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Naver chairman steps down to focus on Europe

[THE INVESTOR] South Korean internet giant Naver said on Oct. 20 that Chairman Lee Hae-jin has decided to step down from his post and help the company’s global expansion into the untapped European market.

The company’s CEO Kim Sang-hun, Lee’s close aide, also resigned on the same day. Hahn Seong-sook, executive vice president of Naver’s services division, will replace him as the company’s first female CEO.

The drastic change in Naver’s top brass comes after its Japanese affiliate Line made its hot stock debut in Tokyo and New York in July. 

Naver Chairman Lee Jae-jin (right) and CEO Kim Sang-hun attend a press conference in Seoul on Sept. 30. Yoon Byung-chan/The Investor
Naver Chairman Lee Jae-jin (right) and CEO Kim Sang-hun attend a press conference in Seoul on Sept. 30. Yoon Byung-chan/The Investor

Sources say Lee is likely to leave for France and stay there for some time to pave the way for Naver to enter the European market. Despite its firm footing in Asia, largely based on its immensely popular Line mobile messenger in the region, Naver has almost no presence in Europe and the US.

As part of their renewed commitment to Europe, Naver and Line recently announced they will invest a combined 100 million euros (US$112 million) into K-Fund 1, a startup accelerator fund that will be operated by Korelya Capital, a venture capital firm established by Fleur Pellerin, the Korean-born, former French minister of small enterprises and digital economy who resigned in August.

Naver said Lee will remain as a registered board member at the company.

The long-time CEO Kim’s departure comes as a surprise. Since taking the helm in 2009, he has led the company’s global expansion, especially in Japan. His years-long efforts resulted in Line’s successful dual listing in the US and Japan.

Kim, however, has been mired in a dodgy stock trading scandal recently. He was suspected of making profits with insider information before game developer Nexon’s planned initial public offering in 2006. 

Kim told The Investor that "such allegation has been found to be groundless after a questioning session by the prosecution."

Replacing him, the new CEO Hahn is a Sookmyung Women’s University graduate who joined Naver in 2007. Prior to that she worked as a web search business chief at search engine Empas.

She played a key role in nurturing Naver’s real-time video streaming service V Line, a flagship mobile service for the company.

Her appointment will be voted at a shareholders meeting planned in March next year before the final decision is made at a board meeting in the same month.

By Kim Young-won (