SM Entertainment's Lee Soo-man to start new chapter in China

Lee Soo-man, founder and former chief producer of SM Entertainment, at a conference held in central Seoul on Feb. 14, 2023 [NEWS1]

The founder and former chief producer of SM Entertainment Lee Soo-man is starting a new chapter in his career in China after being ousted from his own company earlier this year.

A group of investors led by Lee signed a deal to buy an unspecified amount of the Chinese autonomous aerial vehicle company EHang for $23 million, according to an announcement made by the manufacturer on Wednesday. EHang is listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange and was trading at $15.5 per share as of Tuesday.

The amount of Lee's individual contribution was not specified. Lee will “collaborate to drive the development of Urban Air Mobility business in Asian Pacific regions” as part of the deal, according to EHang.

“I look forward to the convergence of cutting-edge transportation technologies and popular culture to create sustainable value, and I’m proud to be part of it,” Lee was quoted as saying by EHang.

Earlier this month, he donated 100 million won ($77,500) to a special Mongolian government committee to be used to plant trees in the country. According to local media reports, the donation was made in lieu of a tree-planting event he had planned to hold in the capital city Ulaanbaatar that had to be canceled due to heavy rain.

News of Lee and his crew heading to China was posted online last May. Media reports also said that he is holding auditions in Beijing to recruit talented teenagers.

Lee’s string of activities runs consistent with his utterances and investment patterns in the past.

He established his own drone company LeePollux in February 2019 and invested in driverless aviation manufacturer Pablo Air the following month. He had also been emphasizing the importance of “planting trees” to prepare for an environmental catastrophe brought on by humankind, even through the songs that he made for artists at SM Entertainment.

He also stated his focus on the Chinese market, saying that “The Hollywood of the East will be born in China” in a lecture to Harvard MBA students in 2007. He had openly voiced his wishes to arrange a television audition program for pop music during a Chinese TV appearance in 2020.

Lee recently founded another company named Blooming Grace last March, known only as a company “focusing on the fusion of culture and technology,” according to media reports. Other than Blooming Grace and LeePollux, Lee also owns Culture Technology Group Asia, a music publishing company that he founded in May 2015.

The news comes five months after Lee sold most of the shares he owned of SM Entertainment to HYBE last February for 422.8 billion won in an attempt to fight against his company’s executives issuing new shares to sell to Kakao and Kakao Entertainment.

The sale led to a monthlong battle between Lee and HYBE against SM executives and Kakao, who each started a tender offer to shareholders to obtain a majority share in SM Entertainment. Kakao and the executives won, resulting in Kakao and Kakao Entertainment now owning 39.87 percent of SM Entertainment’s shares.

The remaining amount of shares Lee has of SM Entertainment has not been confirmed.