Samsungs leadership transition gets on track
By Kim Tae-gyu
Two of Samsung Group leader Lee Kun-hee’s children were promoted to president in a move widely viewed as a step that will eventually lead to a generational change at the top of Korea’s largest business empire.
The Seoul-based group announced Friday that Samsung Electronics Executive Vice President Lee Jae-yong would move up to president. However, his job would remain unchanged as chief operating officer (COO), a job controlling the Samsung flagship without being held accountable in the event anything goes wrong. His mentor Choi Gee-sung was promoted to vice chairman and will remain the affiliate’s CEO.
The 42-year-old has been promoted twice in as many years after his father, the chairman of Samsung Electronics, expressed his intention to again advance him last month.
Lee’s oldest daughter and Jae-yong’s sister Lee Boo-jin, 40, was also named chief executive officer at Hotel Shilla, president of Samsung Everland and adviser to Samsung Construction and Trade (C&T) Corp.
It took 19 years for Jae-yong to be elevated to president, while it took 15 years for his younger sister. Joining Samsung Electronics in 1991, the former has stayed in the nation’s primary firm excluding a seven-year period of studying overseas.
Market watchers point out that the `promotions would strengthen the footing of third-generation management ― the two junior Lees are grandchildren of late Samsung founder Lee Byung-chull.
``Although Jae-yong will undertake the same tasks next year, his influence will increase across the group. The father-to-son succession procedure is set to start in a full-fledged manner,’’ said a Seoul analyst who asked not to be named.
``Boo-jin is also expected to flex her muscles at Hotel Shilla, Everland and Samsung C&T. The group’s hotel, amusement park, construction, trade and catering segments will be run by her.’’
Jae-yong has been widely regarded as the heir apparent of Samsung Group as he has taken significant roles at Samsung Electronics, the flagship unit and the world’s top maker of memory chips and flat-panel displays.
Chairman Lee has also given significant roles to his daughter Boo-jin.
``I think that Chairman Lee sets his daughter Boo-jin as a kind of a pacemaker. As you know, a distant leader tends not to make the utmost efforts in marathon. But we have to remember that a pacemaker sometimes wins the race,’’ the analyst said.
Professor Kim Sang-jo at Hansung University concurs.
``Chairman Lee is seemingly attempting to put competitive pressure on Jae-yong. Although chances are that he will eventually control such iconic units as Samsung Electronics or Samsung Life Insurance, he cannot be complacent as there is a rival next to him,’’ Kim said.
Yet, Kim brought up the possibility that the power transfer of Samsung to Jae-yong might take place earlier than generally projected after one of Samsung Electronics’ two chiefs left.
Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Yoon-woo was deprived of his CEO title and of chairman of the board. As a result, Choi, often dubbed as Jae-yong’s mentor, was promoted to vice chairman, remaining as the sole CEO of Samsung Electronics.
``During the shareholders’ meeting early next year, Samsung might appoint Jae-yong as an executive board member. Then, he might be able to attain the CEO title early,’’ Kim said.
In the meantime, the group disclosed the organizational structure of the recently resurrected its control tower, dubbed the Strategic Planning Office, headed by Samsung lifer Kim Soon-taek.
The office, which was closed two and a half years ago due to several difficulties, will accommodate a total of six teams geared toward finding the group’s next-generation growth engines.