Meet Southeast Asia’s Only Woman Billionaire, Founder of Vietnam's Budget Airline
The CEO of Vietnam’s first private low-cost ariline VietJet Air, Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao, is the only female USD billionaire in Southeast Asia after VietJet launches its initial public offering (IPO) in February 2017. It was recorded as Vietnam’s largest IPO.
Nguyen brought Vietnam’s only private low-cost carrier to rapid development in less than 5 years. Today, VietJet operates more than 40% of the country’s flights. Its passenger number may surpass that of the national airlines Vietnam Airlines.
Nguyen, appeared on the list with estimated net worth of $1.2 billion in revenues. FORBES currently pegs her fortune at $1.7 billion. She is one of 56 women on this year’s FORBES World’s Billionaires list who built their own ten-figure fortunes; more than half of them hail from Asia.
Nguyen was educated in Soviet Russia in the 1980, where she studied economics and finance. After starting trading commodities in Eastern Europe and Asia, she returned to Vietnam a decade ago and began investing in banks before turning to real estate projects in Ho Chi Minh City and resorts in Central Vietnam.
Nguyen got the idea to launch a low-cost airline while she was a trader, when she predicted that demand for air travel in Vietnam would increase.
"I spent 10 years researching the field of aviation, met with the CEOs of the low-cost airlines such as Jetstar, Air Asia, and Southwest Airlines," she said. She entered the market that was occupied by only one firm –Vietnam Airlines.
“I have always aimed big and done big deals,” Nguyen told FORBES Vietnam.
VietJet Air quickly became popular with the team of young stewardesses and the daring image-building strategy. Its flight attendants wore swimwear on maiden flights to coastal destinations.
Then, she and her partners applied to set up the first private airline in Vietnam, entering the market that was occupied by only one firm - Vietnam Airlines.
Early on, VietJet Air quickly became popular with the team of young stewardesses and the daring image-building strategy. Its flight attendants wore swimwear on maiden flights to coastal destinations.
The airline now offers 300 flights a day, including 63 local routes and dozens of international ones, and operates 45 jets. The company recently ordered more than 200 aircraft worth nearly $23 billion from Airbus and Boeing.
She aims to turn Vietjet into "Asia's Emirates”, which has 150 destinations and offer flights with the longest traveling time in the world.
Nguyen said to Vietnam Net Bridge, "They have a global vision. Emirates is an airline of a small country, but it wants to dominate the world," she said.
Nguyen acknowledged that dominating the global market means shifting from the model of low-cost airline, but she believes that she can be successful without losing the core customers who are very sensitive to prices of Vietjet.
"We can both enhance cost efficiency, while providing high-quality services," Thao said. "Vietjet is confident that our service quality is not inferior to the other airlines in the world."