Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee dies

Andrew Cummings
October 25, 2020

Lee Kun-hee, who built Samsung Electronics into a global powerhouse in smartphones, semiconductors and televisions, died today after spending more than six years in hospital following a heart attack, the company said.

"Chairman Lee passed away on October 25 with his family, including Vice Chairman Jay Y. Lee, by his side".

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

Lee Kun-Hee's net worth and stakes in several Samsung companies are expected to spur the interest of investors after his death.

Lee was known for taking months-long trips to Hawaii and Japan before key business decisions, including the promotion of his own son Lee Jae-yong to vice chairman of Samsung Electronics in 2013.

The company's overall turnover is equivalent to a fifth of the nation's gross domestic product, making it crucial to South Korea's economic health.

Lee Kun-hee inherited control from his father and during his almost 30 years of leadership, Samsung Electronics Co. became a global brand and the world's largest maker of smartphones, televisions and memory chips.

"Let's change everything except our wives and kids", he said in 1993.

Chaebols helped to drive South Korea's economic transformation after World War Two, but have always been accused of murky political and business dealings. The firm then burned its entire mobile phone stock, consisting of 150,000 handsets.

He seldom ventured out from the high walls of his private compound in central Seoul to visit the company headquarters, earning him the nickname "hermit king". He joined the family firm in 1968 and took over as chairman in 1987 after his father's death.

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

Lee flew to Tokyo to seek cooperation from major Japanese business partners in securing chip materials after the Japanese government restricted their export to South Korea.

He was sentenced to five years in prison in 2017 after being found guilty of bribery, embezzlement and other charges.

Mr Lee was twice convicted of criminal offences, including the bribing of former President Roh Tae-woo.

He had been in medical care after his heart attack, but few details were ever revealed about his condition, leaving him shrouded in mystery even in his final days.

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