A wake-up callLee Hae-jin, founder of the top local portal site Naver, will give up the chairman’s seat in the board March to pioneer the West for the future of the Internet company. Chief executive Kim Sang-hun, who built the company over the last eight years, also will be stepping down. Lee said he was leaving the board to explore new growth in Europe and North America.
Lee has been turning his attention outside for some time. He left domestic operations in the hands of the CEO in 2011. Instead, he turned to overseas markets in order to catch up with multinational names like Google and Facebook. Japan was his first target. After five years, his efforts bore fruit. In July, Naver’s Japanese unit, Line, went public simultaneously on the New York and Tokyo stock exchanges. Line secured 200 million users from 200 countries. It is the top messaging platform in Japan and Taiwan. Naver earned 3 trillion won ($2.65 billion) through the dual listing of Line.
Lee did not indulge in his success. His entrepreneur genes are taking him to Europe. He is expected to search for ventures and investment targets in France, Germany and Britain. The company pledged a joint-venture capital of 100 million euros ($108.8 million) in a French venture fund. The start-up habitat is still in the budding stage in Europe, compared to the United States, but the demand for innovation and capital is on the rise. Naver also has a better chance to impress Europeans as U.S. technology companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon have irked local authorities over taxation and data interests.
Multinational IT giants are mercilessly expanding all across the world. They have come to rule the domains of ethnicity, ideology and society. Locals could very well go extinct if they do not stay alert and agile. They must incessantly evolve. Lee said he is fearful every day. His sense of vigilance and hunger should be a wake-up call to all local entrepreneurs.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 24, Page 30