At the age of 15, Chris Blank embarked upon an attempt to straighten out his life and start a new chapter, one that led him to Vietnam. It was 1998, three years after his parents had been killed in a car accident leaving Chris in the care of America’s state system, drifting from home to home, hanging with the wrong people and getting into trouble. The CEO of Pharmacity admits it’s difficult to talk about those early years, particularly when he contemplates how different his life would be had his Vietnamese maternal grandmother not reached out and suggested he visit. With nothing to lose, the desperate teenager hopped on a plane and went to Vietnam.
“Straight away I saw the difference between the culture of the United States and Vietnam. It was like night and day,” he remembers. “In the US, being in the foster care system, I was growing up with a bit of a chip on my shoulder, a kind of ‘woe is me, I am poor’ attitude. I was going down that rabbit hole all the time because it was such an easy mindset to fall into.
“But in Vietnam, I was just as poor as most people around me and nobody seemed bothered by it. There was no keeping up with the Joneses, and because a lot of people were poor, nobody else felt poor. I didn’t feel like a square peg in a round hole. It was empowering.”
That sense of empowerment was the trigger to changing Chris’s perception of his own capabilities and became the driving force behind his extraordinary success as head of Vietnam’s first and largest retail pharmacy chain and Chairman of the AmCham Healthcare Committee, which has a vision of being a key strategic partner for promoting health and wellness and shaping the healthcare industry in Vietnam.
It was while still a teenager that Chris, armed with new-found confidence and support from his community, recognised a wave of change surging through Vietnam. The country was developing rapidly, new laws were being passed daily, more foreigners were flocking in to do business and convenience stores were starting to emerge as alternatives to the thousands of mom-and-pop outlets dotted along city streets.
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