NGUYEN THI PHUONG THAO Linh Luong Thai Bloomberg Getty Images

Linh Luong Thai/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao

Founder, VietJet

As Vietnam’s first female self-made billionaire, Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao is used to doing things differently.

Vietjet Air, the low-cost airline she launched in 2011, made a splash early on for using bikini-clad flight attendants in its advertising. The marketing gimmick created global attention and helped sell tickets, but it overshadowed Nguyen’s achievements in building an airline now larger than the national carrier, Vietnam Airlines.

Vietjet has helped spark a demand for air travel in Vietnam, where flying has traditionally been seen as something only for the rich. The airline now serves 17 cities and towns in Vietnam, as well as 23 international destinations, primarily in Southeast Asia and southern China.

The aggressive expansion has paid off. At the beginning of this year, company shares had doubled in value since its 2017 listing on the Ho Chi Minh exchange. And while the pandemic has been a blow to the aviation industry, VietJet’s financials have so far been resilient.

Once international flights resume, Thao hopes to continue her longer-term aim of making VietJet Vietnam’s first truly global airline, expanding into Europe and North America.

"With our competitiveness in services, airplanes, management capacity, cost, and ability to provide new services, I am completely confident that we can compete in others’ markets,” Nguyen told Forbes.