Samsung Electronics chairman Lee Kun-hee, who made the South Korean company a global name, has died aged 78.
Under Lee’s leadership, Samsung has grown to become the world’s largest producer of smartphones and memory chips, with aggregate revenue equivalent to one-fifth of South Korea’s GDP.
Known for his reclusive lifestyle, Lee was bedridden by a heart attack in 2014. Little has been revealed about his condition, leaving him shrouded in mystery even in his last days.
“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Kun-hee Lee, president of Samsung Electronics,” the company said in a statement.
“President Lee passed away on October 25 with his family, including Vice President Jay Y Lee, by his side… His legacy will be eternal.
Samsung is by far the largest of the family-controlled conglomerates. These chaebols dominate business in South Korea and have driven its transformation from war-torn ruin to the world’s 12th largest economy. Nowadays, they’re being watched for obscure political ties and stifling competition – Lee himself being convicted twice for criminal offenses, in a case of bribing a president.
When Lee inherited the group’s chairmanship in 1987 – it had been founded by his father to sell fish, fruit, and noodles – Samsung was already the country’s largest conglomerate, with operations ranging from consumer electronics to construction.
Lee refined his goal and took it globally: By the time he suffered a heart attack in 2014, he was the world’s largest manufacturer of smartphones and memory chips. It is also a major global player in semiconductors and LCD screens.
Lee has rarely ventured outside the high walls of his private compound in central Seoul to visit the company’s headquarters, which has earned him the nickname “Hermit King.”
His son, Samsung Electronics vice president Lee Jae-yong, has been at the helm of the company since the heart attack of 2014.
The son was jailed for five years in 2017 after being convicted of bribery and other offenses related to former President Park Geun-hye, before being cleared of the most serious charges on appeal and released one year later. This case is retried.
With the Associated Press