It has been found that Naver founder Lee Hae-jin recently visited the Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) and asked the commission to designate Naver as an ownerless company if Naver is classified as a quasi-conglomerate with an asset of at least five trillion won (US$4.5 billion) and subject to the duty of public disclosure.
As of the end of June this year, the founder owned 4.64% of Naver whereas the National Pension Service (NPS), Aberdeen Asset Management and BlackRock Fund Advisors owned 10.61%, 5.04% and 5.03%, respectively. In addition, the founder had no share at all in Naver’s daughter and granddaughter companies such as Line, Snow and Naver Labs. The NPS already became the largest shareholder in as early as September 2014 and the founder retired as the chairman of the board in March this year. This means the founder’s share in Naver is insufficient for him to raise his voice as an owner.
Nonetheless, he is likely to be included in the group of owners once the company is classified as a quasi-conglomerate next month with its total asset having reached 6.37 trillion won (US$5.7 billion) at the end of last year. This is because he is the largest individual shareholder and has a symbolic significance as the founder of the company. His visit to the KFTC was for Naver Corporation to be included in the group of owners instead of himself. According to some industry experts, the founder does not want himself to be seen as one of chaebol owners like rulers. “At present, the founder’s role in Naver is limited to global investment officer with Naver Corporation running all of the 70 or so subsidiaries,” the company explained.
According to the others, however, the founder’s move is for him to avoid regulations applied to quasi-conglomerate owners while continuing to lead business and investment activities abroad. The regulations include prohibition of preferential transactions between a quasi-conglomerate and a subsidiary in which a member of the owner’s family has a shareholding of at least 30%. In addition, large-scale transactions with such subsidiaries and shareholding statuses have to be disclosed on a regular basis.