Lee Kung-Hee: 5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Late Samsung Chairman

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Samsung chairman, Lee Kun-Hee is dead. The company announced his death on October 25 but did not specify the cause of death. Mr Lee had, however, had a heart attack in 2014 which incapacitated him. He was 78 years old.

Lee was a controversial figure in South Korea and he was also responsible for the radical growth of Samsung from a company making cheap televisions and low-quality microwaves to the tech giant of smartphones, television and computer chips that it is today.

His father, Lee Byung-Chul founded Samsung on March 1, 1938, as an exporter of fruit and dried fish. The company expanded into textiles, sugar and other consumer goods before moving to insurance, shipbuilding and semiconductors and others. Lee Byung-Chul died in 1987 and Lee Kun-Hee took over as chairman in the same year.

Here are five things you probably did not know about Lee Kun-Hee throughout his time at Samsung.

#1 He turned the company‘s focus towards technology

After he took over as Samsung chairman, Lee set about changing the way the company’s employees thought and operated. He took scores of Samsung Electronics managers to a luxury hotel in Frankfurt in 1993 and lectured them on leaving behind the old ways of thinking. He told them to change everything except their “wife and children.”

In an interview with Forbes, he said, “We are in a very important transition. If we don’t move into more capital- and technology-intensive industries, our very survival may be at stake.”

#2 He ordered the burning of $50 million-worth of TVs and other electronics

In 1995, Lee ordered that the defective electronic products in the company’s Gumi factory yard be brought out and burnt. About $50 million worth of electronics were smashed with heavy hammers by Lee and his board in the courtyard while the 2,000 factory workers watched and cried.

The low-quality products being produced by the company at the time angered the chairman and he ordered that they all be burnt. In the yard, each staff wore a headband with the caption ‘Quality First’ while Lee and the board sat under a banner with the caption “Quality Is My Pride.”

A Samsung store

That is how Samsung’s journey towards world dominance in the tech space started.

#3 He liked films and Hollywood but could not get a deal with Steven Spielberg

Lee Kung-Hee liked films and had his own library with about 6,000 titles. He met with Spielberg in the latter’s estate in Pacific Palisades for the purpose of getting a deal for Samsung at Dreamworks with stakes as high as $900 million. The stakes were, however, more than the Dreamworks team was willing to give.

Suggested Read: Samsung Suffers 27% Decline as Global Smartphone Sales Plummet by 20% in Q2 2020

The meeting was filled with mentions of semiconductors, according to a recount by Spielberg, and the filmmaker could not agree to the deal. Spielberg said, “The word semiconductor must have been used about 20 times during that 2-1/2-hr encounter. I thought to myself, ‘How are they going to know anything about the film business when they’re so obsessed with semiconductors?”

#4 South Korea’s richest man loved sports cars

Lee was an avid lover of sports cars and was spotted once behind the wheel of Mercedes SL63 AMG roadster on the racetrack at Yongin Everland Speedway, which is owned and operated by Samsung.

In the years before his death, he hired experts that mostly specialized in repairing Mercedes-Benz and Maybach cars. The racetrack, which is sometimes called the “Lee Kun-hee track” features cars which include Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini and other pricy and fast cars. He also collected fine arts.

#5 He was convicted and pardoned twice

He was convicted for bribing President Roh Tae-woo through a slush fund in 1996 and later pardoned. More than a decade later in 2008, he was again convicted for tax evasion and embezzlement. He was granted a pardon in 2009 to allow him to continue lobbying for the winter Olympics to take place in Pyeongchang.

He died with his family at his side, according to Samsung’s announcement. He is survived by his wife Hong Ra-hee; his daughters Boo-jin and Seo-hyun; his sisters Sook-hee, Soon-hee, Deok-hee and Myung-hee; and seven grandchildren


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