Line Names Idezawa as Next CEO of Instant Message Service

Line Corp., operator of Japan’s most-popular instant messaging application, said Takeshi Idezawa will take over as chief executive officer when Akira Morikawa steps down in March.

Idezawa, currently the chief operating officer, has overseen the company’s expansion into a global service, Line said in a statement on its website today. Morikawa will leave at the end of his contract and stay with the company as an adviser to the CEO, it said.

Line, owned by South Korean search portal Naver Corp., has 170 million monthly active users in 230 countries and makes money by asking smartphone customers to pay for teddy bear icons and games. In September, Naver said it won’t take Line public this year after previously considering an initial share sale in Japan and the U.S.

“Morikawa has expressed his will to resign at the end of his tenure in March,” Fumiko Hayashi, a spokeswoman for Line, said by phone.“This management change is not a sudden change but a planned one.”

The appointment is subject to shareholder approval.

This month, Line agreed to buy Microsoft Corp.’s MixRadio streaming service for an undisclosed amount as it seeks to speed user growth.

Line’s potential IPO could have valued the company at more than 1 trillion yen ($8.3 billion), people familiar with the situation said in July.

The company said in October it had 560 million users. Morikawa had previously said Line was targeting 500 million to 600 million users by the end of the year, and he planned to double the number to at least 1 billion next year.

Line began its free messenger app in June 2011 after the earthquake in northeastern Japan knocked out telephone services, according to its website. The company has added features such as games, comics, free voice and video calling, photo and video sharing, and tie-in apps including a camera.

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