Samsung chairman, Lee Kun-Hee is dead

Ruben Fields
October 26, 2020

The tycoon who became South Korea's richest man after transforming Samsung into a global tech titan best known for its smartphones, memory chips and LED televisions has died at the age of 78.

A Samsung statement says Lee died Sunday with his family members, including his son and de facto company chief Lee Jae-yong, by his side.

Condolences poured in from key politicians, while business leaders attended his wake at Samsung Medical Centre in Gangnam.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in will offer a floral tribute and send two senior presidential officials to console Lee's family as soon as a mourning site is established, Moon's office said in a statement.

Mr Lee was the third son of Lee Byung-chul, who founded Samsung Group in 1938.

During his lifetime, Samsung Electronics developed from a second-tier TV maker to the world's biggest technology firm by revenue - seeing off Japanese brands Sony, Sharp and Panasonic in chips, TVs and displays; ending Nokia's handset supremacy and beating Apple in smartphones.

With dozens of affiliates ranging from construction and hotel to insurance and fashion, the group contributes about 20 per cent of South Korea's annual gross domestic product - the largest share by any chaebol, or family-owned conglomerate.

He was the richest person in South Korea, according to Forbes, with a net worth of almost $21bn (£16bn).

Lee studied at Japan's prestigious Waseda University and earned an MBA at George Washington University in the United States.

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In 2010, the commemorations culminated in a symposium held in Beijing attended by the nation's leaders including then Vice President Xi, who delivered a keynote speech .

At the time, Samsung was seen as a producer of cheap, low-quality products.

Lee Kun-Hee had transformed Samsung from a local business in South Korea into a world-leading innovator and industrial powerhouse.

He got suspended sentences in both cases, and was eventually pardoned by sitting presidents.

According to Yonhap, Lee Kun-hee died at a hospital in Seoul on Sunday after being hospitalized for years following a heart attack in 2014.

Lee married Hong Ra-hee - whose father was a justice minister - with whom he had a son and three daughters.

The younger Lee served jail time for his role in a bribery scandal that triggered the impeachment of then-President Park Geun-hye.

Industry sources estimate that his heirs will pay around 10 trillion won as inheritance taxes for just stock assets.

"Samsung is still very much a top-down, bureaucratic company, so whether he can take control of Samsung is a big challenge".

"With Lee passing, Samsung Group is now facing the biggest governance shake-up since the merger between Cheil Industries and Samsung C&T" in 2015, said Ahn Sang-hee, a corporate governance expert at Daishin Economic Research Institute.

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