From refugee to entrepreneur

From refugee to entrepreneur

Mitchell Pham

Coming from a family of engineers, it is little surprise that Mitchell Pham would one day pursue a career in the ICT sector. Considering that he first arrived in New Zealand from Vietnam as a refugee, at the age of 13, makes the fact that he climbed so far up the ladder even more interesting.

The refugee turned business entrepreneur wears many hats: he is the co-founder, director, international development director and GM of business development of the Augen Software Group, a company with offices both in New Zealand and in Vietnam.

His innovative and entrepreneurial spirit has family roots, as he explains: "I have had many mentors over the years as I progressed through various stages of learning in my business career and developed different capabilities. The most overall influence on my choice of career and direction in my professional life came from my parents who were both technologists by training and entrepreneurs by profession. They live in Ho Chi Minh City and continue to inspire me to learn, grow, discover and push new boundaries."

For Pham, the key to success lies, among other things, in collaboration, in working with others to grow the business, rather than choosing to do everything by yourself.

Pham and his business partner, Peter Vile, met back in university. "We got together with three other friends to start the first company in the Augen Software Group. Our friends have since left to progress their careers in other directions," he says. The remaining pair will be celebrating the company's 20th anniversary this coming August, following two decades filled with many successes. In 2011, Augen’s innovative Insourcing business model won the prestigious international Red Herring Top 100 Asia Award for business innovation in the Asia-Pacific region. In the same year, Pham was honoured by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader. He is also an Asia 21 Fellow of the Asia Society, and a member of the Action Asia Advisory Group at the Asia:NZ Foundation.

With 20 years of history and a whole lot of projects on the way, Augen Software is not going anywhere any time soon. "We have very aggressive growth strategies for both sides of our business for the coming years in NZ. For the Innovation sector, continue to extend our reach around the country, to provide innovating companies with our insourcing model for agile development resources and scalability," explains Pham. "For the community health/disability/social services sector, we continue to advance our Benecura web app and Mobicura mobile apps, to support the sector to innovate, develop and succeed in the delivery of positive outcomes."

Outside of Augen, Pham isn't short of ideas either. He dreams of owning a seaside restaurant offering Asian seafood cuisine. "I love catching fresh seafood and using organic and exotic ingredients. I might still do that on the side one day even if I don’t leave the ICT industry," he says.

For now, though, his focus remains on ICT, an industry he continues to be as fascinated about as when he first started. "[IT is] constantly evolving very rapidly; levelling the playing field and creating opportunities for absolutely everyone to innovate and disrupt convention; pervading all industries and affecting all aspects of life on earth," he says.

For this year, Pham says he is "betting on recovery". "The rebuilding of Christchurch and the government’s business growth agenda further extend the opportunity landscape for NZ businesses."

Pham is also actively involved in the three areas he is the most passionate about: the NGO, government and business sectors. Since 1995, he has been supporting community health/disability/social services providers and their funders to innovate, develop, and succeed in delivering positive wellness and social outcomes. He also served on the Board of Refugee Services Aotearoa NZ, and is a co-founder and trustee of the Auckland Refugee Family Trust and the Foundation for Social Responsibility NZ. As of 2009, Pham has been supporting the growth of the Ethnic Business Network, where businesses and entrepreneurs from ethnic communities connect with each other, and with the mainstream business community. He is also a member of the Strategic Alliance Vietnamese Ventures International (SAVVi) network, and a member of the executive committee of the global Vietnamese diaspora business network (BAOOV).


Where do you live now and where did you grow up and have lived before?           

I was born in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and lived there until I was 12. I then lived in four refugee camps in Indonesia before coming to New Zealand, and have lived in Auckland since then.

Are you married? Kids?

I’m married to a Kiwi whose family is from Waiheke Island. We don’t have children, so we ‘time-share’ my sister’s three kids in Auckland.

What are you currently reading?

Thirst by L A Larkin. A modern scientific, political, military and environmental thriller about water scarcity and China’s international influence.

Do you have any favourite sports?

I have had many favourite sports, mostly outdoors. Soccer was my favourite as a kid and through high-school, and also table tennis, volley ball and martial arts. Through university, I enjoyed mountain biking and dancing, and won an Australasian Ceroc Dance Championship in 1997. Since 2000, I have been enjoying gym training, running, and the occasional kayaking trips.

What's your favourite gadget?

My iPhone and iPad devices. I both live and work with them.

And your favourite website? and – I love movies and books of various kinds, and hate watching TV.

What's your drink of choice?

Cold Bundaberg ginger beer, and cold tomato juice spiced, with no ice.

What do you think has been the single most important advance in technology?

The internet – which now affects the lives of everyone I know.

How do you keep the work/leisure balance?

Booking in my calendar time for exercise, family and leisure activities. Otherwise I will just keep on working as I enjoy business too much.

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