Korea’s JoongAng Daily called it an “extreme makeover” of Naver’s C-suite when Choi Soo-yeon stepped into the CEO position in March. At age 40, Choi Soo-yeon is the youngest-ever leader of Naver — the number one portal operator and internet firm in South Korea, often compared to Google in its reach across search, online shopping, maps, and more. She is also its first female CEO.
Choi takes the helm of Naver at one of the most difficult times in its history. An engineer’s suicide in May 2021 renewed questions over the company’s work culture, and over the latter half of the year, government scrutiny has intensified over Naver’s market power and the way it could be crushing smaller businesses.
A civil engineering graduate, Choi’s first stint at Naver was in 2005 as a PR and marketing intern, rising to manager before leaving for law school at Yonsei University, then Harvard Law School. She worked as an international mergers and acquisitions lawyer before returning to Naver in 2019 as the head of global business support, before being tapped only three years later to head the entire internet conglomerate.
Naver is South Korea’s biggest internet company and has comfortably held the position of largest search engine for the last two decades. It has a network of subsidiaries, including ownership in Line, one of the largest messaging platforms in Asia, while its international strategy is being pushed forward with businesses like Wattpad, the fiction platform popular with Gen Z.
Choi’s appointment has little precedent in her country. Up to 95% of executive positions among Korea’s publicly listed companies are filled by men, and the average CEO age among the top companies is just over 58 years old.