Samsung Chief Lee Kun-hee Dies After 6 Years in Coma

  • By Shin Eun-jin

    October 26, 2020 12:07

    The nominal Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee died Sunday after more than six years in a coma. He was 78.

    Lee had been vegetating at the Samsung Medical Center in southern Seoul since a massive heart attack in May 2014. Samsung said his family want to hold a simple funeral and declined flowers and condolence visits.

    The hospital banned more than 50 people from gathering in its funeral hall due to coronavirus fears.

    Lee Kun-hee

    Born in 1942, Lee was the third son of Samsung founder Lee Byung-chul. He became chairman after his father's death in 1987 and played a key role in making Samsung become the world's No. 1 electronics company through bold and innovative investments and focusing on product quality.

    Samsung now has some 20 products that rank first in their respective global markets, especially memory chips.

    Lee inherited the family business but drastically expanded the corporation started by his father. He is often quoted as telling executives in 1993, "Change everything except your wives and children."

    On his watch, the conglomerate's revenues rose from W10 trillion in 1987 to W387 trillion in 2018, while operating profit surged from W200 billion to W72 trillion (US$1=W1,129). Its total market capitalization surged from W1 trillion to W396 trillion over the same period.

    A firm believer in the value of talented workers who said, "One genius can provide for 200,000 people," he reformed Samsung's hiring policies in 1995 by favoring staff based on their skills rather than academic backgrounds.

    As a member of the International Olympic Council, Lee also played a major role in Korea's successful bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

    But he was also an autocrat who banned labor unions and was in later years dogged by criminal convictions for corruption and embezzlement from his publicly traded empire, including bribing former President Roh Tae-woo.

    Samsung's toxic entanglement with political leaders has continued to haunt the conglomerate, with Lee junior convicted of bribing ex-President Park Geun-hye to facilitate the transfer of management control from his father. The succession issue has not yet been resolved, and trials about its legality are still going on.

    Lee Kun-hee's total stock holdings are valued at W18.2 trillion, making him the richest Korean and the 67th richest man in the world.

    He leaves behind his wife Hong Ra-hee, son and current Samsung chief Lee Jae-yong and daughters Lee Boo-jin, the head of Hotel Shilla, and Lee Seo-hyun, who heads Samsung's welfare foundation. He will be laid to rest on Wednesday.

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