Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-Hee Dies at 78 in Seoul Hospital

Andrew Cummings
October 26, 2020

Lee Kun-hee, the chairman of South Korea's largest conglomerate, Samsung Group, has died aged 78.

The death of Lee, South Korea's richest with a net worth of $20.9 billion according to Forbes, is set to prompt investor interest in a potential restructuring of the group involving his stakes in key Samsung companies such as Samsung Life and Samsung Electronics.

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

During his tenure, Samsung heavily invested in R&D and changed its entire product line.

Born in Daegu, Mr Lee joined the family business in 1968 after studying business at Japan's Waseda University and George Washington University in the United States.

Lee died with his family by his side, including Jay Y Lee, the Samsung Electronics vice chairman, the conglomerate said.

Lee Kun-hee, who was 78, helped grow his father Lee Byung-chull's noodle trading business into South Korea's biggest conglomerate, with dozens of affiliates stretching from electronics and insurance to shipbuilding and construction.

"Chairman Lee was a true visionary who transformed Samsung into the world-leading innovator and industrial powerhouse from a local business".

Two years later, he burned 150,000 wireless phones for all to see to send the message that he won't tolerate defective products. "He is responsible for the Samsung that it is today".

"The leadership he showed will be a great example and courage for our companies as they overcome the crisis and challenges ahead amid hard times we're under due to the coronavirus", President Moon was quoted as saying to the Lee family, according to the presidential office.

Lee became Samsung Group chairman in 1987 but had to resign more than a decade later after being convicted of bribing the country's president.

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

His youngest daughter died in NY in 2005, which Samsung said at a vehicle accident but media reports said was a suicide. He jumped into the automobile industry in 1995 by launching Samsung Motors Co., but the vehicle business struggled, and turned into Renault Samsung Motor Co. after the French carmaker purchased an 80.1 percent share in the firm.

Mr Lee was reinstated as chairman of Samsung Electronics in 2010 but suffered a heart attack in 2014 that kept him in hospital.

His son Jae-yong, groomed to take over from him, has been Samsung's de facto leader since.

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.

Lee Kun-Hee's death comes at a time when the sprawling conglomerate is under vast scrutiny. Samsung is one of Korea's biggest companies, and the largest of the family-run chaebols, which are comprised of Samsung, LG, Hyundai, SK and Lotte. His funeral on Wednesday will be a private family affair. "All of us at Samsung will cherish his memory and are grateful for the journey we shared with him".

His older brother, Lee Maeng-hee, was initially chosen to lead Samsung in 1967 when his father retired, but his aggressive management style caused friction with the founder's confidants, according to several books about Samsung.

"His legacy will be everlasting".

Other reports by iNewsToday