Founder of Electronics Dynasty Has Died

Lee Kun-hee transformed Samsung
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 25, 2020 12:00 PM CDT
Man Who Founded Electronics Dynasty Has Died
In this July 6, 2011, file photo, Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee, right, greets people from the South Korean delegation in Durban, South Africa, for the 123rd International Olympic Committee (IOC) session that will decide the host city for the 2018 Olympics Winter Games.   (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam, File)

The man who turned Samsung into a tech powerhouse—and nearly lost it all amid white-collar crime convictions—died Sunday in Seoul, the Washington Post reports. Lee Kun-hee was 78. "Chairman Lee was a true visionary who transformed Samsung into the world-leading innovator and industrial powerhouse from a local business," said Samsung, which announced the death but gave no cause. Lee did have lung cancer in the 1990s and suffered a 2014 heart attack that left him hospitalized and forced his son to run the company, per the Wall Street Journal. Lee made his mark by taking over Samsung in 1987 and embarking on what he called a "life-or-death" plan to ditch the company's reputation as a maker of knockoff appliances.

"Change everything except your wife and children," he told executives during days of lectures about changing company culture, per the New York Times. He even had nearly $50 million worth of fax machines and cellphones set ablaze for their apparent low quality while 2,000 Samsung workers watched—while wearing headbands that read, "Quality first." Lee was convicted of bribing South Korea's president in 1996, then found guilty of tax evasion over a decade later, and was pardoned in both cases. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak (no relation) later got 15 years in prison for taking Samsung bribes that led to the CEO's pardon. Lee was thought to be South Korea's richest person, boasting a net worth that Forbes pegged at over $17 billion. (More Samsung stories.)

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