Samsung Electronics Chairman
By Kim Yoo-chul
Lee Kun-hee, 68, will rejoin Samsung Electronics as its chairman, two years after resigning from the group chairman's post following an independent counsel inquiry into tax evasion and breach of duty.
Despite the move, Lee will not be on the board of directors, Rhee In-yong, a Samsung senior vice president for communication said Wednesday.
The senior Lee's comeback had been predicted since December when he was given a presidential pardon, amid hopes that he could help South Korea's bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Following the pardon, Lee resumed his work as a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
According to Rhee, CEOs of Samsung companies met with Lee twice in February to tell him that the group "desperately" needed his leadership.
"We admit that we had trouble achieving cohesiveness among different business operations. Lee's return will enable us to introduce more effective strategies, speed up investment and achieve synergies," Rhee said.
Before his resignation, Lee's office acted as a central "control tower" managing business strategies across all of more than 60 Samsung subsidiaries.
Judging by an e-mail statement released by Samsung Electronics, Lee appears to be pegging himself as a savior at a time when a sense of urgency is evident inside the company.
At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January, Lee said that he would return to Samsung only if he sees a "crisis" befalling the group.
"Top-tier global companies are falling. There's no guarantee that Samsung will be an exception. In the coming 10 years, products that now represent Samsung will mostly disappear," Lee was quoted as saying.
"We do not have time to hesitate. We need a restart."
A Samsung executive, refusing to be named, told The Korea Times that Lee had been shocked by the troubles at Japanese auto giant, Toyota, which might have influenced his decision.
The competition in the markets for memory chips and LCDs is increasing, and old foes such as Sony are climbing back on the television front. Samsung Electronics is also burdened by the fact that it has yet to produce a smartphone capable of competing with the iPhone or BlackBerry.
Industry watchers believe that Samsung Electronics is struggling to adapt as the focus of competition in the tech industry shifts from hardware to software, as seen in the markets for smartphones and 3D televisions.
The company's investment in new business sectors, such as healthcare, renewable energy and bio technology, has yet to yield visible results.
"Samsung has been on a strong and profitable growth track. But the performances were coming from our traditional engines - chips, flat-screens and mobile phones. Without strong leadership at the top, Samsung might find itself troubled like Toyota is now," said another Samsung executive.
"We don't believe the chairman will focus on memory chips and displays. Samsung will search for new revenue sources such as solar cells," Lee Sun-tae, an analyst at Meritz Securities said, adding the Samsung owner is expected to find new drivers to replace the component businesses.
Samsung Electronics is now the world's leading maker of memory chips, liquid crystal displays (LCDs) and flat-screen televisions, and trails only Nokia in handsets.
Lee's son, Jae-yong, currently Samsung Electronics' chief operating officer, is being groomed as the group's third-generation successor.
With Lee back in the picture, the transfer and division of wealth among his children will likely be getting more attention.
Some insiders predict that further realignment of Samsung's ownership structure could be possible around the time of the initial public offering (IPO) plan of Samsung Life.
Lee's daughters, Boo-jin and Seo-hyun, are both holding executive positions at Samsung Everland and Cheil Communications, respectively.
"The competition for the group heir will get fiercer and fiercer as the senior Lee will lead Samsung Electronics for some years. That means, Jae-yong and the daughters will expand their footprints to show their management capabilities," said an industry source.
이건희 삼성전자 회장으로 전격 복귀
국내 최대 재벌인 삼성 그룹의 이건희(68) 전 그룹회장이 회사 재산을 가족에게 불법적으로 양도해 형사상 조사를 받으면서 회장직을 내 놓은지 2년 만에 삼성전자 회장직에 전격 복귀했다.
삼성그룹 커뮤니케이션 팀장인 이인용 부사장은 수요일 이 회장은 회장직에 복귀하지만 이사회에는 오르지 등재되지 않을 것이라고 밝혔다.
이건희 회장의 경영 복귀는 2018년 동계올림픽 유치에 기여할 수 있도록 대통령 사면을 받은 지난 12월 이후 줄곳 예상되었다.
사면에 이어 이 회장은 국제올림픽 위원회(IOC) 위원으로 일을 다시 시작했다.
이부사장에 따르면, 삼성 그룹 사장단은 지난달 두 차례에 걸쳐 면담을 하면서 “그의 지도력이 절실하다”며 복귀를 설득한 것으로 알려졌다.
이 부사장은 “서로 다른 사업을 운영하는데 응집력 달성에 어려움이 있다는 것을 시인한다”며 “이 회장의 복귀가 효과적인 전략 도입과 투자 가속화, 그리고 서로 독자적인 사업 영역으로부터 시너지를 달성하는데 필요하다”고 밝혔다.
사임 전, 이 회장의 집무실은 60여 개에 달하는 계열 회사 전반에 걸쳐 사업 전략을 총괄하는 중앙 `컨트롤 타워’ 역할을 했다.
삼성전자에서 배포한 이메일 성명으로 판단하건데, 이 회장은 비상시라는 느낌이 사내 전반에 나타나고 있는 시점에 구세주로 자리매김하려는 것 같다.
지난 1월 라스베가스에서 열린 전자쇼에서 이 회장은 그룹에 위기가 닥치는 것을 볼 때만 회사에 복귀할 것이라고 말했었다.
이 회장은 “세계 최고 기업들이 무너져 내리고 있습니다. 삼성이 예외라는 보장은 없습니다. 앞으로 100년 후 현재 삼성을 대표하는 제품들이 거의 사라질 것”이라면서 “주저할 시간이 없습니다. 다시 시작해야 합니다”라고 말했다.