Bae Yong-joon, Businessman Extraordinaire

July 24, 2006

Everyone’s favorite son-in-law Bae Yong-joon should soon have the letters CEO on his name card. He is already regarded as something of an entertainment magnate as the largest shareholder of a Kosdaq-listed company and runs three restaurants at home and abroad.

The actor is the major shareholder of entertainment firm Keyeast with a 42.2 percent stake worth more than W50 billion (US$1=W950) at Friday’s closing price. Bae bought Keyeast in March when it came close to being de-listed, changing its name from Ottowintech. He is believed to be managing some W80 billion, including his investments in restaurants and his Japanese agency.

Bae paid W7 billion in taxes last year. Softbank Korea, Bae’s co-investor in Keyeast, says the investment decision came at the actor’s proposal, who therefore "naturally" owns the largest stake. However, Bae will not directly take part in management, Softbank Korea President Greg Moon said.

But unlike other celebrities who just lend their name to business companies for promotion effects, Bae does now take a key part in the company’s management. Most Keyeast executives including CEO Bae Sung-woong are the actor’s former managers and have worked with him for some 10 years. For two or three years, Bae had been telling them he wants to start his own business to promote cooperation with entertainment companies of other Asian countries and thus sustain the Korean pop culture boom abroad.

Bae is also expanding his restaurant business. He established restaurants and cafes capitalizing on the well-being trend since opening a restaurant called Smart Kitchen last year. Then came the traditional Korean room Tea Loft at the main branch of Lotte Department Store and health food restaurant Gorilla In the Kitchen in Shinsa-dong in Gangnam, Seoul this April. A high-end Korean restaurant is scheduled to open in Tokyo next month.

Known as a perfectionist, the actor underlines and annotates his screenplays until they fall to pieces. Photographers who worked with him praise this skill at striking the perfect pose in every picture, none going to waste. Another business talent is his ability to make friends with anyone. People close to the actor say he is also good at spotting a lucrative opportunity.

Yet there are voices saying it is premature to conclude Bae is a leading business talent. The head of a management company admits that Bae has so far been successful in everything he has touched, but cautions it remains to be seen that was due to talent or the allure of his fame.

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