The tech world is grieving on Saturday night after Samsung announced the passing of its chairman, Kun-Hee Lee. The visionary died at the age of 78.
Although Samsung didn’t specify the cause of death, Lee had been in poor health since suffering a heart attack in 2014. He leaves behind an unforgettable legacy for Samsung and the rest of the tech world.
Lee is credited as the man responsible for turning Samsung into the electronics giant it has become. In a statement, the company said, “Chairman Lee was a true visionary who transformed Samsung into the world-leading innovator and industrial powerhouse from a local business. All of us at Samsung will cherish his memory and are grateful for the journey we shared with him.”
A Life of Innovation
Samsung was actually started by Lee’s father, Byung-Chul Lee, in 1938. At the time, the Samsung Group was a trading company that bought fish and produce from Korea and sold it to China. It wasn’t until 31 years later, in 1969, that the company would start selling tech.
When Byung-Chul Lee passed away in 1987, Kun-Hee Lee took over. A few years later, the company refocused, at Lee’s direction, to make high-end products rather than the cheap commodities it had been producing. Lee famously told employees that it was time to “change everything but your wife and kids.”
That isn’t the only famous moment in Lee’s journey to turn Samsung into an electronics giant. In 1995, he learned that several phones he gave to people as a gift didn’t work. In response, Lee drove to Samsung’s main assembly plant and dumped 150,000 phones into a nearby field.
Employees were then told to light the phones on fire and destroy them with a bulldozer. Since that day, Samsung has focused on making only high-quality products. That legacy continues today with smartphones like the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy Note 20.
What Comes Next?
In the wake of Kun-Hee Lee’s passing, there are plenty of questions for Samsung. Since he became ill in 2014, Lee’s son, Jay Y. Lee, has been running the company. That comes with the disclaimer that he was sentenced to five years in prison back in 2017 on bribery charges. His sentence was later dismissed.
Jay Y. Lee was reportedly at his father’s side when he died. He is now the apparent heir to the Korean tech giant.
If he does continue running Samsung, there will be plenty of challenges in the days ahead. Stifled by the COVID-19 pandemic, Samsung has had to fend off competition from 5G adversaries like Huawei and Apple. Experts project that it will slip to third place in 5G phone sales by the end of the year behind those two firms.
In the meantime, Samsung is experiencing some relief thanks to its booming chip segment. It will continue to lean on that business in the days to come.
However, for now, Samsung and the rest of the tech world will take a moment to respectfully process the death of Kun-Hee Lee, one of the most innovative leaders in his generation.