Samsung vet takes helm at SolarOne

Hanwha SolarOne has named as its new chairman and chief executive Seong-woo Nam, a veteran of Samsung Electronics, following the abrupt resignation two weeks ago of Ki-Joon Hong.

The move maintains the heavily South Korean leadership team in place at China-based Hanwha SolarOne, while bringing in a fresh perspective from Korea's largest company.

Hong, Hanwha SolarOne’s chief executive since 2011, was promoted from within the Hanwha Group, whose solar subsidiary bought a 49% stake in 2010 in the ingot-to-module maker then known as Solarfun, since renamed Hanwha SolarOne.

Nam served most recently as executive vice president and general manager of Samsung Electronics' huge IT Solutions business.

Having invested in SolarOne just before the PV industry’s downturn, the Hanwha Group is one of the few South Korean conglomerates to have kept its foot firmly on the solar accelerator. The year after buying into SolarOne, Hanwha waded into the polysilicon business, and in 2012 it acquired Germany’s Q Cells.

A number of other Korean behemoths that entered the solar business in recent years have either walked away or significantly slowed their push into the sector, including LG, Hyundai Heavy Industries, steelmaker POSCO, and Samsung itself.

An official with LG Chem, Korea's largest chemicals company, was recently quoted by the Korea Times as saying the solar business “isn’t as attractive as it was believed to be a few years ago”.

Hanwha SolarOne was the world’s 10th largest supplier of PV modules last year – and the 6th largest Chinese player – shipping 1.15GW in total.

Unlike many of its closest rivals, however, the company has not yet returned to profitability – having lost 3.36bn yuan ($540m) over the past three calendar years.

Nam says his priority for SolarOne is establishing it as a “respected leader in product quality, low-cost manufacturing, product innovation and strong financial performance”

In addition to its module-supply business, SolarOne is also trying to transform into a major developer of solar projects in China and beyond.