The Only Female Billionaire in Southeast Asia Plans to Take Her ‘Bikini Airline’ Global

It wasn’t too long ago when Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao was still on her way to becoming Vietnam’s first female billionaire.

Now, the 46-year-old CEO of budget airline VietJet has $1.7 billion, making her the only billionaire woman in Southeast Asia and one of two in Vietnam, Forbes notes.

Founded in 2011, VietJet first made headlines through its staff of bikini-clad women. Going by the motto “Enjoy Flying!”, it now holds over 40% of Vietnam’s flights and $1.2 billion in revenue.

The airline went public on February 28 and saw its shares hit VND 137,400 ($6.03), VnExpress International reported. This puts the company’s value at $1.8 billion, ahead of national carrier Vietnam Airlines ($1.7 billion).

VietJet now offers 300 flights each day. But Thao, who made her first million at 21 by selling fax machines and latex rubber, sets her eyes on an even bigger goal.

“VietJet aims to be an international airline, not just a local one,” she told Forbes. “I have always aimed big and done big deals. I never done anything on a small scale. When people were trading one container [of goods], I was already trading hundreds of containers.”

Thao firmly believes that the flight to success entails hard work. She studied economics and finance in Moscow, traded in Europe and Asia and invested in banking and real estate before entertaining the idea of a low-cost airline business and researching her way to make it a reality.

And for those looking at her example, the entrepreneur has one piece of advice (via CNBC):

“To be successful you need to be passionate about the business that you invest in.”

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