Lee Kun-hee, President of Samsung Electronics, passed away this Sunday, October 25th, 2020 at the age of 78. Under his leadership, the obscure South Korean company of the time was able to develop into one of the most important players in today’s technology sector. A look back at the career of this visionary businessman.
The legend of Lee Kun-hee
The year is 1987. Lee Byung-chul has just passed away, leaving behind Samsung, a company he founded in 1938. He chooses his third son, Lee Kun-hee, to succeed him. The latter then inherited a company that was already established in various areas of activity, including insurance, sales, security, finance, construction, chemicals, but since then also (and among other things) in the electronics industry in the late 1960s thanks to a merger with the Japanese Sanyo.
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However, Samsung is struggling to export beyond South Korean borders, particularly due to its strategy of promoting the volume and quality of its products. In 1993, Lee Kun-hee decided to change the rules of the game. He marked a turning point by summoning 150 of the top executives in his electronics department to a hotel in Frankfurt. In a seven-hour speech in defense of a raised step, the guide orders: “Change everything except your wife and children.”
The tone is set: from now on, Samsung will prioritize the quality of its products. Two years later, in 1995, Lee Kun-hee demonstrated his determination to apply this new leitmotif by ordering the burning of 40 million euros faxes and cell phones in front of 2,000 workers as “unworthy” of the brand under the banner “Quality is my pride” . These brilliant moves will further enliven Lee Kun-hee’s presidency during his reign and gradually lead the company to develop what is currently its strongest business: Samsung Electronics.
Between 1987 and 2014 the total capitalization of the group would have multiplied by 348 and the turnover according to calculations by FnGuide by 34. In 2020, Samsung’s revenue would equal 23% of South Korean GDP. Also note that the third quarter was successful, thanks in particular to the fall of Huawei.
Who will succeed “Chairman Lee” at the helm of Samsung?
In a press release, Samsung announced the death of its historic president: “It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Lee Kun-hee, President of Samsung Electronics. President Lee was a true visionary who transformed Samsung by turning a local company into a world leader in innovation and industrial power. “
As the group praises its late leader, who will succeed Lee Kun-hee as President of Samsung? Since 2014, when Lee Kun-hee was weakened by a devastating heart attack, his son and Vice President Lee Jae-yong has taken over the business of the company. Logically, Samsung’s presidency should therefore return to him.
However, the 52-year-old is the target of several lawsuits in South Korea over corruption and stock market manipulation cases that could cost him further prison terms. We remind you that Lee Jae-yong was sentenced to 5 years in prison in 2017. After several months behind bars, he appealed for his sentence and was finally released in August. In 2021 he will stand before the South Korean courts again to face new charges. A particularly sensitive context that could significantly weaken the group’s position in the long term.