The US ambassador had been a prisoner of war in Vietnam. And the lady banker was a Vietnamese immigrant to Australia. So the Australian newspapers had headlines saying “U.S. ambassador marries Vietnamese girl”.

Well, this young woman was no slouch! She shot back at reporters who said the headline should have said “ex con Marries Australian Australian”!

Hope I cracked the punchline. She had been with the Australian aid organization in Vietnam before joining the bank. “

It actually takes the “First” to own a car in Vietnam, and of the best American matchmaker in Vietnam. Not only is the plate straight, but engraved in “steel” rather than stone, as Salzman tells me he still owns the older model Mercedes with his 00 001 Vietnam license plate.

As I thank Salzman for this rather creepy conversation, I have graciously thanked me, adding, “When I was a kid, there were these stories called” the equally stories “by Rudyard Kipling. My favorite was” how the elephant got its trunk. ” .I feel like I’ve explained a little the same way. [laughs]

In our Just So Story, I say that this “tiger” has definitely explained how I earned your stripes.

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