Lee attending breakfast with various Korean business leaders, 2013
|Alma mater||Waseda University|
George Washington University
|Occupation||Chairman of Samsung|
|Net worth||$ 17 billion (September 2019)|
|Parent(s)||Lee Byung-chul (1909-1987)|
Park Du-eul (1907-1999)
|Revised Romanization||I Geonhui|
Lee Kun-hee (Korean: ; Hanja: ; Korean pronunciation: [i:nhi]; born January 9, 1942) is a South Korean business magnate and the chairman of Samsung Group. In 1996, Lee became a member of the International Olympic Committee. With an estimated net worth of $16.8 billions, he and his family rank among the Forbes richest people in the world. He is the third son of Samsung founder Lee Byung-chul.
He resigned in April 2008, owing to a Samsung slush funds scandal, but returned on March 24, 2010. In May 2014, he was hospitalized for a heart attack. In 2014, Lee was named the world's 35th most powerful person and the most powerful Korean by Forbes Magazine's List of The World's Most Powerful People along with his son Lee Jae-yong.
Lee joined the Samsung Group in 1968 and took over the chairmanship on December 24, 1987, just two weeks after the death of his father, Lee Byung-chul, who founded Samsung. In the early 1990s, believing that Samsung Group was overly focused on producing massive quantities of low-quality goods and that it was not prepared to compete in quality, Lee famously said in 1993 "Change everything except your wife and kids" and true to his word attempted to reform the profoundly Korean culture that had pervaded Samsung until this point. Foreign employees were brought in and local employees were shipped out as Lee tried to foster a more international attitude to doing business.
Under Lee's guidance, the company has been transformed from a Korean budget name into a major international force and arguably[according to whom?] the most prominent Asian brand worldwide. One of the group's subsidiaries, Samsung Electronics, is now one of the world's leading developers and producers of semiconductors, and was listed in Fortune magazine's list of the 100 largest corporations in the world in 2007. Today Samsung's revenues are now 39 times what they were in 1987, it generates around 20 percent of South Korea's GDP, and Lee is the country's richest man.
On April 21, 2008, he resigned and stated: "We, including myself, have caused troubles to the nation with the special probe; I deeply apologize for that, and I'll take full responsibility for everything, both legally and morally." On December 29, 2009, the South Korean government moved to pardon Lee Kun-hee.
On March 24, 2010, he announced his return to Samsung Electronics as its chairman.
In an interview, Lee expressed pride in the fact that Samsung attracts the brightest minds in South Korea but added that his new goal is to attract talent from all over the world to ensure that Samsung will remain one of the top companies in the world for years.
Notable Samsung industrial subsidiaries include Samsung Electronics (the world's largest information technology company measured by 2011 revenues),Samsung Heavy Industries (the world's largest shipbuilder measured by 2010 revenues),Samsung Engineering and Samsung C&T (respectively the world's 35th- and 72nd-largest construction companies),Samsung Electro-Mechanics Co. Ltd. (Established in 1973, Samsung Electro-Mechanics has become a remarkable developer and manufacturer of key electronic components not only in Korea but also in other parts of the world) and Samsung Techwin (a weapons technology and optoelectronics manufacturer). Other notable subsidiaries include Samsung Life Insurance (the world's 14th-largest life insurance company),Samsung Everland (operator of Everland Resort, the oldest theme park in South Korea) and Cheil Worldwide (the world's 19th-largest advertising agency measured by 2010 revenues).
Samsung produces around a fifth of South Korea's total exports and its revenues are larger than many countries' GDP; in 2006, it would have been the world's 35th-largest economy. The company has a powerful influence on South Korea's economic development, politics, media and culture and has been a major driving force behind the "Miracle on the Han River".
