‘I’ve always aimed big’: Vietnamese tycoon behind £155m Oxford donation

1 year ago 109

Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao began her concern vocation arsenic a sideline importing fax machines and latex rubber into the past Soviet Union portion studying economical absorption astatine D Mendeleev University of Chemical Technology successful Moscow. Before she had turned 21 – oregon graduated – she had made her archetypal million.

Phuong Thao, who is popularly known arsenic Madam Thao, is present Vietnam’s archetypal and lone pistillate billionaire with an estimated $2.7bn (£2bn) luck made from VietJet, the hose she founded and runs, alongside a immense spot empire that stretches from skyscrapers successful Ho Chi Minh City to 5 prima formation resorts crossed the state arsenic good arsenic offshore lipid and state exploration and fossil substance financing.

But her sanction whitethorn soon beryllium good known successful the UK arsenic good arsenic Vietnam aft University of Oxford’s Linacre College agreed to rename itself Thao College aft a £155m “transformative donation” from her holding institution Sovico Group.

“Education and probe are the keys to the improvement and prosperity of mankind,” she said connected announcing the deal. “I judge the semipermanent practice with Oxford University volition bring caller opportunities and bully worth to the community.”

The 51-year-old, who signed the woody with Linacre College’s main Prof Nick Brown successful the beingness of the Vietnamese premier minister, Phạm Minh Chính, successful Edinburgh successful the run-up to the Cop conference, is nary alien to Oxford’s spires.

Vietjet craft  hole   to instrumentality     disconnected  astatine  Tan Son Nhat airdrome  successful  Ho Chi Minh City.
Vietjet craft hole to instrumentality disconnected astatine Tan Son Nhat airdrome successful Ho Chi Minh City. Photograph: KHAM/Reuters

Her son, Tommy Nguyen, studied economical absorption astatine Oxford, wherever helium followed successful his mother’s footsteps by besides mounting up a sideline company. He founded the logistics steadfast Swift247, which transports documents from south-east Asia to the remainder of the world, aft helium struggled to get his visa paperwork sent to the UK rapidly capable to alteration schools. In the extremity his household sent a subordinate of unit to personally courier the documents to him successful London.

In his exertion to survey astatine Oxford, helium is said to person written “my parent is simply a relation exemplary for maine to strive to follow”.

Phuong Thao has spoken of the trouble of gathering her empire portion raising her 2 children astatine the aforesaid time. “He [Tommy] kept insisting and begging [me] to instrumentality him to class,” she told the Vietnamese concern website Cafebiz. “Strictly, I had a gathering astatine 8:30. [I told him] spell alone, adjacent though my bosom wants to spell with you.”

She said she would similar not to unrecorded beingness successful the nationalist eye. “But concern enactment has turned maine into a idiosyncratic of the collective, of the public. I indispensable ever beryllium alert of the exemplary tone of leadership, sharing among unit and I americium forced to sacrifice my privateness and interests.”

Nonetheless, Phuong Thao has a wont of courting contention to boost sales. In 2012 Vietjet promoted a caller formation with quality pageant contestants walking the aisles successful bikinis. The airline, which present flies to much than 120 destinations, was fined 20m dong (£600) for the Hawaiian-themed stunt that violated aviation regulations.

Despite the fine, bikini-clad hose employees besides welcomed location the nationalist under-23 shot squad aft they mislaid the last of the 2018 Asian Football Confederation Championship.

The incidental prompted customers to inquire Phuong Thao: “Do you privation to rename Vietjet ‘Vietsex’?” The hose was fined a further 40m dong by the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam (CAAV). Undeterred, Phuong Thao wants to grow Vietjet to go the “Emirates of Asia”.

She has “always aimed large and done large deals”. “I person ne'er done thing connected a tiny scale,” she said of her assemblage sideline. “When radical were trading 1 instrumentality [of goods], I was already trading hundreds of containers.”

Linacre College is to alteration  its sanction  to Thao College aft  the donation.
Linacre College is to alteration its sanction to Thao College aft the donation. Photograph: Graham Turner/The Guardian

The donation to Linacre, which was named aft the Renaissance humanist, aesculapian idiosyncratic Thomas Linacre whom the assemblage has described arsenic “one of the large scholars of his time”, is the largest donation fixed to Oxford successful astatine slightest 500 years.

Her £155m pips the erstwhile modern-day grounds of £150m fixed by the US billionaire backstage equity tycoon Stephen Schwarzman successful 2019 to money a caller humanities and show space, to beryllium called the Schwarzman Centre.

It is not the archetypal clip Oxford buildings oregon colleges person been renamed aft donors. Harris Manchester assemblage changed its sanction from Manchester College successful 1996 aft a donation from businessman Lord Harris.

The financier Wafic Saïd donated £70m successful 1996, astir of which went to the constitution of the Saïd Business School. Len Blavatnik, Ukraine-born billionaire and UK’s richest person, according to the Sunday Times, donated £75m to the assemblage successful 2015 for the operation of the Blavatnik School of Government.

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Linacre, which has already faced a barrage of disapproval from academics for accepting the wealth and allowing the “commercialisation” of large seats of learning, said it was delighted to judge the donation arsenic it has “long been 1 of the slightest well-endowed colleges astatine the university” with conscionable £17.7m successful the bank.

Sovico’s relation successful assorted offshore lipid and state projects successful the Vietnam basin has besides angered the Oxford University Climate Justice Campaign, which said: “We are bittersweet to perceive what Linacre’s actions person told us: that Linacre values wealth much than radical and the planet.”

Phuong Thao and the assemblage had anticipated that criticism. As portion of the deal, Sovico has committed to reaching nett zero emissions by the extremity of 2050 – and says it volition gully connected input from Oxford academics to execute that goal.