Billionaire Vietnamese airline CEO flies higher on list of world's most powerful women

By Staff reporters   November 2, 2017 | 02:25 am PT
Billionaire Vietnamese airline CEO flies higher on list of world's most powerful women
Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao speaks on a Vietjet Air flight. Photo by VnExpress/Thu Ngan
The sky's the limit for VietJet as Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao contends with business class company.

The founder of Vietnam’s rising budget carrier VietJet has joined German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May on the 2017 list of the 100 most powerful women in the world compiled by Forbes magazine.

Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao secured 55th spot in the World's 100 Most Powerful Women 2017 ranking and was the only Vietnamese entry on the list.

Thao jumped seven spots from last year, when she was also the only Vietnamese woman on the list.

Forbes compiles the list based on assets, impact, spheres of influence and media presence.

According to the magazine, Thao, the richest woman in Vietnam, has an estimated net worth of $1.93 billion, eclipsing the figure of $1.2 billion it counted in March.

Thao launched VietJet in 2011. Her “bikini” airline, nicknamed after its unique yet controversial promotion scheme of putting female crew in bikinis on some flights, now offers 300 flights a day, or more than 40 percent of the country’s flights, with a fleet of 45 jets.

She also has investments in the banking and real estate sectors, including three beach resorts.

In May, Bloomberg reported that the Hanoi-based VietJet Aviation Joint Stock Co. was in talks to become the first Vietnamese company to list on an overseas stock exchange.

"We’ve been approached by some foreign stock exchanges including London, Hong Kong and Singapore, which expressed their interest in our stock," Thao was quoted as saying in the report.

According to Bloomberg, VietJet reportedly received shareholder approval in April to boost its foreign ownership limit to 49 percent from 30 percent.

Thao studied the business models at other budget carriers such as Southwest, Ryan Air and AirAsia before launching her own airline, a year after a plan to open a joint venture with AirAsia fell through. Thao and her husband own a majority stake in VietJet through their firm, Sovico Holdings.

She told Bloomberg in an interview a year ago that she has plans to make VietJet a global airline. “We want to make VietJet the Emirates of Asia.”

Thao said the rapid ascent of her business has not been easy. “I studied and I did my research. It was a lot of hard work, and to be successful you need to be passionate about the business that you invest in,” she told CNBC.

Aside from Thao, two women from Singapore and one from Myanmar are the only others from Southeast Asia to make the Forbes list.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel retains the top spot for the seventh consecutive year. She is followed by U.K. Prime Theresa May and Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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