Samsung Electronics chairman Lee Kun-hee, who led his family's firm to become South Korea's largest conglomerate and the world's biggest technology firm by revenue, passed away on October 25, the company said in a statement yesterday. Describing his legacy as "everlasting", the statement summarized: "Chairman Lee was a true visionary who transformed Samsung into the world-leading innovator and industrial powerhouse from a local business."
Lee, who took over leadership of Samsung in 1987, transformed its brand reputation from a low-end domestic firm to the multinational giant it is today. He was known for a charismatic, aggressive leadership style, and demanded that his managers have a "sense of crisis" that would drive them to innovate. In the early years of his leadership he was determined to improve the quality of Samsung products, and in the 1990s, he became famous for his response to a batch of defective cell phones: he went to the factory responsible and ordered its entire inventory, some $50 million of consumer electronics, to be publicly destroyed.
By the 2000s, Samsung had become established as a high-end international brand, a position it has held globally ever since. Lee was implicated in several scandals during the decade, including accusations of political dealings and insider trading, but regained his position at the firm by the end of the decade. However, he also began to step back from leadership, instead putting forward his son Lee Jae-yong, also known as Jay Y Lee, as vice chairman and his successor. In 2014 he suffered a heart attack and almost completely receded from public view, leaving the younger Lee largely in charge—a role that will now most likely be permanent going forward.
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