Naver recruiting M&A experts to build investment business

Naver Corp., operator of South Korea’s largest internet search portal, is recruiting merger and acquisition (M&A) experts from companies like Macquarie Group to strengthen its investment business, fueling speculation of increased market rivalry. 

The firm has hired Namsun Kim, a former managing director and private equity investment expert at Macquarie Group, investment banking sources said on Thursday (July 9), and he started work at Naver earlier this month. Kim played a leading role in the recent series of large investments at Macquarie, including deals involving ADT Caps and LG CNS.

“There are rumors that Naver will continue to recruit more M&A experts for the time being,” said an industry insider. The company is mostly targeting junior and senior-level personnel from accounting firms and investment banks.

Naver’s management strategy and finance department has been in charge of M&A deals, while its D2 Startup Factory, an accelerator for tech startups, has been responsible for discovering and investing in promising companies. The firm has mainly focused on startups or companies that it thinks have the potential to become unicorns that are valued at more than $1 billion.

However, most of Naver’s M&A transactions have involved less than 10 billion won ($8.5 million). The biggest deals in value terms were the 2017 acquisitions of a majority stake in Five, an ad platform developer for mobile videos (51.7 billion won), and Drama & Co., operator of cloud-based business card management application Remember (38.3 billion won). So far this year Naver has acquired stakes in two startup companies, and they were only worth a combined 5 billion won.

As the company aggressively recruits new staff, market participants are watching whether competition will intensify between Naver and its closest internet rival Kakao, which has been acquiring stakes in other companies much more frequently. Kakao has bought into more than 50 companies over the past five years, including a stake in Loen Entertainment, provider of South Korea’s most-used music streaming service MelOn, which it acquired from SK Planet for 1.87 trillion won in 2016.

“Naver has not shown any significant moves in the M&A market except for acquisitions or equity investments in venture companies,” another industry source said. “As it is recruiting new staff with extensive M&A experience, Naver may pursue M&As more aggressively, targeting bigger companies from now on.” (Reporting by Ikhwan Choi)