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[Newsmaker] Pantech "legend" quits troubled firm

Park Byeong-yeop
Park Byeong-yeop
Park Byeong-yeop, founder and vice chairman of Korea’s third-largest mobile device maker Pantech Corp., decided to leave the firm to take responsibility for sluggish business.

He is the latest casualty among a list of so-called legendary businessmen after Woongjin Group founder Yoon Seok-keum and STX Group founder Kang Duk-soo, who had once garnered respect from office workers for their dramatic success stories.

Starting his career as a salesperson at telecommunications device maker Maxon Electronics, Park became a legendary business figure after he transformed the then small pager maker Pantech into a leading mobile phone manufacturer.

He is reported to have established the tech company in 1991 with seed money of 40 million won ($37,133), which was the rent deposit for his house.

He managed to expand his business to other nations including Russia and Japan, but was forced to put the firm under a debt workout program in 2007 at the onset of the global financial crisis.

In the following years, Park made relentless efforts to make a turnaround for the firm. He gave up his stock shares worth 400 billion won to revive the firm, and this year won an investment of 25 billion won and 53 billion won from Qualcomm and Samsung, respectively.

Despite his efforts, normalization of the business was not easy, largely due to fierce competition with other handset makers.

The advent of the smartphone era in the late 2000s pushed him further to the brink as the Korean smartphone market started to be dominated by Samsung, LG and Apple.

“I feel responsible and shamed for hurting everyone with my management incompetence,” Park said in a statement Wednesday.

He expressed hope for the revitalization of the firm under the leadership of Lee Joon-woo, who now has taken the helm, adding that he wanted to leave quietly.

Starting from the third quarter last year, Pantech has recorded a streak of losses. The sales loss stood at 49.5 billion won in the second quarter of this year.

The number of smartphone sales, which once marked 350,000 units a month, dropped to 150,000.

Park’s resignation was met with disappointment in some quarters as it came on the heels of the downfalls of other self-made businessmen including STX’s Kang.

Kang resigned to take responsibility for worsening business at the shipbuilder earlier this month.

By Kim Young-won  (