A Coupang delivery staff poses next to a truck. Korea's top e-commerce operator spent big money to establish its own delivery system. Courtesy of Coupang

New HR head draws media attention

Last month, Korea’s leading e-commerce operator Coupang appointed two more chief executives in addition to existing CEO Kim Bom to bring about the first changes to the firm’s governance system since its foundation in the early 2010s.

Kim will continue to take charge of strategy at the Seoul-based company, while the “new heads” will assume leadership in the HR and fintech departments.

Of the two, new HR chief Ko Myung-joo draws media attention because he is known as a “restructuring expert,” a euphemism here for someone who is good at carrying out massive layoffs.

Ko previously worked for Daewoo Motors and Hanaro Telecom, two ill-fated Korean outfits that saw dramatic ownership changes.

Daewoo Motor, the automotive unit of the now-defunct Daewoo Group, was sold in 2001 to General Motors; while Hanaro Telecom was acquired by SK Group in 2008.

Ko reportedly spearheaded the jobs of post-merger restructuring of personnel at the two companies. Other than that, little is known about the 54-year-old.

The aforementioned analysis is on the lips of observers because Coupang keeps losing money.

Some praise Coupang as a potential-laden company to fill the void of Amazon here as the U.S. giant fails to make its presence felt in Korea.

But Coupang’s deficits snowball to prompt controversies among experts with regard to its sustainability.

Coupang CEO Kim Bom downplayed it as “planned losses,” which would be comparable to early deficits of Amazon in the 1990s, and promises to keep investing to beef up its leadership in the industry.

But the losses are way too big as the amount approached $1 billion last year by surging 71.7 percent from a year before. Coupang accumulated some $2.6 billion in total deficits since 2013.

Its shareholder supports Kim’s approach as SoftBank Group channeled $1 billion into the firm in 2015 and $2 billion more last year through the SoftBank Vision Fund.

But it remains to be seen how long shareholders will underpin the money-losing company. New head Ko may have to take advantage of his expertise in downsizing in the near future.


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