Mobile chief makes it a rule to keep an engineer’s mindset
By Kim Yoo-chul
Apple’s iPhone almost took his corporate life.
Samsung’s mobile chief Shin Jong-kyun not only survived but is turning the tables to making a flourishing career out of the Korean conglomerate’s “Down with Apple, down with Jobs” efforts.
The 55-year-old’s weapon of choice is none other than the Galaxy, Samsung’s smartphone and tablet computer.
As expected from the fight against the icon of the times and one of the most profitable firms, things are tough to say the least. It is also complicated, considering Apple is one of the key buyers of Samsung’s semiconductors.
``He’s a really hard worker. With diligence, aggressiveness and a well-deserved manner, Shin is well known as a bulldozer in terms of his personality,’’ said an unnamed official from Samsung’s handset business.
The mobile chief rarely takes vacations and the engineer-turned-executive spends more than 120 days overseas to monitor Samsung's key overseas client channels.
Shin is not really talkative, leading him to be known as ``a man of few words,’’ a Samsung official said.
It doesn’t mean he keeps others guessing. He speaks when he has to, believing better communication with others is pivotal to producing quality-enhanced products.
``Under Samsung’s decades-long performance-driven initiatives, Shin performed well. Speculation has arisen that he is the top candidate to be the next Samsung chief executive. That seems plausible for the time being,’’ said another Samsung official, asking not to be identified.
Along with Samsung’s chip expert Kwon Oh-hyun, the mobile chief is one of the winners from Samsung’s rare mid-year reshuffle of top management.
Samsung moved its former LCD head Chang Won-kie to an advisory role and combined its LCD and chip businesses into the one to create a device solutions unit led by Kwon.
Shin is to handle Samsung’s camera-related businesses, which the firm has already identified as one of its new growth engines.
The company released its strategic mirrorless NX-branded cameras after Samsung Digital Imaging was transferred to Samsung Electronics, however, it was still struggling to narrow the market gap between Japan-based camera giants such as Nikon and Canon.
``That’s another mission ordered by Samsung chief executive Choi Gee-sung because Shin’s proven risk management will help the firm’s camera business write another success story,’’ said the official.
The executive was moved to Samsung’s handset development laboratories from its technology center in 1993. He was a key executive in lifting its handset business to the world’s second-biggest handset maker.
The Benz, Blueblack and Ultraedition phones are some of the products he was involved with, regarded as the ``right ones’’ to help Samsung speed up transitional efforts for its next ventures, according to company executives.
Shin was promoted to the chief of Samsung’s telecommunications division in 2009.
More than anything else, Shin’s division has emerged as the key earnings booster amid struggles for Samsung’s traditional two cash-cows ― memory chips and flat-screens.
Samsung had earlier estimated its weaker second-quarter earnings guidance mostly because its LCD and chip businesses were continuing the bearish moves on weaker prices and demand for consumer electronic products such as TVs and PCs.
The ``hidden factor’’ that prevented a further earnings fall was the stronger performance of Samsung’s telecommunications division.
``We’ve found that Samsung has the capability to yield significant returns in its smartphone business in a consistent way thanks to steady releases of handset lineups,’’ said Lee Seung-woo, an analyst at Shinyoung Securities, a local brokerage.
Leading makers including Nokia and LG have attributed declines in profit margins to pressure by other ones such as Apple and Research In Motion (RIM).
``But Shin managed well,’’ said the Samsung official.
Samsung’s Galaxy sequel, the Galaxy SII, is the world’s slimmest smartphone at just 8.49 millimeters and the device has whiplash speed, dual-core and a ``Super AMOLED Plus’’ display screen.
Shin is one of the top lieutenants of Samsung CEO Choi Gee-sung. With the full support of Choi, the mobile chief is also handling Samsung’s network business.
But challenges are ahead.
Shin is being asked to help the company’s own mobile operating system (OS) Bada, ocean in Korean, take off and also urged to create synergy between products.
Lifting the camera business to a competitive level and widening the gap with Chinese rivals are also new missions for the executive.
Samsung is targeting to sell more than 330 million handsets this year including 100 million smartphones, according to its officials.
``In terms of quantity, Samsung is more competitive than any other market players. But it needs quality-focused growth not just seek quantity-focused growth, which causes a so-called `Samsung discount’ to foreign investors,’’ said a top-level manager from a U.S.-based investment bank in Seoul.
Samsung is still heavily dependent on Google’s Android operating systems as the benchmark to run its Galaxy S and Galaxy Tab, meaning it is vulnerable over patents and royalties.
A senior Samsung Electronics spokesman Shin Young-june said the the firm was investing more to strengthen its software-centric capabilities and added it is highly likely for Samsung to begin its own mobile cloud service from the year-end.
``The so-called `S’ cloud could be an answer to Apple’s iCloud. We need our own Web-based cloud platform for balanced corporate growth in the world of smartphones and software,’’ said an unnamed Samsung executive.