Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Kun-Hee Dies at 78

October 25, 2020

Lee Kun-hee transformed Samsung Electronics from a copycat South Korean appliance maker into one of the world’s largest and most advanced producers of smartphones, televisions, and memory chips. Kun-hee passed away Sunday at the age of 78 in South Korea.

Lee had been suffering from a number of health conditions since the 1990s. He was treated for lung cancer in the late 90s and suffered a heart attack in 2014. His only son, Jay Y. Lee has been the conglomerate’s de facto leader since 2014.

Jay Y. Lee. Image via Bloomberg

Lee was South Korea’s richest man, with an estimated worth of $20.7 billion, according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Lee’s leadership fostered innovation within the organization, which eventually led it to become one of the world’s most advanced companies and 17 percent of South Korea’s GDP.

Samsung recently surpassed Intel as the world’s biggest chipmaker back in 2018 and currently supplies semiconductors for Google’s data centers and Apple’s iPhone as well as OLED screens and 5G technology.

Samsung became the world’s top maker of computer memory chips in 1992. That very same year, Samsung was also the first company to develop a 64-megabyte DRAM chip. This new vigor in technological advancement was due to Lee’s new doctrine, known as the “Frankfurt Declaration.” He gathered top executives in Germany and laid out plans to make Samsung a world powerhouse in the early 90s.

“Change everything except your wife and children,” Lee stated. It became the company’s mantra as it fostered rapid innovation and eventually surpassed its rival, Sony Corp. from Japan.

Lee was born on January 9, 1942, in Daegu, a small town 150 miles south of Seoul. In 1938, during the Japanese occupation, his father Lee Byung-chull, opened a four-story grocery store in Daegu that would later become Samsung Group, according to Gulf Business.

As a teenager, Lee graduated with a degree in economics from Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan, and also studied business administration at George Washington University in Washington, USA.

In 1971, Lee was chosen by his father to take over Samsung and in 1974, acquired a 50 percent stake in an unprofitable company called Hankook Semiconductor. The business later became profitable in 1988 and now supplies Google and Apple, according to Gulf Business.

Samsung’s rise from a bottom tier electronics company into one of the richest and most advanced companies in the world is synonymous with South Korea’s rise from the ashes. Occupied by the Japanese Empire for decades and ruined once again by civil war; South Korea was poorer than the poorest country in Africa. Now, South Korea is the 12th richest country in the world and it’s smaller than the state of Ohio.

Feature Image via DNA India

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