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Date of Award


Access Type

Campus Access

Document type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Isenberg School of Management

First Advisor

Alan G. Robinson

Second Advisor

D. Anthony Butterfield

Third Advisor

Robert A. Nakosteen

Subject Categories

Asian Studies | Economics | Finance and Financial Management | Operational Research


As Vietnam emerges into world markets, Vietnamese organizations face a predicament: how can they move up the value chain thus avoiding the economic trap of being merely low-cost producers depending on cheap labor and therefore vulnerable to newly developing countries with even lower wages? Continuous improvement (CI) practices have proved fundamental to building and sustaining competitive advantage in companies in Europe, North and South America, as well as in Asian countries such as Japan, Singapore, India, and China. CI will also be critical to Vietnamese organizations if they are to build and sustain competitive advantage. However, little is known about the use of CI in Vietnam because the language barrier, lack of reliable business data, and the country's culture of government and corporate secrecy have made it extremely difficult for academics to do management research there.

The research reported here investigated the use of CI practices in Vietnam during six months of fieldwork spread over four extended trips to the country. Data were collected from two questionnaires of 661 respondents, as well as extensive interviews of 130 executives, managers, and employees at twelve of Vietnam's leading companies. Information was also gathered from interviews and discussions with 440 business leaders, academics, and individuals who have extensive knowledge of Vietnam, including expatriates who have worked and lived in Vietnam for over 40 years.

This dissertation discovered that Vietnamese managers face unique problems because the deeply ingrained top-down culture prevents lower-level employees from contributing to CI efforts. Executives and managers therefore see little potential in their employees, and so put relatively little effort into developing them. Furthermore, the leadership at most case companies pursued a low-cost strategy rather than initiating improvements that would enable their organizations to compete higher up the value-chain. This research recommends ways in which companies in Vietnam can address these challenges and thus enhance their CI efforts. Given the tremendous recent growth in business activity in Vietnam, a better understanding of the management practices of companies there--what works , what does not , and why --is important for both practitioners and academics.