Lee Kun-hee, who transformed Samsung into global conglomerate, dies at 78

Lee began overhauling Samsung Electronics after he saw the company’s products gathering dust in a Los Angeles electronics store. (Bloomberg)
Lee Kun-hee, who transformed Samsung Electronics Co. from a copycat South Korean appliance maker into the world’s biggest producer of smartphones, televisions and memory chips, has died. He was 78.

 
Lee passed away on Sunday with his family by his side, the company said in a statement, without mentioning the cause of death. He had surgery in 2014 after a heart attack and was treated for lung cancer in the late 1990s.

 
Lee, who told employees to “change everything except your wife and children” during his drive to foster innovation and challenge rivals such as Sony Corp., was South Korea’s richest person. He had an estimated net worth of $20.7 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Samsung, the biggest of South Korea’s family-run industrial groups, known as chaebol, has been led by his only son since the heart attack.

 
“Chairman Lee was a true visionary who transformed Samsung into the world-leading innovator and industrial powerhouse from a local business,” the company said. “His legacy will be everlasting.”

 
Named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time magazine in 2005, Lee began overhauling Samsung Electronics after he saw the company’s products gathering dust in a Los Angeles electronics store, according to “The Lee Kun Hee Story,” a 2010 biography by Lee Kyung-sik. The Suwon, South Korea-based company had become known for cheap, low-quality electronics gear and was in the “second phase of cancer,” sending out 6,000 people to fix products made by 30,000 employees, Lee said in 1993, according to the biography.\

 


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