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[SUPER RICH] Young Korean superrich transcend borders

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Published : 2015-03-17 21:00
Updated : 2015-03-25 09:52

Samsung Electronics vice chairman Lee Jay-yong and Daum Kakao chairman Kim Beom-su are two notable Korean billionaires with striking similarities.

Both operate world-class companies, hold considerable wealth and status, and suggest that they are keen to rapidly expand their businesses by transcending borders.

Lee Jay-yong and Kim Beom-su

Lee Jay-yong

Forbes selected Samsung Electronics vice chairman Lee Jay-yong as the most influential person in Korea in 2014. Bloomberg estimates his total assets at somewhere between $8.1 billion and $8.2 billion, making him the second-richest Korean after his father Lee Kun-hee.

Using the name “Jay Y. Lee” ― or “Jay Lee” for short ― when overseas, he is one of the most enthusiastic chaebol scions making global connections. Lee attended Harvard Business School as a doctoral candidate ― he did not obtain the degree ― and developed a formidable network in the U.S. and the U.K.

Lee establishes his position overseas in several ways. For one, he has regularly attended the annual Allen & Co. media finance conference since 2002 ― a private conference held for one week each July in Sun Valley, Idaho.

The conference frequently sees influential figures such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Ma.

He is also a member of several private organizations, including The Business Council, an exclusive organization of business leaders based in the United States with only 100 members.

Since 2011, Lee has also been a member of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, one of the oldest and most exclusive golf clubs boasting members such as Britain’s Princess Anne. He is thought to have joined the R&A by forming relationships with the club’s British members while visiting Samsung’s U.K. subsidiaries.

He also boasts a wide network in Asia. Lee is known to frequently meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and has been serving as a director of the Boao Forum for Asia since last year.

His intensive networking around the world brings tangible results, usually in the form of M&As. Samsung Electronics has become more aggressive in M&As since Lee became vice chairman in February 2012, and nine out of 15 deals during the last 27 months were after his father’s hospitalization.

The notable companies Samsung has acquired include SmartThings, a U.S. home automation start-up, which was bought for about $200 million last August, Brazilian printing service company Simpress in January, and U.S. mobile wallet service LoopPay in February.

Lee is also grooming Samsung to be an even more global company with 55 percent of its shares held by foreign investors. According to Bloomberg and the Economist, Samsung’s domestic ownership in 2014 was estimated at around 44 percent.

Kim Beom-su

Daum Kakao chairman Kim Beom-su rose to prominence after the historic merger between Internet portal site Daum and Kakao, the maker of South Korea’s top messenger app. Kim also reached Forbes’ list of “2015 Billionaires Newcomers.”

Kim Beom-su, or Brian, as he is also known, has eliminated many borders in his business management.

One of them is his insistence on a leveled relationship within the company rather than a hierarchal one. As a result, Kim and Daum Kakao employees use English names in order to address each other more informally.

Kim also transcended borders when his company was developing what became KakaoTalk by setting up offices in both Korea and the U.S. and having worked on various Internet projects in both countries ― such as content curating service Buru.com and question-and-answer service Wisia, which failed.

Kim shifted his business plan to mobile after sensing its potential, and it proved successful with messenger app KakaoTalk, which started with 59.5 million users in 2008 and jumped to 73.7 million users the following year, and has been increasing ever since.

Kim has more hurdles to leap in order to keep his business relevant. So far he has launched KakaoTalk and Buzz Launcher, which was a hit in Korea and Japan, but have not been successful elsewhere.

Experts analyze that Kim had merged Kakao with Daum in order to pave the way for further overseas business ventures.

He also shows his willingness to cross borders by managing his business along with foreign investors.

China’s Ma Huateng, who founded Tencent Holdings, has a 13.8 percent stake in Daum. Additionally, Tencent Holdings-affiliated company Maximo has a 9.9 percent stake and recently switched all of its preferred stock into common stock ― which provides them voting rights ― making Tencent the second-largest shareholder of Daum Kakao after Kim.

Despite some rising concerns about Daum Kakao potentially losing control to the Chinese companies, market experts view the relationship favorably, seeing it as the groundwork for a partnership.

Daum Kakao CEO Lee Seok-woo stated that Tencent is a member of Daum Kakao’s board of directors, and would continue its close and supportive relationship, showing Daum Kakao’s intention to become a more global company.

By The Korea Herald Superrich Team (sangyj@heraldcorp.com)

Kwon Nam-keun, Hong Seung-wan, Sung Yeon-jin, Bae Ji-sook, Yoon Hyun-jong, Min Sang-seek, Kim Hyun-il, Sang Youn-joo