When one asks market analysts, “What’s up with Naver?” they exclaim, “Everything’s up!”
Most significantly, the company’s earnings have skyrocketed, which in turn has driven up its stock price.
This positive momentum led Lee Hae-jin, the founder of the search giant, to receive a fatter paycheck and become richer, joining the upper echelon of Korean billionaires who include Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee.
Lee, Naver’s chairman of the board, has a 4.64 percent stake in the search portal and was paid a salary of 2.17 billion won ($2.06 million), including over 1 billion in bonuses, last year, according to a regulatory filing.
Lee Hae-jin. (The Korea Herald)
This makes him the richest executive in the realm of portals in Korea, with analysts forecasting that Naver’s stock will soon hit 1 million won per share.
Lee is among Korea’s 40 richest in a Forbes ranking. The value of his Naver shares increased to some 1.2 trillion won last year, according to Chaebul.com, a website that provides information on business tycoons.
Naver reached a 52-week high of 880,000 won last month, up from around 280,000 won a year ago.
“It’s not the Naver we used to know in the early 2000s. It’s now a conglomerate ranking among the very top in the stock market,” said an industry source in the mobile sector.
Just a few years ago, the market wondered whether Naver had hit a wall, with nothing new to show for itself besides being a search portal, which struggled for survival in its early days when Yahoo was the king.
But the mobile market has given Naver and Lee a second life with the creation of the mobile messenger Line and social network Band ― the two apps that account for their recent fame and fortune.
Line, which saw its number of subscribers surpass 400 million globally as of April 1, is often compared to WhatsApp and Tencent’s WeChat as the mobile messenger landscape has been redrawn following Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp.
An industry observer even referred to the three as the “Three Kingdoms,” a reference to the Chinese novel “Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” as they brace for a tougher turf war over mobile messaging.
Some say that Naver’s real success can be attributed to Lee upholding the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship even when times were tough.
Lee said in a recent in-house seminar that the only way for the company to survive was to accept that the world is changing, and the company must rapidly change along with it.
Line is an example of how Naver has dealt with the rapidly changing environment as Lee said the mobile messenger was created after a series of failures.
By Park Hyong-ki (firstname.lastname@example.org