Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee dies

Marco Green
October 26, 2020

Lee Kun-hee has died at the age of 78, the company announced in a statement. He helped Samsung become one of the most powerful companies in technology, turning him into the richest man in South Korea.

During his tenure, Samsung heavily invested in R&D and changed its entire product line.

He went back to Japan to study economics at Waseda University, and then business management at George Washington University in the United States.

Lee's surviving family members, including his son Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, received guests from political and business circles.

Samsung likewise had to change its very inner core and structure to put itself on the world stage, Lee said.

This focus on crisis, and his often abrasive manner, helped Lee grow his father Lee Byung-chull's noodle trading business into a sprawling business empire with assets worth about US$375 billion ($525 billion) as of May 2020 in dozens of affiliates stretching from electronics and insurance to shipbuilding and construction.

The company gathered up and burnt all 150,000 mobile phones it had in stock, paving the way for the rebirth of the highly successful "Anycall" handset.

Lee Kun-Hee had transformed Samsung from a local business in South Korea into a world-leading innovator and industrial powerhouse. "He is responsible for the Samsung that it is today".

He had his fair share of scandals.

While Roh was in office, Lee paid him "a large sum of money in bribes over a long period", the court ruled, seeking favours for Samsung in the president's business policy decisions.

He got suspended sentences in both cases, and was eventually pardoned by sitting presidents. He jumped into the automobile industry in 1995 by launching Samsung Motors Co., but the auto business struggled, and turned into Renault Samsung Motor Co. after the French carmaker purchased an 80.1 percent share in the firm.

Lee was jailed for five years in 2017 after being found guilty of bribery and other offenses linked to former president Park Geun-hye, before being cleared of the most serious charges on appeal and released a year later.

But Lee transformed it into a global power - by the time he was left bedridden by a heart attack in 2014, it was the world's biggest maker of smartphones and memory chips. His eldest son, Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, served as the de-facto head of the conglomerate. If so, he would have to pay 10 trillion won in inheritance tax.

Prof Chang said: "Lee Kun-hee was a very charismatic leader and people followed his orders". Lee Jae-myung, a potential presidential candidate.

When Lee Kun-Hee inherited control of Samsung from his father in 1987, Samsung was relying on Japanese technology to produce TVs and was taking its first steps toward exporting microwaves and refrigerators.

The funeral will be a small family affair, Samsung said.

His older brother, Lee Maeng-hee, was initially chosen to lead Samsung in 1967 when his father retired, but his aggressive management style caused friction with the founder's confidants, according to several books about Samsung.

"All of us at Samsung will cherish his memory and are grateful for the journey we shared with him", the Samsung statement said.

"His legacy will be everlasting".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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