[Newsmaker] Rest up, Mr. Lee

By Park Hyung-ki
  • Published : May 12, 2014 - 21:20
  • Updated : May 12, 2014 - 21:52
Perhaps the market should have seen it coming that one day people of this country would see Samsung boss Lee Kun-hee in hospital and either bid him farewell or hope that he recovers.

Thankfully, Samsung said the 73-year-old chairman is doing okay and is no longer on life support after an emergency procedure on his heart and arteries in the wee hours on Sunday.

His health will be back to normal in 24 hours, by Tuesday, and Samsung is operating as usual, the group said. No need to panic.

But Korea was tensed up following the news of his illness, in part due to respiratory problems that he has had for some years.
A commuter walks past the Samsung Electronics Co. Seocho office building in Seoul. ( Yonhap)

If the people, including investors and the industrial sector, had heard about his hospitalization on any given weekday, the stock market could have gone topsy-turvy, not to mention the foreign exchange market, and hurt Korea’s export outlook.

All because of this one old man whom the Korean people have both loved and hated over the years.

The chairman had his fair share of negative press when he tried to illegally hand over wealth through Everland, the group’s de facto holding company, to his only son Jay-yong, whom the market can now assume will be the Samsung heir.

Chairman Lee was once targeted by prosecutors for creating slush funds used for bribery and illicit financial transactions after a whistle-blower reported his wrongdoings.

And, of course, market players have even called the Korean economy a “slave” to Samsung as Korea remains dependent on it to maintain its export edge and even its status as Asia’s fourth-largest economy.

Despite the negativity surrounding Lee, he will be mentioned in history books for his leadership and contributions.

His “Frankfurt declaration” ― change everything except your wife and kids ― his “mach management” ― do it fast and become the leader ― and his grand vision of making Samsung a global company when he took over the group in 1987 have helped not only accelerate the growth of Samsung but also that of Korea.

It would be fair to say that Lee has outshined his father, Lee Byung-chull, who started Samsung as a sugar refinery and turned it over to Kun-hee as a consumer electronics company.

Rumor has it that the senior Lee saw the future of Samsung immediately after he saw semiconductors being made while visiting a Japanese company. He came back to Korea with the chips and tossed them to his employees for reverse engineering.

The market may need to accept the fact that Lee Kun-hee is not well and, sadly, will not be with Korea forever.

The time is ripe for Lee to make a smooth leadership transition, with little market disturbance, to his son and two daughters ― Jay-yong, Boo-jin and Seo-hyun ― and hope that they, too, can outshine their father, not only for Samsung but also for their country.

By Park Hyong-ki (