In a male-dominated world, a woman from Vietnam has become Southeast Asia’s first woman billionaire because of her innovative ideas and leadership skills. Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao launched Vietnam’s first budget airline named VietJet Air in December 2011, stepping into an industry dominated by the country’s nationally owned carrier, Vietnam Airlines. And in a span of just five years, the airline company that has also recently gone public, runs around 40 per cent of Vietnam’s flights.
The tremendous success of the airline company that is famous for its bikini-clad flight attendants has also made Thao – the CEO of VietJet Air – one of only two billionaires in Vietnam. Moreover, she ranks 46th on this year’s Forbes World’s Billionaires list with an estimated net worth of $1.7 billion.
Although Thao got a licence to start her airline company in 2007, she couldn’t do so because of the high oil prices. In 2010, she even entered into a joint venture with AirAsia but when the plans failed to take off, she decided to go solo and launch VietJet Air the very next year.
Thao told Forbes, “I have always aimed big and done big deals”, adding, “VietJet aims to be an international airline, not just a local one.”
One of the most distinguishing features of the airline company is its bikini-clad stewardesses — something that has increased its revenues exponentially. The young attendants put on bikinis ‘for their inaugural flights to beach locations’ and are also featured on calendars donning the same attire.
Thao, reportedly, considers this to be a sign of women empowerment in a conservative society. In a Elite Readers report, she says, “You have the right to wear anything you like, either the bikini or the traditional ao dai.” The CEO also reportedly remarked that they don’t ‘mind people associating the airline with the bikini image’ as long as the people are happy doing so.
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