Scholars shed light on late Samsung chief’s management initiatives

A week ahead of the third anniversary of the late Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee’s death, scholars gathered at a global academic conference in Seoul on Wednesday, looking back on his management initiatives introduced three decades ago.

About 300 scholars from Korea and abroad attended the event hosted by the Korean Academic Society of Business Administration, reminiscing about the late chairman’s business philosophy, leadership and social contributions to Korean society.

“The late chairman sought to fundamentally solve national and social problems by focusing on corporate talent and technology,” Kim Hwang-sik, a former prime minister and chairman of the Ho-Am Foundation, said in congratulatory remarks at the event held at the Seocho-gu office of Samsung Electronics in southern Seoul.

“I hope this conference will serve as an opportunity to shed new light on the spirit of (Lee’s) new management initiatives and present a milestone in preparing for the future of Korean companies,” Kim added.

Invited speakers at Wednesday’s event included University of Toronto professor emeritus Roger Martin; Kim Sang-keun, a professor of theology at Yonsei University; Scott Stern, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management; Columbia Business School professor Rita McGrath; and Koo Jeong-woo, a professor in Sungkyunkwan University's sociology department.

They analyzed Samsung’s new management from six perspectives: technology, strategies, talent, coexistence, future generations and implications for emerging countries. The experts also shared their opinions on how to apply the initiatives from the past to the management for the present and future.

“Chairman Lee was an absolutely striking strategy theorist and an integrative thinker. He was bold on creating a future that did not exist (in the past) and going far beyond without any data available,” Martin said in his keynote speech, titled, “The Striking Features of Lee Kun-hee’s Management Approach,” earlier in the day.

“These two features made him an extraordinary leader. …. Samsung's performance is so extraordinary and it's not surprising in this context,” the professor said, highlighting the late chairman's philosophy and leadership that led Samsung to become a global top-notch firm.

This October marks 30 years since the late chairman announced new management initiatives in Frankfurt, Germany in 1993, saying: "Let's change everything except wives and children."

Samsung's product quality and brand recognition at the time were near the bottom in the global market. It was not even recognized as the No. 1 firm on its home turf.

Under the topic of "Lee Kun-hee, a Renaissance Man: His Legacy of Lifelong Achievement and Posthumous Donations," professor Kim said that the late Samsung chief is the "spirit of the Korean era" who left behind various achievements comparable to those of the Medici family during the Renaissance in Florence, Italy.

He evaluated that Samsung's late chairman left an unprecedented legacy to the country in areas other than management, while introducing his bereaved family's return to Korean society, including donations of 23,000 pieces of art to national institutions in 2021 and 1 trillion won ($742 million) to overcome infectious diseases, childhood cancer and rare diseases.

A later day session focused on Samsung's prospects and challenges, where Stern of MIT suggested both the tech giant and Korea to "create beyond possible" in the era of economic and geopolitical uncertainties.

McGrath of Columbia also said, "Samsung's new management initiatives created three decades ago were established in a way that is completely consistent with today's success strategies, such as permanent crisis spirit, investment with destiny, and rapid and fearless experimentation."

Meanwhile, Korea's leading pianist Paik Kun-woo went on stage at Wednesday's event and performed a memorial performance for the late chairman's third anniversary of death.

During his lifetime, the late Samsung chief sponsored Paik's overseas performance activities. When he passed away in 2020, the pianist visited the funeral and shed tears, saying, “I feel like I lost my father.”

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