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Samsung Electronics, the rise of a Korean star

Illustration by Park Gee-young

Publication Date : 08-01-2013

 

The year 1969 was when Neil Armstrong made a great leap for humankind by setting foot on the moon. Kim Sou-hwan was anointed Korea’s first cardinal, while in Vietnam, revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh died.

In the history of corporate Korea, 1969 marks the birth of one very conspicuous company: Samsung Electronics.

As the flagship of Samsung Group, unarguably the most powerful industrial group in Korea, the company was founded more than three decades after Samsung Sanghoe ― literally translated as “Three Star Shop” ― was opened by the late Lee Byung-chull, father of Samsung Electronics chairman Lee Kun-hee.

In 1941, Samsung Sanghoe was officially registered as a corporation, eventually taking on the official title of Samsung Corporation about a decade later.

As the original name suggests, Samsung Sanghoe was initially focused on staple goods, such as foodstuffs and textiles.

Based on the wealth that the company accumulated during this time, the late Lee was able to turn his business into a respectable ”group“ by the late '50s, which is when Samsung became the first Korean corporation to publicly recruit employees.

After widening its reach to a number of other business fields, including paper manufacturing, insurance, department stores and even the media ― the JoongAng Ilbo is still owned by the Lee family through its in-laws, the Hongs ― Samsung decided to add an electronics arm named Samsung Electric Industries.

This was when LG Electronics, called Goldstar at the time, was at the head of the market, having proudly produced the nation’s first black and white television.

It seems to be around this period that the late Lee decided technology was the way to go, as he went on to acquire Korea Semiconductor to establish a semiconductor affiliate.

“The key to Samsung’s success is its drive to dominate whatever industry or field it decides is the way to go forward,” said Chung Sun-sup, chief executive of Chaebul.com, a corporation devoted to fact-finding on the nation’s top conglomerates.

“Even when it is forced to follow in the leader’s footsteps, Samsung somehow makes sure that in the end, they become better than the original.”

Construction and shipbuilding was the next industry in line for Samsung to embrace, and by the time Lee died in 1987, Samsung was the country’s third-biggest conglomerate, bettered only by Hyundai and Daewoo.

The more recent history of Samsung was written by Lee Byung-chull’s third-eldest son Lee Kun-hee, who is now the chairman of Samsung Electronics.

 

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