I leave my success at the door: Vietnam's only female billionaire

By Vien Thong   March 9, 2018 | 04:28 am PT
I leave my success at the door: Vietnam's only female billionaire
VietJet Air CEO Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao talks on a phone after an interview in her office in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, January 10, 2017. Photo by Reuters/Kham
The CEO of VietJet Air discusses the ups and downs of running a private airline.

The Forbes 2018 list of the world’s richest people has named the CEO of budget airline Vietjet Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao as one of Vietnam's four billionaires.

This is the second time Thao has been named on the list, and her net worth has nearly tripled since last year from $1.2 billion $3.1 billion, earning her 766th position on the list.

However, according to Thao, all that money and reputation doesn’t weigh too much on her life. She said she leaves the ‘billionaire’ title at the door, and also claimed she has never cared about how much money she makes.

The CEO is thought of by some as a “warrior” in the business world. Her staff confirmed that it is normal for their boss to stay in the office and work until the early hours, even on holidays.

Bur Thao said that she does not have any tricks up her sleeve when it comes to her success.

Vietnamese people are capable of matching the rest of the world, she said, while emphasizing the importance of dreaming big, business integrity and confidence.

VietJet Air transported over 17 million passengers last year with a total revenue of VND22.5 trillion ($986 million), a 41.8 percent rise from 2016. The company’s pre-tax profit also hit VND4.7 trillion, jumping 75.9 percent from the previous year and exceeding its target by 26 percent.

Not many people know that the low-cost carrier started out with dreams of becoming a premium service. However, the global financial crisis smashed Thao’s dream of a 5-star airline. “We stopped, investigated the market more thoroughly and headed in another direction,” she said.

VietJet Air was the product of that decision

“Original business ideas and models always face challenges. Most people think they are unachievable. Vietnamese airline service used to be a complete monopoly; state-owned businesses operated under by traditional mindset,” Thao explained.

The first privately owned airline in Vietnam launched its aircraft into the sky in the uncertainty of both investors and observers. Almost no one foresaw that the company would become profitable after just two years and continue to grow 30 percent per year thereafter.

Vietjet is now widely known regionally as the bikini airline following headline grabbing PR campaigns featuring female flight attendants dressed in bikinis.

The campaigns received a fair share of criticism calling it sexist, but Vietjet has stood by this risqué marketing.

The great success has taught Thao some lessons. “There are always those who are jealous of you. Just smile and walk through the storm of opposing viewpoints. Love your colleagues and consider them your family, be fair with them and allow them to go further and be happy in their careers.” she said.

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