Vietnam's First Woman Billionaire Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao? []

Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao, VietJet Aviation CEO

Vietnamese Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao made her first million at 21 trading fax machines and latex rubber. Almost a quarter of a century later, she’s poised to become Southeast Asia’s first self-made woman billionaire known for putting bikini-clad models on her VietJet Aviation Joint Stock Co. planes and calendars.

VietJet is known for its young and attractive flight attendants who wear bikinis on inaugural flights to beach locations and featured similar models on its calendars, which Thao says are empowering images in Vietnam’s conservative culture.

VietJet flight attendants perform a dance aboard the inaugural flight from Saigon to Nha Trang

"You have the right to wear anything you like, either the bikini or the traditional ao dai," she said, referring to the traditional long tunic worn over loose pants. "We don’t mind people associating the airline with the bikini image. If that makes people happy, then we are happy."

Furama Beach Resort

‘Being Honest’

"I worked so hard and earned the trust of suppliers by always being honest with them," said Thao, whose mother was a teacher and father, a pharmacist. "I didn’t have much money. They gave me more and more products with longer credit terms."
After making her first million three years later, Thao moved on to trade steel, machinery, fertilizer and other commodities.