Three high-profile employees at foreign private equity (PE) firms in Seoul have left their posts in the past month, triggering speculation of a wider migration of talent.
PAG executive director Steve Choe, KKR principal Changhwan Lee and CVC Capital Partners veteran Chris An have all departed, with only An confirming a new role.
Steve Choe, who had worked as executive director at PAG since 2015, reportedly has not determined his next professional move. PAG exited its investment in Young Toys last summer, leaving only real assets in its South Korean portfolio.
The Hong Kong-based firm will likely search for candidates to replace Choe, given that it has been actively exploring new investment opportunities in the country in recent years, industry watchers said.
Changhwan Lee, who was an analyst with Goldman Sachs before joining KKR in 2012, is said to be planning to start his own private equity firm.
An was recruited by TA Associates earlier this year as part of the company’s strategy to expand its business in South Korea. The Boston-based firm acquired bubble tea chain Gong Cha from Unison Capital in 2019 and had shown interest in buyouts of South Korean companies in the consumer sector, including Hollys Coffee and Outback Steakhouse Korea, although it eventually pulled out.
TA Associates has recently indicated an interest in acquiring job portal JobKorea, which is still undergoing its sale process.
A handful of foreign PE firms have indicated they want more access to the South Korean market, and interest levels are increasing, boosting demand for staff. There are not many PE professionals with knowledge and experience in this market.
“CVC Capital Partners, KKR and PAG are all likely to attempt to hire veterans from other private equity firms, which could lead to continuous movements of employees from one firm to another,” said an industry insider. (Reporting by Hee-yeon Han)