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Moon hosts innovative CEOs

President talks nice but also gets an earful about gov’t policies
Feb 08,2019
이미지뷰
President Moon Jae-in shakes hands with Naver founder Lee Hae-jin, currently the portal’s global investment officer, at the Blue House on Thursday. Founders of seven companies were invited to a meeting aimed to find ways to improve the start-up ecosystem in Korea. The companies invited included first-generation tech ventures like NCSoft, Macrogen and unicorn start-ups with more than $1 billion in corporate value such as Coupang, Viva Republica, L&P Cosmetics and Woowa Brothers. [YONHAP]
President Moon Jae-in said Korea’s anti-corporate sentiment will be resolved in the near future as companies’ managements become more transparent.

“Anti-corporate sentiment seemed to have been rooted in the consciousness of the people, because in the early years, many that built their wealth used unjust means,” Moon said at the Blue House Thursday. “I believe an improvement in the people’s attitudes towards businesses will change soon.”

On Thursday, Moon invited the founders and heads of seven innovative companies to the Blue House where he once again pitched his notion of “inclusive innovative growth,” an economic theme he has been stressing since the beginning of this year.

During the meeting, heads of the companies raised concerns about anti-market government policies, the Korean government’s policies against Korean companies as well as government regulations that prevent businesses from expanding, including attracting foreign investments.

“Every time the government announces supportive plans, I cannot wonder if it is distorting the market economy,” said NCSoft founder and CEO Kim Taek-jin. “I hope that even if the government announces supportive plans, it would maintain the soundness of a market economy.”

Kim also raised concerns over the government’s loose attitude about foreign competition.

“In other countries, [the government] tries to protect its own companies, making the fence much harder for foreign companies from entering,” Kim said. “But in our case, it’s the opposite as it is easy for foreign companies to enter Korea while protecting Korean companies is difficult.

“I hope our government will become smarter.”

Lee Hae-jin, co-founder of Korea’s largest Web portal, Naver, said global competitors receive various benefits in Korea especially on taxes.

“I’m not saying we aren’t going to pay, but at least the same rules should equally be applied to Korean companies and foreign companies,” he said.

Kim Bom, founder and CEO of Korea’s leading e-commerce company Coupang, as well as SG Lee, founder of Viva Republica, which developed Korea’s leading fintech platform Toss, raised the issue of excessive government regulations preventing foreign investment.

“In order to create unicorn companies [start-ups whose value exceeds $1 billion], foreign investments are needed,” said Kim of Coupang. “But the biggest problem that prevents foreign investment is uncertainty.”

He said the depth and interpretation of regulations change too often.

“Korea is a country where its people have high levels of education and consumers quickly accept new products, which makes Korea a market with huge potential,” Kim said. “We all have to work in order to minimize the uncertainty.”

Lee of Viva Republica said the various regulations on fintech are difficult to explain to foreign investors and a lack of specific data on Korea’s regulation and policies confuses potential foreign investors.

Lee also criticized on government’s shortening of the legal workweek.

“I understand the purpose of the 52-hour workweek,” Lee said. “But for companies that are growing rapidly, it is just another regulation.”

Other representatives of companies included Seo Jeong-sun, founder of biopharmaceutical start-up Macrogen; Kim Bong-jin, founder of Woowa Brothers, which created Korea’s leading food delivery app Baedal Minjok, and Kwon Oh-sub, CEO of L&P Cosmetics.

The invitation by Moon was the first in a month since he invited heads of small- and medium-sized enterprises and start-ups to the Blue House.

“Our government has promised an innovative, inclusive country and is looking for innovative growth for the main engine [of our economy’s] growth,” Moon said. “In order to achieve this goal, there’s a need to boost the start-up ecosystem so that innovative start-ups could grow into larger companies and then unicorn companies and eventually into conglomerates.”

BY LEE HO-JEONG [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]