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‘At the age of

21, she had

made her first

Flying happy
Since launching Vietnam’s only private
airline, VietJet, in 2011, founder and chief
executive Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao has
fast become the queen of Asia’s skies.
At the surprisingly young age, for an
airline boss, of 45, her ambition is
boundless. And so far there’s nothing
to suggest she won’t achieve her goals.

t really all started in Moscow
in the late 1980s when Nguyen
Thi Phuong Thao was a second-
year student studying finance
and economics. With little money
during those years not long before
the Soviet Union collapsed, Thao’s
entrepreneurial spirit came to the fore.
She persuaded suppliers in Japan,
Hong Kong and South Korea to let her
have clothing, office equipment and
other consumer goods on credit. Then
she sold them to a Russian public
eager to snap up goods that were
in short supply in an economically
depressed Soviet Union.
“I worked so hard and earned the
trust of suppliers by always being
honest with them,” she explained later.
“I didn’t have much money. They gave VietJet has quickly grown to
me more and more products with become Vietnam’s largest
longer credit terms.” low-cost carrier. VIETJET


Within three years, at the age of Her ambitions aren’t limited

21, she had made her first million and to Asia. In October, she disclosed
moved on to trading in bigger things VietJet plans to expand its fleet, now
such as steel, machinery, fertiliser and 45-strong with Airbus A320s and
other commodities. A321s, with 31 A321neos, 19 A321s
Back in Vietnam Thao used her and 100 Boeing 737 MAXs still to be
money to invest in Techcombank, also delivered, to include widebody jets
known as Vietnam Technological and that will enable it to fly to the US
Commercial Joint-Stock Bank, and a West Coast by late 2019 or early 2020.
second lender, Vietnam International Thao says the first flights could link
Commercial Joint Stock Bank. In a the South-east Asian nation with San
Vietnam still communist-ruled but Jose, located near a large Vietnamese
rapidly adopting a market economy community, and would also be close
and capitalist ways, her timing was enough to serve San Francisco.
perfect. “We aim to expand international
In 2017 Thao became Vietnam’s flights in the next few years. We want
first female billionaire and VietJet, to make international flights 60
the airline she founded in 2011, has per cent of our total flights. We are
fast become a major player in regional studying the possibility of using wide-
markets. body planes for long-haul flights when
With a publicly-avowed aim of market conditions are favorable.”
making it “the Emirates of Asia”, her Australia is also on her radar.
record suggests that is a real possibility. In all the VietJet fleet is expected to
Just a week after listing on the Ho Chi reach 100 aircraft in 2021.
Minh City stock exchange in March Making money doesn’t appear to
2017, VietJet’s market capitalisation have been a problem for VietJet. It
overtook that of national flag carrier was into profit in its second year of
Vietnam Airlines (VNA). On its first operations and the black ink keeps
trading day, VietJet was valued at flowing. In the first half of 2017 it
US$1.4 billion and its rival, which Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao is extremely un-communist approach generated US$84.7 million in profits
listed in January, at US$2.1 billion. Vietnam’s first female billionaire. but it worked, with passenger before tax, 44.7 per cent up on the
A week later, VietJet was valued numbers quickly soaring. same period a year earlier. Overall
at US$1.8 billion, ahead of VNA’s Now known as “The Bikini Airline” revenue for the six months was
US$1.7 billion. Controlling 40 per
cent of Vietnam’s domestic traffic at ‘We don’t in Vietnam, Thao is unrepentant.
She says they – the bikini-clad flight
US$730.7 million, an increase of
around 31 per cent compared to the
the time, it is now understood to have
taken the lead, pushing past VNA. mind people attendants – are empowering images
in Vietnam’s conservative culture.
previous period. Passenger numbers
on international routes increased by
Along the way, Thao’s tactics,
aimed at attracting increasing associating “You (the cabin crew) have the right
to wear anything you like, either the
130 per cent and it operates to 73
domestic and international routes, an
numbers of young Vietnamese and
those in a fast-emerging middle class, the airline bikini or the traditional ao dai,” she
said, referring to the traditional long
increase of 13 routes compared to the
end of December 2016, a 37.7 per cent
have been unorthodox and sometimes
controversial. VietJet made headlines with the tunic worn over loose pants.
“We don’t mind people associating
increase year on year. VietJet is now
carrying around 17 million passengers
and sparked a furore when it launched
flights with young female cabin crew bikini image.’ the airline with the bikini image. If
that makes people happy, then we are
In 2017 the airline also broke
dressed only in bikinis. It was an NGUYEN THI PHOUNG THAO happy.” ground on the construction of Vietjet

Thai VietJet operates three

Aviation Academy in the Saigon Hi-
Tech Park in Ho Chi Minh City. The VietJet has 31 A321neos on
first element of the academy, a full order, with plans to operate
flight simulator, is expected to be in 100 aircraft by 2021. AIRBUS
operation during 2018.
As well as this, a subsidiary in
Thailand, Thai VietJet, has been flying
since March 2015.
The billionaire Thao has
widespread holdings in Vietnam.
She owns a 90 per cent stake in
Sovico Holdings, which focuses its
investments in three key sectors:
banking and finance, real estate and
the energy industry. The majority of
her wealth is said to be derived from
her stake in VietJet and her holdings
in Dragon City, a 65-hectare real on how to boost the company’s airline. In a letter to shareholders and
estate development in Ho Chi Minh (VietJet’s) growth, how to increase the staff published on the airline’s website,
City. Thao also has majority stakes average salary for my employees, how she declared: “Our commitment is to
in three resorts in Vietnam – the to lead the airline to gain more market run a safe, reliable airline, to keep up
Furama Resort Danang, the Evason share and make it No 1.” our on-time performance target while
Ana Mandara Nha Trang and the An She is not averse to being maintaining our performance with
Lam Ninh Van Bay Villas. Thao and innovative and taking risks. high safety goals. We shall continue to
her holding company also own about a “You have to take the lead and take drive our costs down, allowing us to
20 per cent stake in Ho Chi Minh City calculated risks. As a businesswoman, continue to offer lower and affordable
Development JS Commercial Bank, I have a responsibility to contribute to air fares.”
or HDBank. She is vice-chairman
of the privately-held commercial
‘I’ve never the economy and to push for positive
changes of the country and in the
And, she points out in a more
traditional tone: “VietJet has been
bank, which has total assets of about
US$4.6 billion last year, with 225
sat down and society, in light of the international
integration that’s happening.”
listed in Spring of the Chinese Lunar
Year of Rooster. We hope that the
branches and 10,000 employees.
However, she isn’t one to flout her
calculated In the midst of this, despite being a
relative newcomer to the airline game,
Golden Rooster will lay its golden eggs
and bring good luck, prosperity and
“I’ve never sat down and calculated
my assets.’ Thao has quickly forged a culture at
VietJet that underscores the really
success to the airline and its investors.”
So far, it appears her prayers are
my assets,” Thao said. “I just focused NGUYEN THI PHOUNG THAO important elements of running an being answered.