This story appears in the Apr/May 2022 issue of Forbes Asia. Subscribe to Forbes Asia
Jae-Hyun Kim for Forbes
This story is part of Forbes’ coverage of Korea’s Richest 2022. See the full list here.
The rags-to-riches tale of Kim Beom-su, founder of Kakao, turned the page on another tumultuous chapter. He tops this year’s list with a net worth of $9.6 billion, down 9% since we last measured fortunes. In March, the 56-year-old announced he was stepping down as company chairman following controversies that weighed on the stock, as the pandemic fueled demand for Kakao’s social and fintech services.
Net profit surged nearly 850% to 1.6 trillion won ($1.3 billion) in 2021 from a year earlier on a 48% increase in sales to 6.1 trillion won. Kakao stands alongside Korea’s chaebols as the sixth-largest publicly traded company in South Korea, with a market cap of $34 billion. The self-made entrepreneur launched Korea’s most-popular messaging app in 2010, then expanded to other businesses including payments, banking, gaming and ride-hailing.
In September, the country’s antitrust regulator launched a probe into Kim and his holding company K Cube over potential fair trade violations. Three months later, reports emerged that authorities were investigating claims by a civic group that Kim had evaded $740 million in taxes. At the time, Kakao denied the allegations as “baseless,” and in March they were dismissed by Korea’s national tax body. The company did not respond to a request for comment.
Amid concerns of heightened regulatory pressure, Kakao postponed listing fintech unit Kakao Pay until last November, when it raised $1.3 billion, and indefinitely pushed back the IPO of taxi-hailing app Kakao Mobility. In March, Kim signed the Giving Pledge to donate more than half of his personal assets to society. He says he now plans to focus on Kakao’s global business expansion.
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