Hail the Father of Business, Lee Byung-chul

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Celebrated its centenary year of Hoam Lee Byung-chul’s birthday
Thursday, February 11th, 2010
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Lee Byung-chul (left), Samsung Group's founder, and Lee Kun-hee (second from the left), former chairman of Samsung Group, are having a meeting with other board members in 1978.

Samsung Group, Korea's largest conglomerate, celebrated its 100th anniversary of the late Hoam Lee Byung-chul's birthday at the Hoam Art Hall in Seoul from February 4, and carried on till February 10. On this particular occasion, Lee's family, both former and incumbent Samsung executives, other entrepreneurial leaders, politicians and bureaucrats attended and commemorated Lee's 100th birthday. Thus, all the attendees honored and paid respects to a man whose epic career spanned Korea's conglomerate formation, from the decades of harsh authoritarian rule to its transformation into a capitalistic economy. The event held an opening concert on February 4, in which featured soprano Jo Su-mi, violist Kim Jee-yun, pianist Kim Young-ho, and the Bucheon Philharmonic Orchestra. Meanwhile, Lee's exhibition took place throughout the event period, presenting Lee's drawings, photographs, and sayings. On the last day of the event, an academic forum was held at Shilla Hotel in Seoul, where many noted scholars filled the seats and delivered critical lectures. Among them was Harvard Business School professor Tarun Khanna who gave a lecture on the growth of Korean economy and the roles of entrepreneurs.

Who is Hoam Lee Byung-chul?

"Infinite technological innovations and progressive development of revolutionary technologies will revive Korean economy and sustain economic prosperity, given that Korea lacks natural resources" said Hoam Lee Byung-chul, founder of the Samsung Group and the father of Korean industry. Time and again called 'the richest man in Korea,' he carved out Samsung Group from a small exports company in 1938 into one of the largest Korean corporations. He stayed loyal to his own way of thinking, in which robust business contributes to the nation's well-being and society. Thus, the nation and its corporations are inseparable and are joined at the hip. Such ideology may well be stemmed from his childhood background where he was born during the time of Japanese reign, and Korea was dependent upon Japanese rule. In other words, among many factors, he realized how a country is vulnerable against lack of vigorous ventures keeping the nation afloat and that the nation's stake was poised on the edge of the chair without the existence of strong capitalism. Hence, it is not surprising that he placed business in the service of his country. Lee's unflagging efforts to construct and embed free enterprise in Korea to strengthen the nation earned him the reputation as a passionate champion of economic prosperity and welfare. His efforts led to an unprecedented thaw in relations with the government and cultivated capitalist ambition in the forthcoming future.

What nurtured Samsung to the top was in Hoam Lee's management skill

Lee Byung-chul held keen insight that cultivated a huge enterprise while avoiding a mess of pottage and also possessed laudable leadership. He maintained his principles throughout his life that a chairman of a company should consider three basic ideas while balancing these three: market, people, and management. Also, he trusted his employees with all his heart that he let the person in charge to take care of the work, without his direct supervision. The most interesting choice he made for the company's security and well-being was selecting a psychologist as his consultant instead of a business specialist. He recognized that management is not about playing with numbers, but managing people; also, he understood that his employees are the most valuable assets to his company.

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Lee Byung-chul being awarded on honorary doctorate at Boston College in 1982

Samsung History

Samsung Group gave birth to the notion of conglomerate. President Park Chung-hee staged an anticorruption campaign in 1961. At the time, Lee was residing in Japan, refusing to go back to Korea and confront the incumbent president, because he did not want to walk into the mouse trap where he will be the main target as the richest man in Korea. Nonetheless, he and President Park made a deal that ultimately became the pillar for Korea's conglomerate. The deal is as follows: Samsung is allowed to keep the business running, but it has to be the carrier that implements governmental projects that are in concurrent with President Park's plan. Although the deal draws a picture of Lee succumbing to the government, such plan established the nature of Korean economic system, in which the government and the business circle formed a common ground of interest that will benefit the two. Thus, business profits the companies earn in Korea can well be interpreted as the government partially subsidizing in one way or another. Samsung, however, in a long term, made progress day after day and month after month that it now sees record profits and revenue.

It started as an exports company in 1938, and soon mushroomed and employed well over 400,000 employees and manufactures electronics, vehicles, chemicals, and textiles, ships, and runs hotels in its subsidiaries. Now Samsung Electronics is known to be one of the top 10 brands in the world and it operates in five major business areas: Telecommunication, Digital and Home Appliances, Digital Media, LCD, and Semiconductors. Intimidated and revered by Japan, Taiwan and other countries worldwide and not to mention domestically, Samsung Electronics with its hard-line expansion had managed to crush market share of every company to become the top manufacturer of DRAM, home appliances, flash memory, DVD-combo players, and several other devices and is now the forerunner in plasma displays and next generation mobile phones. Recently, Samsung even became a dominant player in notoriously selective Japan.

Samsung's development in chronological order

At the age of 26, he used his father's inherited money to start a rice mill in his home town, Kyungnam. The venture went off to a rocky road so he moved to Daegu and began a trucking and real estate business naming it Samsung, which means 'three stars'. To make it worse the business went bankrupt due to credit squeeze that came from Japanese invasion of Manchuria. However, Lee got back on the rails and started business where he added domestic and international trading to the former trucking and real estate business that he had originally started from. And that is how Samsung Trading Company developed in the midst of tense situation in the Korean peninsula. In 1953, he started the foremost sugar refining company in Korea called 'Cheil Sugar'. Cheil meaning 'first' flourished afterwards and made high profits. In 1952, he established additional subsidiary called Cheil Wool Textile Company. Since then, Samsung Electronics emerged and had become the dominant group even outshining worldwide leader Intel in investment for 2005 fiscal records. In 1971, Samsung Electronics succeeded exporting domestic TVs to overseas for the first time and invented the world's fourth VCR consecutively. From then on, Samsung produced color TVs for the first time in Korea in 1976, and was rated as number one black-and-white color TV manufacturer in the world. In this fashion, Samsung went from success to success; riding on the crest of a wave and with no doubt Lee planted the seeds of these successes. He also served as chairman of the Federation of Korean Industries, a prominent business organization that is comprised of the country's leading business executives.

Samsung Empire

There are four major groups that culminate Samsung Group and they are Hansol, CJ, and Shinsegae group. Cheil Jedang, known as CJ, is a Korean conglomerate that diversified from its mother company, Samsung. It is owned and operated by Lee Jae-hyun, the grandson of Lee. It also opened a chain of multiplex movie theaters under the name of CGV. The Shinsegae Group is mainly known for its department stores and is managed by Lee's youngest daughter, Lee Myung-hee. As of today, Samsung Group has 64 subsidiaries and employs roughly 30,000 employees and combines for revenue of KRW200 trillion (US$172.3 billion), occupying approximately one-fifth of Korea's gross domestic product (GDP).

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Hoam Lee Byung-chul, practicing calligraphy. He is writing 'modesty' in Chinese characters

 

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starting from the left is Lee Kun-hee, Lee Byung-chul, and Lee Myung-hee (late Lee's youngest daughter) at the opening of Shinsegae department store