Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee passes away at 78, leaving a thriving but controversial legacy

samsung-lee-kun-hee (Image credit: Yonhap News)

What you need to know

  • Samsung Group has announced that Lee Kun-hee died on October 25, 2020.
  • Lee played a significant role in the global rise of Samsung, however, he was also a controversial figure due to multiple accounts of corruption.
  • Lee's son and current vice-chairman, Lee Jae-yong, is most likely to be named the successor.

On October 25, Samsung Group announced that Samsung's long-time chairman, Lee Kun-hee, died at 78, with family by his side.

While the company has not confirmed the exact cause of death, Lee has had a long history of heart problems. Notably, he had to be hospitalized for years after experiencing a heart attack in 2014.

As Samsung chairman since 1987, Lee led the company in its meteoric rise to becoming a global powerhouse. During his tenure, Samsung heavily invested in R&D and changed its entire product line. From the 1980s to the early 2000s, the company transitioned from being an affordable TV and appliance brand to being one of the top manufacturers in semiconductors and display technologies.

From then on, Samsung has been recognized as a leading brand across multiple industry verticals. Most notably, the company has been the world's largest phone manufacturer, with wildly successful product lines including the Galaxy series.

Samsung's growth under Lee is undeniable, though it's not without controversy. In 1995, Lee was found guilty of bribing the country's President, Roh Tae-woo. Over a decade later, in 2008, he was found guilty of tax evasion and accused of massive corruption and further tampering of the South Korean government. Samsung is one of Korea's biggest companies, and the largest of the family-run chaebols, which are comprised of Samsung, LG, Hyundai, SK and Lotte.

Lee's son and Samsung vice-chairman, Lee Jae-yong is expected to be named successor, but he has his own history with law-breaking. Lee Jae-yong spent almost a year in prison after being found guilty on multiple charges of bribery and corruption connected to the now-removed President Park Geun-hye.

In 2020, Samsung continues to thrive as the global conglomerate it is today, and Lee Kun-hee's involvement cannot be understated, in both good ways and bad.

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