New chairman eyes Southeast Asia for Pantech expansion

A newly merged Optis and Pantech organisation would look beyond South Korea to grow, the chairman of Optis has said.

The newly appointed chairman of South Korea's Optis has signed a tentative agreement to acquire compatriot smartphone maker Pantech, saying he hopes the two companies will create a strong partnership to expand abroad, beginning with Southeast Asia.

A consortium led by optical disk drive (ODD) manufacturer Optis last week signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Pantech, which has been in court receivership, for a possible merger and acquisition. The deal will go through on July 17 if no obstacle is found.

"Pantech is the number three handset maker in South Korea [after Samsung and LG]," said Byun Yang-kyun in an interview with ZDNet Korea. "But abroad, especially in Southeast Asia, the company is a top-notch company.

"Pantech has many strengths, and strong possible synergy with Optis, so I am mulling over many strategies. Expansion to Southeast Asia is a strong possibility," he said, though adding that the deal is yet to go through, and nothing has been finalized.

Pantech has been in court receivership since last year, and had been facing bankruptcy unless a buyer showed up. After talks with potential interested parties earlier this year failed, it was facing liquidation until the court approved the MOU with the Optis-led consortium last week.

Pantech is known for its Vega brand of smartphones, but it recently lost out to Samsung and LG in the local market due to a lack of funds to promote its devices, which have received rave reviews locally.

"We wouldn't have gone on with the agreement if we didn't have strong desire and will to acquire Pantech," said the chairman. "We are hopeful that the deal will go through."

Byun, an ex-chief policy adviser for former South Korea President Roh Moo-hyun, was named chairman of Optis this week. He is a 30-year veteran in national planning, and has been leading an IPTV business in Southeast Asia for the past two years.

Optis was founded in 2005 by ex-Samsung Electro-Mechanics CEO Lee Joo-hyung, and has been expanding globally. It acquired a 49.9 percent stakes in Toshiba Samsung Storage Technology (TSST), an ODD joint venture of Samsung and Toshiba, last year.