Pantech founder’s gamble pays off

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Pantech founder’s gamble pays off

Pantech’s creditors agreed yesterday to end the five-year workout program for Korea’s third-largest handset maker one day after Park Byung-yeop, its vice chairman and founder, announced that he will step down later this month.

Korea Development Bank, the largest shareholder, informed Pantech that “all 11 creditors have agreed orally to end the workout program,” the company said.

Pantech’s executives and employees welcomed the news, even holding a small ceremony during which they resolved to transform the company into a global IT business.

The creditors’ move came shortly after Park announced his impending resignation, a move that industry watchers say was a calculated strategy aimed at forcing the creditors to hammer out an agreement and wrap up the debt restructuring process.

Speculation is now growing as to whether Park will keep to his word or display a change of heart, with some raising the possibility that Park may withdraw his resignation having apparently achieved his goal.

“Park heard the news [from the creditors], but he hasn’t said a word about it yet,” a Pantech official said.

The founder also made it clear that he was prepared to surrender a 10 percent stock option to step down quickly, but that he would retain the preferred purchase right. Industry analysts predict Park will ultimately exercise the purchase right to lay claim to the company again when the creditors start looking for a new owner.

But he declined to mention whether he would make a comeback at Tuesday’s press conference, stressing that he wants to step down because he is in desperate need of a rest after years of trials and tribulations. He also did not appear at his office yesterday.

According to the company, Pantech has formed an emergency management team headed by Vice President Lee Joon-woo to fill the void from Jan. 1. However, it may not be necessary. “The creditors will ask Park to return to the company,” said an official from the KDB.

Regardless of Park’s next step, Pantech is bracing for a second leap. The company said it has set a new sales target of 10 trillion won ($8.89 billion) for 2015 based on sales volume of 40 million units.

“The end of the workout program is a starting point for the next 50 years of Pantech,” the company said. “We will continue to evolve with our corporate spirit of taking on new challenges and never giving up.”


By Song Su-hyun [ssh@joongang.co.kr]

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