Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee dies at 78
26 October 2020
Lee Kun-hee, who built up Samsung Group into an industrial powerhouse and South Korea's largest conglomerate, has died at 78.
Lee who inherited his father's small trading business, diversified the business into areas like insurance and shipping, to make Samsung Electronics one of the world's biggest tech firms, during his lifetime.
In the process Lee also became the richest person in South Korea, with a net worth of nearly $21bn (£16bn) as per Forbes report.
Samsung said Lee died on Sunday with family by his side, but did not give the exact cause of death. He had suffered a heart attack in 2014 that left his health too important to be left uncared for.
Known for a reclusive lifestyle, Lee was left bedridden by a heart attack in 2014. However, not much was known about his condition, even in his final days.
"All of us at Samsung will cherish his memory and are grateful for the journey we shared with him," the firm said in a statement.
"It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Kun-hee Lee, Chairman of Samsung Electronics," the company said in a statement.
"Chairman Lee passed away on October 25 with his family, including Vice Chairman Jay Y. Lee, by his side."
"Chairman Lee was a true visionary who transformed Samsung into the world-leading innovator and industrial powerhouse from a local business," the firm said, adding: "His legacy will be everlasting."
Samsung is by far the biggest of the family-controlled conglomerates, or chaebols, that dominate business in South Korea.
Lee Kun-hee, the third son of Lee Byung-chul who founded Samsung Group in 1938, joined the family firm in 1968 and took over as chairman in 1987 after his father's death.
Samsung was then known as manufacturer of cheap, low quality products, Lee through radical reforms succeeded in led the firm out of its predicament and emerge as one of the world top electronics goods manufacturers.
Lee made his penchant for quality known by telling his employees back in 1993, "Let's change everything except our wives and kids."
Samsung is reported to have then burned its entire mobile phone inventory of 150,000 handsets, to build all anew!
While Chaebols helped to drive South Korea's economic transformation after World War II, some of these have been accused of murky political and business dealings.
Lee was jailed for five years in 2017 after being found guilty of bribery and other offences linked to former president Park Geun-hye, before being cleared of the most serious charges on appeal and released a year later. That case is currently being would up.
He stepped down as Samsung chairman in 2008 after he was charged with tax evasion and embezzlement. He returned as chairman of Samsung Group in 2010, but was left bedridden by the 2014 heart attack.
His son, Samsung Electronics vice chairman Lee Jae-yong, has been at the helm of the company since the 2014 heart attack. He too has served jail time for his role in a bribery scandal which triggered the ousting of then-President Park Geun-hye from office in 2017. Last month, prosecutors laid fresh charges against him over his role in a 2015 merger deal.