Lee Kun-hee was born in Daegu, Japan-occupied Korea on January 9, 1942 to Park Doo-eul and Lee Byung-chul, who had founded Samsung a few years earlier as an exporter of fruit and dried fish. The younger Lee was a wrestler in high school.
Samsung first grew by dominating consumables, such as sugar and textiles, which war-torn Korea needed. It later expanded to insurance, shipbuilding, construction, semiconductors and more. Lee Kun-hee graduated from Waseda University in Tokyo in 1965. He then studied for a master’s degree at George Washington University, but did not get a degree.
He started his career at Tongyang Broadcasting Company, a Samsung subsidiary at the time, in 1
When he became president in 1987, he made a decision from his father to plan for the distant future, even when times seemed good. But he added an overlay of existential fears and perpetually current crisis that continues among Samsung brass to this day.
“We are in a very important transition,” said Mr. Lee shortly after taking charge in an interview with Forbes. “If we do not move into more capital- and technology-intensive industries, our survival may be at stake.”
The radical transition he had in mind was made clear when he convened a series of Samsung Electronics executives for a luxury hotel in Frankfurt in 1993. For several days, he lectured executives and encouraged them to bury old ways of working and thinking. “Change everything,” he said, “except your wife and children.”
Samsung, he decided, would focus on improving product quality instead of increasing market share. It would bring in talent from abroad and it would require executives to carefully understand foreign markets and how to compete in them.