Vietnam’s richest woman wants a Walmart connection on her airline

By Staff reporters   November 9, 2017 | 05:06 pm GMT+7
Vietnam’s richest woman wants a Walmart connection on her airline
Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao (L), CEO of VietJet Air and Scott Price, vice president of global leverage for Walmart International at the APEC CEO Summit in Vietnam’s central city of Da Nang on November 9. Photo by AFP/Hoang Dinh Nam
The 'bikini airline' owner has her sights set on offering more than just swimwear.

The founder and CEO of Vietnamese budget carrier VietJet has said she wants to sell products from the world’s biggest retailer Walmart on her airline.

Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao, the first and only female billionaire in Vietnam according to Forbes magazine, presented the idea to Scott Price, executive vice president of Global Leverage for Walmart International, at the ongoing Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Vietnam’s central city of Da Nang.

“We call ourselves a consumers' airline,” Thao said on Thursday at the APEC CEO Summit.

"The idea to work with Walmart is an example of VietJet’s customer-oriented approach, emphasizing our philosophy of providing more convenient services for Vietnamese clients in the near future," she said.

She also spoke about the role of technology in trade and business, suggesting a tech connection with Walmart for VietJet’s passengers.

Price said the company is willing to work with VietJet as it has yet to open any stores in Vietnam, providing there is demand for its products.

“We plan to expand further," Thao said. "Vietnamese airlines play an important role in connecting Southeast Asia. In the near future we’ll collaborate with more airlines, such as Korea’s ASIANA.” 

Vietjet already has deals with Quatar Airway and Japan Airlines, and is in talks with an airline in the U.S. and another in Europe.

“Thanks to the connections that VietJet is building, passengers can fly anywhere they want to around the world,” Thao said.

The CEO Summit has gathered more than 2,000 local and foreign businesses and is one of the most important events at the APEC Summit. It is hosting leaders from the 21 Pacific Rim nations and thousands of businesspeople, including Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, UPS CEO David Abney, and chairman and CEO of J.P. Morgan Asia Pacific Nicolas Aguzin.

Last week, Thao secured 55th spot on the World's 100 Most Powerful Women 2017 ranking, jumping seven places from the previous year, and was the only Vietnamese national named on the list compiled by Forbes.

According to the magazine, Thao has an estimated net worth of $1.93 billion, eclipsing the figure of $1.2 billion it calculated 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.

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.

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.”

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