Kwak promotes what President Lee should stand for
Kwak Seung-jun, chairman of the Council for Future and Vision under President Lee Myung-bak, talks about technology during an interview with Business Focus on April 24. / Korea Times file
Interestingly enough, an interview with Kwak Seung-jun, chairman of the blue-ribbon Council for Future and Vision was held on April 24 as scheduled.
The significance of the date was that some morning newspapers reported that Kwak had frequently hobnobbed with a mid-sized conglomerate head in an expensive bar that was complete with female companions.
Kwak threatened to sue the paper that broke the story and those who picked from it for defamation.
Even if he knew, he didn’t show any signs that he was upset during the interview.
Rather, he captured the core of a given issue often by an unconventional approach. That explained why he is one of President Lee Myung-bak’s most-cherished strategists.
He lived up to his reputation of being unconventional, when he talked about his recent experience of appearing on the Korean version of Saturday Night Live (SNL), an offshoot from NBC skits-based comedy show.
“I did a rehearsal five or six times that day, it was one of the most difficult live shows I’ve ever done,” said Kwak as he chuckled.
His aim for social convergence across the age demographics made him organize open debate sessions called “2020 future talk.”
Hosting a variety of panels from youth union members to parents with teenage children to professional gamers to powerbloggers specialized in smartphones, Kwak attempted to bring interactive — sometimes heated — discussions rather than guest lectures, an old-school way to engage people in 40s and 50s, as he described.
The latest debate was on Naver, a local Internet giant with nearly 65 percent of Web portal market share, whether its monopolistic business integration, both vertically and horizontally, is good for the industry, and what it takes to become a global player.
When Kwak, a former economics professor at Korea University, talks about what’s on the top of his agenda as a chairman of a council which the future of the country is relied upon, as he jokingly said during an SNL skit, often information technology or IT-related issues come up most often.
Especially Korea’s Internet-based economy has exponentially grown over the past 10 years, its percentage in the country’s gross domestic product exceeded the ones of the manufacturing in electronics and automobiles, Kwak said.
This is the second largest size among the G20 nations only after Great Britain. By 2016, the market size of Korea’s IT industry is projected to reach 132 trillion won or about $116.4 billion, which is 8 percent of the GDP.
“That’s why we need to pay attention to large Internet firms like Naver, a dominant player of Korea’s Internet ecosystem that is crucial in cultivating other Internet-related businesses to grow,” he said.
Kwak did not shy away from criticizing the company’s current business model — to monopolize every possible local Web commerce opportunities.
“Since the so-called Smart Era, global competition is taking place between digital ecosystems rather than between individual companies, but Naver failed to cultivate a collaborative platform to help develop small-and-medium-sized players,” Kwak said.
For instance, Samsung Electronics as part of the largest conglomerate Samsung Group, comes close to be in a neck-and-neck competition with Apple, the once-dominant-leader in smartphone markets. But if Samsung doesn’t build a support system working with smaller companies, it can sustain the current growth only so far, he said.
In comparison, the Apple’s platform for iPhone, for instance, has established a strong ecosystem. The Cupertino-based firm only takes charge of the hardware design and it is open to third-party startups and small-and-medium app providers to fill in the software parts.
That way, those individual innovators can contribute as many cool apps as possible to Apple’s platform, which ultimately draws the crowds.
On the other hand, Cyworld, Korea’s original social media site, is a good example of which failed to secure such platform, and is now overtaken by Facebook.
Google is also known for more open ecosystem with its unique beta culture, Kwak said.
The Silicon Valley titan releases most new products in beta or as a pilot project and encourages third-party developers to participate in the process, whether they’re professional code programmers or regular bloggers. Its experimental approach helps drive new ideas and empowers users to decide what they really want.
Then where do Korean contenders come in the ever-evolving IT industry?
“As seen from the Korean successful smartphone makers like Samsung and LG, we are good at adding Korean values and analogue sentiment to modern technology, that’s where our strength lies,” Kwak said.
But again, the closeted approach by an individual company will have a limitation in meeting international standards and competing with the “Silicon Valley technology ecosystem.”