On January 14, 2008, Korean police raided Lee's home and office in an ongoing probe into accusations that Samsung was responsible for a slush fund used to bribe influential prosecutors, judges, and political figures in South Korea. On April 4, 2008, Lee denied allegations against him in the scandal. After a second round of questioning by the South Korean prosecutors, on April 11, 2008, Lee was quoted by reporters as saying, "I am responsible for everything. I will assume full moral and legal responsibility." On July 16, 2008, The New York Times reported the Seoul Central District Court had found Lee guilty on charges of financial wrongdoing and tax evasion. Prosecutors requested Lee be sentenced to seven years in prison and fined 350 billion won (approx $312 million USD). The court fined him 110 billion won (approx $98 million USD) and sentenced him to three years' suspended jail time. Lee has not responded to the verdict. Months later, South Korean president Lee Myung-bak pardoned Lee so he could remain on the International Olympic Committee.
In 2010, the company's former chief legal counsel, Kim Yong-chul, published a book called "Think Samsung". It revealed shocking alleged details of Lee Kun-hee's personal corruption, claiming he stole up to 10 trillion won (approx $8.9 billion USD) from Samsung subsidiaries, destroyed evidence, and bribed government officials to ensure the smooth transfer of power to his son.
Lee Kun-hee's wife, Hong Ra-hee, is the daughter of Hong Jin-ki, the former chairman of the JoongAng Ilbo and Tongyang Broadcasting Company, and Kim Yoon-nam (1924-2012). Kim was born in the coastal city of Mokpo, South Jeolla. While attending Ewha Womans University as a junior in 1942, she married Hong Jin-ki (1917-1984), who at the time was working as a judge at the Jeonju District Court in Jeonju, North Jeolla. The two are survived by four sons and two daughters: Ra-hee, director general of Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art and the wife of Lee Kun-hee; Seok-hyun; Seok-joh, CEO of BGF Retail; Suk-joon, CEO of Bokwang Investment; Seok-kyu, CEO of Bokwang; and Ra-young, deputy director at Leeum. Kim was also the mother-in-law of Lho Chol-soo, publisher of the Korea JoongAng Daily, who is also the son of Lho Shin-yong, the (former) Prime Minister of South Korea who served from 1985 to 1987. Kim Yoon-nam died of natural causes at Samsung Medical Center in Gangnam District, southern Seoul in 2012 when she was 88 years old.
Hong Ra-hee majored in applied art at Seoul National University and gained experience as a museum art director in 1995 at Ho-am Art Museum in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province. The museum was established by Samsung founder Lee Byung-chul in 1978.
His siblings and some of their children are also executives of major Korean business groups.Lee Boo-jin, his eldest daughter, is president and CEO of Hotel Shilla, a luxury hotel chain, as well as president of Samsung Everland, a theme park and resort operator that is "widely seen as the de facto holding company for the conglomerate" according to Associated Press. As of 2010, his son Lee Jae-yong is vice chairman of Samsung Electronics.
Lee's eldest brother's son is currently chairman and CEO of the CJ Group, a company holding businesses in food, beverages and adult entertainment. His second eldest brother's sons ran Saehan Media, one of the largest blank media producers. His older sister is the owner of Hansol Group, the country's largest paper manufacturer and producer of electronics and telecommunications. One of his sisters is married to Koo Ja-hak, brother of a former chairman of the LG Group and himself a former chairman of LG Semiconductor. He is currently running one of the largest food services firms in South Korea. Lee's younger sister, Lee Myung-hee, is chairwoman of the Shinsegae Group, the largest retail company in South Korea, with major holdings such as the Shinsegae Department Stores and E-Mart. His daughter Lee Yoon-hyung committed suicide in Manhattan in 2005.
Lee's older brother Lee Maeng-hee and older sister Lee Sook-hee initiated legal action against him in February 2012, asking a South Korean court to award them shares of Samsung companies totaling US$850 million (913.563 billion won), which they claim their father willed to them. Court hearings began in May 2012. On February 6, 2014, courts in South Korea dismissed the case. On May 11, 2014, Lee was hospitalized for a heart attack. On May 16, 2014, the AsiaN claimed that Lee had died, citing a whistleblower inside the firm. It deleted the article seven months later, saying it was unable to obtain further information to substantiate the claim.