Posted : 2013-04-07 16:08
Updated : 2013-04-07 16:08

Shakeup at Samsung?

Lee's return from overseas trip triggers speculation

By Kim Yoo-chul

Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Kun-hee answers reporters' questions upon his arrival at
Gimpo International Airport from his three-month trip to Japan and Hawaii, Saturday.

Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Kun-hee talked of a "sense of crisis" upon his return from a long overseas trip Saturday, sparking speculation about a possible management shakeup.

He said the world's biggest technology company is being asked to tackle market uncertainties.

"You should always have a sense of crisis. You should run faster and always study to have insights," Lee told reporters at Gimpo International Airport, arriving back from a three-month trip to Japan and Hawaii.

He previously took long overseas stays before unveiling large-scale business plans and managerial changes.

Lee promoted Choi Gee-sung to group vice chairman and head of Samsung's corporate planning office three weeks after he returned from a three-week trip to Europe in May of last year.

This year marks the 20th since Samsung announced a new management initiative in 1993. He said at the time, "Change everything but your wife and children," as he called for innovation.

Since then, Samsung has focused on its chips, batteries, smartphones and display panel businesses.

The main arrival gate at the airport was packed with reporters from more than 50 media outlets, wondering whether Lee would unveil new Samsung plans.

In 2010, Lee said the majority of Samsung products today would be gone in 10 years. Right after that statement, Samsung shifted into emergency mode by cutting executive paychecks and limiting employees' overseas trips.

"I met a lot of people and spent a lot of time in studying our next businesses. Three months has gone too fast," he said, surrounded by Samsung executives.

Some sources said it seems unlikely Samsung will make huge changes in its top management.

"The chairman has so far been consistent in emphasizing crisis, risks and even dangers over the past two decades since he took control of the group,'' said one Samsung insider.

Other sources said Lee will himself check several pending issues, such as this year's investment plan, the ongoing patent dispute with Apple and how to cut reliance on its mobile business, according to Samsung officials.

"From this week, Lee may instruct top executives to present fine-tuned strategies to help the group towards the next level,'' said a Samsung executive, asking not to be named.

Lee is expected to meet reporters as early as Wednesday to explain his ideas, the sources said.

There has been speculation Samsung may invest as much as 49 trillion won ($43.2 billion) this year, but there has been no official announcement about its investment plan.

The chairman's return came a day after Samsung Electronics said it expects to create as much as 8.7 trillion won in operating profit during the first three months of this year.

Some analysts forecast the company's operating profit in the second quarter will surpass 11 trillion won.

"There is a consensus among fund managers that Samsung's operating profit will reach 11 trillion won in the second quarter. We are buying more stocks in the group's technology affiliates," said Kim Il-tae, a senior fund manager at Taurus Investment.

Mark Newman, a senior analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein's, a Wall Street research firm, believes Samsung is cheaper than ever and provides an attractive "entry point."

"Samsung is one of the few survivors in semiconductors and will continue to grow as they are expected to gain shares in non-memory, including foundry and processors, NAND memory chips, powered by robust sales of smartphones and improving DRAM margins,'' Newman said, Sunday.

"We see Samsung as the best positioned to gain share in premium and low-end smartphones plus maintain share in the mid-end thanks to its hardware lead, cost competitiveness, broad product portfolio and distribution in all regions of the world. Samsung is the indisputable leader in next generation OLED displays and LCD sales this year. After all, Samsung will continue to be profitable in this very tough market with low growth," Bernstein said.

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