01 Apr 2001


Edwin Yu: Bidding on the Future

by Alejandro Reyes

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The conventional wisdom is that Asian businesspeople tend to avoid confrontation and take only calculated risks. Edwin Yu is clearly breaking that mold. Last April he came out on top in the first boardroom proxy fight in South Korean history, winning control of Goldbank, an Internet start-up that went from leading portal to overextended venture incubator in just one year. The founder and owner was removed, and Yu, 36, was left to pick up the pieces. As chairman and CEO, he is now restructuring and refocusing the company to be a digital marketplace for goods and services for sale by tender.

Raised in Seoul, Yu came to the United States when he was 13. After majoring in computer science in college and following a stint as an engineer, he returned home and reclaimed his Korean nationality. Knowing that he wanted to become a professional manager, he eventually got involved in Goldbank, a dot-com start-up that launched what became the country’s most popular Internet portal. But after the competition heated up and the company diversified, “we lost our identity and our leadership position,” Yu recalls. That set the stage for his challenge and the proxy war.

Although he’s now in charge, Yu has only a tiny stake in Goldbank — “too embarrassingly small to mention,” he jokes. He is selling off most of the company’s 25 subsidiaries to leave just 3 business units. “We were a first-generation Internet venture that tried, but failed. So we’re trying again.” So far, the sales-by-tender model seems to be catching on. In the first run, Goldbank attracted over twenty thousand bids for products such as brand-name electronics, cosmetics, golf equipment, and automobiles, racking up $500,000 in sales. In the second round, the number of bids rose by 50 percent. To bid, customers must pay a small participation fee. For now, the service is limited to Seoul and the capital’s suburbs.

For somebody living on the cutting-edge of the e-commerce revolution, Yu is surprisingly relaxed and good-humored. Still, he isn’t letting his guard down. Competition, Yu says, is the biggest challenge he faces. Another is busting convention. Most South Korean corporations are owner-operated, with shareholders voting with the owner practically all the time. Now, “more and more professionals are managing companies,” Yu explains. And like him, many of this new generation of managers are proving that daring can pay off.

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