SAMSUNG : 'LEE KUN - HEE : 1942 - 2020'


Lee Kun-hee who built Samsung into a global giant of smartphones, televisions and computer chips but was twice convicted - and, in a pattern that has become typical in South Korea, twice pardoned - for white-collar crimes committed along the way, died on Sunday in Seoul, the South Korean capital. He was 78.

When Mr. Lee took the helm at the Samsung Group in 1987, after the death of his father and the conglomerate's founder, Lee Byung-chull, many in the West knew the group's electronic unit only as a maker of cheap televisions and unreliable microwaves sold in discount stores.

Lee Kun-hee pushed the company relentlessly up the technological ladder. By the early 1990s , Samsung had surpassed Japanese and American rivals to become a pacesetter in memory chips.

It came to dominate flat-panel displays as screens lost ttheir bulk. And it conquered the middle-to-high end of the mobile market as cellphones became powerhouse computing devices in the 2000s.

Samsung Electronics today is the cornerstone of South Korea's economy and one of the world's top corporate spenders on research and development.

Mr. Lee - who was chairman of Samsung Group from 1987 to 1998, chairman and chief executive of Samsung Electronics chairman from 2010 until his death - was South Korea's richest man.

He and his family members used a web of ownership arrangements to exert influence over the other companies under the Samsing umbrella.

Over the course of his tenure, even as professional managers came to have more responsibility at the group, Mr. Lee remained Samsung's big thinker, the provider of grand strategic direction.

In 1995, as part of the emphasis on quality, he visited a Samsung plant in the town of Gumi after a batch of cellphones were found to be defective.

What happened next became legend. According to ''Samsung Electronics and the Struggle for Leadership of the Electronics Industry,'' a 2010 book on the company by Tony Michell, the Gumi factory's 2,000 workers gathered in a courtyard and were made to wear headbands labeled ''Quality First''.

Mr. Lee and his board of directors sat under a banner that read ''Quality Is My pride.''

Together they watched as $50 million worth of phones, fax machines and other inventory was smashed to bits and set ablaze. The employees wept.

The World Students Society thanks author Raymond Zhong.


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