OPINION: Profile - Online auctioneer/Herbert Kim, UK managing director, QXL

’Internet years are like dog years,’ says Herb Kim. By his own analogy, that would make the new UK head of European internet auction site QXL, at just 32, a wise old hound.

’Internet years are like dog years,’ says Herb Kim. By his own

analogy, that would make the new UK head of European internet auction

site QXL, at just 32, a wise old hound.

It would also put him in a ring of muscle-bound pitbulls in the shape of

Amazon, eBay and Yahoo - who between them have a market capitalisation

of several hundred million dollars. But Kim is not whimpering in the

corner - far from it. ’If there’s one lesson all these companies have

taught us, it’s that first-mover advantage is absolutely critical,’he

says. ’As the first European online auction service, we have that


Kim’s recent move to QXL came at a crucial time for the business,

shortly before its flotation last month. ’It’s been a fairly aggressive

learning curve, but a huge amount of fun,’ says Kim, with a trademark


Not that he’s a stranger to the fast-moving world of new media. Kim’s

career path illustrates the jobs merry-go-round of the internet


This is his third UK web role in two-and-a-half years.

Kim knows traditional marketing too. He started out at Grey Advertising

in his native New York, working for two years as an assistant account

executive for Procter & Gamble on Cover Girl Cosmetics. ’It gave me an

appreciation of the need for attention to detail and systems in running

a business,’ he says.

He then spent two years as a producer for a production company, before

taking an MBA in marketing and strategic management at the University of

Pennsylvania with a view to finding a job as a consumer product marketer

or management consultant. Instead, he caught the internet bug, first

while working on a web project for Polygram, and then as a marketing

consultant for Dow Jones Electronic Publishing.

On leaving business school, Kim turned down offers from Coopers &

Lybrand, Johnson & Johnson and Bain in order to join IBM’s internet

division as marketing manager. ’I was always interested in high-tech

stuff. It was a big risk for me at the time, turning down a blue chip

marketing company like Johnson & Johnson, but I wanted to do something

that changed people’s lives.’

The bet paid off - something Kim, with typical modesty, attributes to

luck. ’Going into the internet world was pure timing. It was the same

time Netscape went public; just as people started waking up to the

possibilities of the internet,’ he says.

Having spent time on a university exchange at London Business School,

Kim returned to the UK to join his girlfriend in June 1997, taking the

post of general manager at Blackwell’s Online Bookshop (BOB).

Co-managing a staff of 17, Kim stayed 18 months, overseeing everything

from editorial content to business development and doubling year-on-year

sales in the process.

He was subsequently poached from BOB to help set up Bertelsmann-owned

e-commerce business BOL.com in the UK. As head of direct marketing and

partner relations, he negotiated deals with the likes of Freeserve and

CurrantBun. ’I’m searching for the internet company with the best

three-letter combination,’ Kim jokes. ’It’s become a theme in my career:

IBM, BOB, BOL and now QXL.’

After competing against the likes of e-commerce giant Amazon at BOL, Kim

is now taking on e-Bay and the growing number of players entering the

rapidly expanding online auction market. Will he cope? ’He’s very

bright; he can really take the ball and run with it,’ says Russ

Ackerman, marketing director at BOL. ’He makes people feel comfortable

and diffuses difficult situations through humour. I think he’ll do very


To traditional marketers trying to broach the internet market as he did,

Kim is happy to dole out advice. ’Many of the key questions and

techniques are the same,’ he says. ’Don’t be intimidated by the

technology, but don’t underestimate the complexity of the business or

the differences between local markets.’

As for his time away from the office, Kim has taken to the UK well. ’The

weather’s awesome and London’s a great place to work,’ he says, although

he confesses to still hankering after the creature comforts of home in

the shape of hot dogs, American-style pizza and, of course, friends and

family. He catches up with home by reading Tom Wolfe: ’no book has ever

captured the essence of New York as well as Bonfire of the Vanities,’ he


Kim has an eclectic mix of role models, from Tom Cruise to Apple supremo

Steve Jobs and one-to-one marketing guru Don Peppers. ’But I probably

admire my mother most; I have a huge amount of respect for her,’ he

says, underlining his Mr Nice Guy credentials.

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks and Kim has had little time for

anything outside the office, but he is a self-confessed golf addict when

he gets the chance. ’I’m pushing for a driving range on the top of the

QXL building,’ he says. ’I need to work on my handicap; I’m basically a

very bad golfer.’

He has had even less time to think about life after QXL, but Kim is not

one to set his sights low. ’Total fantasy? I think I’d like to be mayor

of Palo Alto,’ he says jokingly. Given his career path up to now, only a

fool would rule him out of the running.



Marketing manager, IBM internet division


General manager, Blackwell’s Online Bookshop


Head of direct marketing and partner relations, BOL


UK managing director, QXL


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