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Creating key drivers of growth

Koh Eun-kyung, a member of NAVER’s Corporate division, has 4 years of experience working at a consulting firm, during which she was in charge of providing solutions to and establishing strategies for challenges that different companies had. She says working with NAVER as a partner left a significant impact. To her eyes, NAVER was an organization where actions were executed in a timely manner, and also where employees could experience a wide range of businesses including fintech, content, commerce and cloud. In fact, Eun-kyung has worked on high-profile projects including the Wattpad M&A and investment on Cafe24 to fully contribute to NAVER’s growth, all within just a year since she joined the company. Bold actions can be taken when planning ahead of others, being confident about the decisions made, and not being afraid to persuade others. This is how the drive behind growth comes into being.

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Tell us about the work you are doing in NAVER?

I am responsible for finding NAVER’s growth opportunities and executing our growth plans. To be more specific, it is about finding international M&A opportunities and forging partnerships. Our team must focus on both strategy and investment, or strategic investment as many calls it. We find strategies to quickly expand NAVER’s business, explore investment opportunities to implement these strategies and start acquiring companies.

The name, Growth & True North, is quite unique. What does it mean?

Growth & True North is the name of our team that was put together just about a year ago. Just as the name implies, we are people gathered to envision NAVER’s future. The term ‘True North’ refers to the direction towards the True North Pole, a fixed point on the Earth’s globe. Our team was named after this concept to show that we will build proactive strategies for NAVER’s growth by addressing the needs of global customers and navigating our way through the challenges that we face.

Tell us more about your team.

Growth & True North is a very small team. Every time I tell others about what we do and the size of our team, they often wonder how it is possible to handle all that workload with just a few people. I say with pride that our team has the ability to coordinate quickly and efficiently, thus allowing us to make fast decisions. In most cases, paperwork alone can total a hundred pages or more before making investment decisions because it has to include reasons as to why we need to invest and whether it is worth the investment. But at NAVER, all the documents are less than 10 pages, which is even shocking to many global investment banks. Many say that we take a proactive approach when making investment decisions. I enjoy working here because we are a team with diverse backgrounds/experiences, including legal, finance, strategy, investment and business, and skill sets that complement each other.

Is there any particular project you would like to especially share with us?

For me, it was Cafe24. NAVER had been making attempts to provide solutions to help merchants and brands to better run their stores on our e-commerce platform. As luck would have it, we found the perfect partner, a Korean company that was at the forefront of e-commerce store solutions. So we reached out to Cafe24 first by conducting cold calling, and the two CEOs of NAVER and Cafe24 met to discuss the two company’s business roadmap and found that they were holding a shared vision. We thought that this partnership could create something greater. We held a meeting that was the beginning of what became an investment opportunity. And even till today, we engage in discussions to strengthen our partnership and cooperation.

Can you tell us more about the Wattpad M&A?

The first step is always the hardest. I think Wattpad was the living embodiment of that idiom. While we were seeking growth and investment opportunities for WEBTOON, a global content platform, Kim Jun-Koo, the CEO of WEBTOON, mentioned Wattpad. The idea was that we would be able to unlock the full potential of WEBTOON and Wattpad, the world’s largest web novel platform, if we join hands together. This project itself was meaningful in that it was something that we never thought would happen and a deal that we have never done before. It was a hard bargain. We have put our heart and soul into this deal so that WEBTOON could win the bid, beating global competitors.

“We were all inspired by the two who are serious about content creation and were eager to create something great together. It is something I will never forget.”

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The keys to a successful acquisition?

I think we found a breakthrough when the two CEOs of WEBTOON (Kim Jun-koo) and Wattpad (Allen Lau) met. Sincerity was the strategy that Jun-koo used to win Allen’s heart. We also tried our best to offer the right value but I think what tipped the balance was that the two CEOs found that they were holding a shared vision. We were all inspired by the two who are serious about content creation and were eager to create something great together as the two world’s largest storytelling platforms. They didn’t talk about sales growth or operating profit, but rather, they talked about their MAUs, loyal users, and the quality of their services. It was quite unusual and even shocking in a sense because I was a newbie at that time and I thought that business was about profit. So the vision that they shared seemed naive. But I was there to witness with my own eyes that sincerity is what drove the business success of WEBTOON and Wattpad and realized that their vision still holds true today. Perhaps this is what we should all be aiming for.

“My work is a double-edged sword in that I’m on my own to navigate my own path, define my role, and find answers to questions after much consideration.”

Is there anything you do to get better at your job?

I don’t have a particular routine. I’m on my own to navigate my own path. It means that I need to take initiative at work and do things without being told. I am responsible for suggesting ideas to the team. No one asks me or forces me to do paperwork or take on tasks. I worked on 5 to 6 M&A projects this year. Every second was incredible as it was fulfilling on my part, but I couldn’t stop asking myself, “Is there anything else other than M&As that might help NAVER to grow better?” We get to hear a lot of things from different angles because we look for investment opportunities. We try to find growth opportunities by tapping into those sources, even though it might not lead to immediate investment. Our job is to find common ground on the dos and don’ts. I think that is how we can contribute to NAVER.

What is the biggest challenge that you face at work?

Sometimes we are overwhelmed by our projects. We feel lost at times. That is why we hold a lot of internal meetings. We don’t meet up on a regular basis, but it is more like brainstorming with the whole team, twice or three times a week. This is my favorite moment of the week. We talk about everything, from the latest trends, to market situations and how and what we can contribute. While we toss around ideas, it gets clear who we should contact and reach out to. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed because we need to find answers to difficult questions. But I think the key to this puzzle is our unique team culture. We do find a way out while tossing ideas around.

What is the ‘one thing’ that keeps you going?

What we do is no easy task. Some might find the agendas that we share, such as the global trend, what NAVER should try, and decisions we’ve made after weighing different options, unpleasant to hear. But we do not hesitate to speak up once we make up our minds after much consideration on the company’s strategic direction, and think that it is the True North that we should be heading to. We will convince the stakeholders so that our ideas can become a reality. I think intrepidity is what gets us going.

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Published APR. 2022

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