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Ador CEO Min Hee-jin keeps job, offers olive branch to HYBE

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Ador CEO Min Hee-jin smiles during a press conference at the Korea Press Center in central Seoul, Friday. Joint Press Corps, Yonhap

Ador CEO Min Hee-jin smiles during a press conference at the Korea Press Center in central Seoul, Friday. Joint Press Corps, Yonhap

By Dong Sun-hwa

CEO Min Hee-jin of Ador, home to girl group NewJeans and a subsidiary of K-pop powerhouse HYBE, succeeded in retaining her position, but two Ador executives were dismissed during an extraordinary shareholders' meeting Friday.

HYBE, which owns 80 percent of Ador shares, named three of its officials — Kim Joo-young, Lee Jae-sang and Lee Kyung-joon — as Ador's new board members.

Kim is HYBE's chief human resources officer, who previously worked as an HR expert at the personal care manufacturer Yuhan-Kimberly and the game company Krafton. Lee Jae-sang is the chief security officer known for playing a pivotal role in HYBE's acquisition of American record label Ithaca Holdings in 2021. Lee Kyung-joon is the chief financial officer, who worked with Min at Ador in the past.

HYBE initially planned to sack Min during the shareholders' meeting, alleging Min of breach of trust. It filed a report with police against the CEO on April 25, saying that Min, who holds an 18 percent stake in Ador, attempted to seize control of Ador from the parent company via shareholder collusion.

Min denied the allegations, insisting that she was accused by HYBE after blowing the whistle internally on its alleged copying of NewJeans' formula to launch another group — ILLIT — under its roof. On May 7, she filed for an injunction to prevent HYBE from exercising its voting rights to fire her, claiming HYBE's move is a violaion of the shareholders' contract between the two.

The Seoul Central District Court ruled in favor of Min on Thursday, granting her injunction.

"HYBE's reasons for Min's dismissal were not explained sufficiently," the court said. "What Min has done can be seen as an act of betrayal, but not a breach of trust."

Although Min has succeeded in keeping her position, experts say Min and HYBE will now have an "uneasy cohabitation" fraught with internal conflicts, with the CEO and the new board members locking horns over various issues.

"It will be challenging for Min to speak up in her company," music critic Han Dong-yoon told The Korea Times. "In particular, there will be clashes in matters that require board resolution ... In HYBE's case, it may still focus on discovering the smoking gun to prove that she attempted to usurp its control of Ador."

Ador CEO Min Hee-jin leaves  the Korea Press Center in central Seoul, Friday, after wrapping up a press event. Joint Press Corps, Yonhap

Ador CEO Min Hee-jin leaves the Korea Press Center in central Seoul, Friday, after wrapping up a press event. Joint Press Corps, Yonhap

Min offers olive branch

A few hours after the shareholders' meeting, Min held a press conference at the Korea Press Center in central Seoul, offering an olive branch to HYBE while asking for a compromise. It was the second press conference the CEO held since the spat erupted.

"I wonder who can benefit from this feud," Min said, clad in a yellow sweater and looking more refined than she did during her first press conference last month, where she wore a baseball cap and T-shirt, appearing visibly shaken. "I am tired of exchanging salvos and hope we can discuss constructive ways to proceed toward a direction that can benefit everyone."

According to her legal representatives, HYBE can opt to hold another shareholders' meeting in the near future to push forward Min's dismissal again. Min, however, underscored that this would not help anyone, adding that she wants to continue working as Ador's CEO in a reasonable manner and move on to the next chapter.

"I want to carry out the plans that I mapped out with NewJeans," she said. "My top priority is the vision shared by me and the NewJeans members, which I can't trade for money ... (Ultimately,) this vision is the pursuit of the members' happiness. I hope they can stand up on their own feet even after terminating their contracts with HYBE in about seven years."

She added, "Specifically, NewJeans will perform at Tokyo Dome in June and also planned to put out a new album later this year before embarking on a world tour in 2025. However, due to the ongoing standoff, everything has fallen into chaos. Now that I have no reasons to be fired, it will be really painful if our vision is killed. I believe this will also trigger an economic loss for our shareholders."

Emphasizing the remarkable economic gains she brought to HYBE, the CEO said business people should be evaluated based on their numerical performance. As reported in Ador's electronic disclosure, NewJeans, the sole group launched by Ador, contributed to the company's record sales of 110.3 billion won ($80.5 million) in 2023, marking more than a five-fold increase from the previous year.

"Top-tier boy bands are known as the most bankable source of revenue for most K-pop record labels, but with NewJeans, I only spent two years to make profits that these boy groups make in five to seven years," she said.

"A company is not the place to build friendship and I believe business people should prove themselves with numbers. So, can HYBE still say that I committed an act of betrayal?"

Experts view Min's latest remarks as a strategic maneuver to navigate the current deadlock.

"Min is still the CEO of Ador, but now, she cannot perform business and creative activities effectively without the cooperation of HYBE's new board members," Lee Gyu-tag, a professor of cultural studies at George Mason University Korea, told The Korea Times.

"Considering this, she was wise to extend a gesture of reconciliation, because the cacophony can hurt her career in the long run. Even at the moment, NewJeans' latest release, 'How Sweet,' which came out on May 24, is not receiving the sufficient limelight that it deserves."

Accepting her offer can be a good option for HYBE too, he added.

"This can be a way to settle the protracted conflict at least on the surface," the professor said.

Dong Sun-hwa


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