Samsung Electronic chairman Lee Kun-Hee has passed away at the age of 78.
Samsung said in a statement (via CNN), “Chairman Lee was a true visionary who transformed Samsung into the world-leading innovator and industrial powerhouse from a local business. All of us at Samsung will cherish his memory and are grateful for the journey we shared with him."
The Samsung group was founded by Lee’s father, Lee Byung-Chul, as an exporter of fish, fruits, and vegetables. Lee became its chairman in 1987, and in 1993 he made the Frankfurt Declaration. As the New York Times wrote in its timeline of the Samsung group, “Frustrated by the poor quality of Samsung’s products and the lowly image of its brand, Mr. Lee summoned scores of executives to Frankfurt, Germany. In a hotel conference room, the normally reticent tycoon went on a three-day rant, summed up in an exhortation that has become part of Samsung’s institutional lore: “Change everything but your wife and children.’’
The year before, in 1992, Samsung developed the first 54M DRAM in the world, with Bloomberg also noting that the company became the top computer memory chip maker that year. The New York Times’ timeline wrote that Samsung became the largest provider of smartphones in the world in 2011, almost 20 years later.
Lee was the richest man in South Korea. As noted by SCMP, he was also known as the “hermit king” as he did not leave his private compound often.
Lee was not without controversy. He was given a three-year suspended jail term for tax evasion in 2008, but was cleared of other charges that involved him attempting to enrich his children. He resigned as chairman after he was charged, but was pardoned by former South Korean president Lee Myung-Bak on 2009. He returned as chairman in 2010.
Lee’s son, Jay Y. Lee, is the vice chairman of Samsung Electronics and has led Samsung since the elder Lee’s 2014 heart attack. The younger Lee and Samsung heir is currently undergoing trial for suspected accounting fraud and stock price manipulation, and will also have to deal with a hefty inheritance tax. He was previously jailed for a year for bribery and released in 2018.