How do you start your day? You probably go online to check the weather, catch up on the news, search for a restaurant for lunch, or do some online shopping. All these things start with a portal site that connects us to the internet. Perhaps it has become our closest neighbor in our lives. This 'Naver' is not only responsible for searches but also for providing various services that reflect people's needs. This time, an SMT reporter met with Han Seong-sook, Head of European Business Development at Naver, who quickly reads these needs and grasps the flow of trends.
Before the interview, please introduce yourself briefly.
Hello, my name is Han Seong-sook. I graduated in English Language & Literature at Sookmyung Women's University in 1989. After graduation, I started working as a journalist at a computer magazine and have been working in the IT industry for 34 years.
After graduating from the school of English Language & Literature, you worked as a journalist and then managed a search service at the portal site 'EMPAS.' We are curious how you came to work at a portal site.
My first job was as a reporter at a computer magazine. At that time, I got to meet a lot of people in the IT industry and learn about new technology trends. I became more and more interested in the ever-changing industry, so when the owner of a software development company that I interviewed with asked me to work together, I seized the opportunity. It was a time when PC communications were increasing and the Internet was just getting started, so I was lucky enough to change jobs and get close to the innovative technologies I was interested in when the IT industry was just in its infancy.
When you joined NAVER and served as CEO, you made changes to the environment of search-oriented portals by launching V Live, an internet broadcasting service, and Smart Store, a shopping mall creation tool for small business owners. How did you come up with the idea to implement these services?
In the early days of the Internet, it was only possible to find written documents, but as technology improved, it became possible to find images, photos, music, and videos. In this situation, as the diversity of Internet users increased, there were not only more users, but also more producers who created content on the Internet, and more business owners who sold products. Therefore, I tried to provide services for them and created tools such as Blog tools, V Live tools, and Smart Stores tools that make it easy to upload products. It seems like a natural progression for the IT industry to evolve because it's important to stay on top of what users are asking for, what new trends are emerging, and how to respond to them. In particular, Korean users are responsive to new things and have high standards, so it is more important to cater to their needs.
What were some of the challenges you faced in making these changes and how did you overcome them?
Trying to create something that hasn't existed before is one of the joys of working on an internet platform service. However, since most of these things are unprecedented in the world, there may be problems which are quite challenging to solve. To overcome these challenges, I had to focus on creating my own new solutions. For instance, when providing a service in Korea, the companies will be competing with the services of global companies. Therefore, Korean companies with less capital and a small organization have to find unique services that have never existed before and focus on users and the smallest details to raise the degree of their satisfaction.
You made a lot of efforts to resolve the social issues related to the display of news headlines on the front page of NAVER while you served as CEO. We would like to know more about your efforts and why you made such efforts.
When the weather is bad, important events happen, or people have questions, they turn to NAVER first. This is because they trust NAVER to provide them with the most accurate information. To fulfill this trust, I needed to take social responsibility and create a service. While NAVER's news editing service was convenient in that it allowed all users to see the headlines of the news on the front page of NAVER, it was also controversial because users' attention may be drawn to certain articles. On this, people had very different views and satisfaction with the service. Among the various reactions, I decided it was important to focus on the complaints and so I removed this section from the front page. It's because "Who are the users of this service, what are they satisfied with, and what do I need to improve and change?" are the most important criteria for my decisions and I work based on that.
Your decision seems to show that you are quite determined, so where does this come from?
I think my power of execution comes from the pleasure of reading the reactions of users after launching the service. It felt good to get good responses, and it was great to see a bad response turn into a good one by quickly organizing and improving the things that people weren't satisfied with. I think this rewarding feeling is also the driving force behind the development of Internet platform services that always focus on user responses and improve them immediately after launch.
Then, what skills or abilities do you think are necessary to work in the portal industry?
It's important to be able to recognize the needs of users. When I see a lot of people using the service I created, it's like meeting the viewers of a drama I produced. Just like a drama is judged by the viewer ratings, a service is judged by how often it is used. If you can realize what users want, you will be able to create a service that more users engage with. In addition, social responsibility and consciousness to review and reflect on how a service affects society are also necessary qualities.
You were the first female chief executive officer in the portal industry. How did you manage to work in one industry for a long time and become a top executive in that industry?
Fortunately, I was working in the industry when the internet was emerging, and I think it was a good fit for me. It was fun, so I was committed to working every day. I remember a friend in university telling me that one day I was studying for an exam and suddenly said, "I'm bored," and I was reading a literary novel, and said "I'm bored" again. Given my tendency to thrive on change, I don't think I would have lasted long in a job where I was doing the same thing over and over again. Also, I've always had the mindset that there's always something new and different to build and enjoyed enduring upheavals every year.
Recently, you donated funds for the establishment of the 'Han Kyung-seok and Lee Do-young Scholarship.' We are curious about the reason for creating this scholarship for the School of English Language and Literature at SMWU.
After 33 years of hectic work, I don't think I have had much time to look around me. Now that I've taken a step back in my field and am thinking about my life, I'm hoping that I can repay some of the help I've received. The first thing I thought of was my parents. Without their devotion and support, I wouldn't be where I am today. I know I can't give them the same thing, but I thought I could give a little bit of that to others like my parents. Also, I remembered my parents telling me that because you don't have kids, you should spend your life helping others study after you grow up. So, I chose the school I graduated from and set up a scholarship in the names of those who supported me. If the recipients of the scholarship want, I'll try to talk with them every now and then. I think it would be nice to make this relationship last longer.
Beyond donations like scholarships, what other new goals do you want to accomplish in the future?
Since May 2, 2022, I've been living in different European cities - London, Barcelona, and Paris - for two to three months each. Living in another country for the first time in my life in my mid-50s is a different kind of joy than the one I've had building online services. The space, the language, the color of people's skin, the food, almost everything is different. In many ways, it's more inconvenient and difficult than living in Seoul. On the other hand, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to live in Europe for three years, and I love the excitement of learning about different cultures and experiencing something new in every way. For the past almost 30 years, I've lived my life immersed in work, with annual business goals. I've come to realize that I don't really know what I like, so right now I want to focus most on getting to know myself.
Lastly, please say something to Sookmyungians who want to become leaders in various fields.
It sounds cliché, but you should find what you like and what you are good at. In my experience, if you don't like something, it's hard to do it well, and if you don't do it well, you don't enjoy it. Also, no matter what I do, I don't think I can do it alone. Most projects I've done well have always been with good colleagues and I've enjoyed the process of working together. The last thing I'd like to say is don't be in a hurry to move on. Some say life is a marathon, but I wonder if it is, and if we are only running one race. If we're all running in the same stadium with the same number, it's easy to get tired and it's not fun. We can create our own stadium and run in it. So, I hope you focus on finding a job that you can enjoy for a long time.
- Sookmyung Women's Univ., (B.A.) School of English Language & Literature (1989. 02)
- President of Korea Internet Corporations Association (2017. 03 ~ 2021. 03)
- President & CEO, NAVER Corporation (2017. 03 ~ 2022. 03)
- President of European Business, NAVER Corporation (2022. 03 ~)