In the glitzy and cutthroat world of global consumer electronics, Woo Jung Ku is something of a giant killer. In 1998, he and a bunch of former Samsung engineers launched Digitalway Co., a maker of MP3 players, which let users play music downloaded from the Internet or burn tunes off of compact disks. Since then, the company has grabbed 20% of the global market for the gadgets, making it one of the fastest-growing companies in consumer electronics.
Woo, 40, is further proof, if any were needed, that Korea's ascendant economy is no longer full of copycat tech players who simply reverse-engineer Japanese product designs. Digitalway's line of hip, lightweight MP3 players--which can easily be worn as a necklace or snapped onto a wrist--has taken a commanding 30% share of the Japanese market, the home of mighty Sony Corp. Woo, who worked five years as a Samsung shipbuilding engineer before shifting to high tech, is especially proud of that fact. "I had to fight Sony," he says. "They are the big guys." He also has taken on big guys in the U.S. and Europe, where the company has a 15% market share.
Along the way, Digitalway has proved that profits need not be sacrificed at the altar of rapid market expansion. The company expects to report net earnings of $4 million on sales of $41 million in 2002, vs. $1.6 million profits on $24.4 million in revenues last year. Better yet, Digitalway isn't just an original equipment manufacturer that supplies MP3 players to others. Some 70% of its sales come from its own brands. Woo is thinking of taking his company public on the tech-laden Kosdaq market later this year.
To keep the growth going, Woo travels the world pursuing sales about four months out of the year. When he does have some downtime, he's likely to be trying to make a save or two in front of the goal in a pickup game of soccer. And the lanky Woo isn't above slipping on a pair of in-line skates and cruising the streets of Seoul.
But expanding Digitalway is clearly the main event. Next, Woo hopes to move into lower-end digital cameras and camcorders--important product lines, of course, for several Japanese behemoths. Watch out, Sony and Canon. Woo Jung Ku is after your business again.