Lee Kun-hee, the longtime chairman of the Samsung Group who turned the conglomerate into one of the largest economic empires in the world, passed away today at the age of 78. This emerges from reports from the leading South Korean news agency Yonhap.
Samsung's history is deeply intertwined with the history of its homeland, sometimes referred to as the "Republic of Samsung". Lee, the son of Samsung founder Lee Byung-chul, came to power in the late 1980s when South Korea transitioned from dictatorship to democracy with the political handover of Chun Doo-hwan military to Roh Tae-woo. Under his leadership, Samsung led initiatives in a number of electronics areas, including semiconductors, memory chips, displays, and other components that form the backbone of today's digital devices.
Lee tackled the challenging economic troubles of the 1990s, including the 1998 Asian financial crisis that nearly collapsed the economies of South Korea and several other so-called Asian tigers, as well as the dot-com bubble that saw the collapse of internet stocks around the world.
After those challenging years, Lee invested in the conglomerate's Galaxy consumer smartphone line, which transformed Samsung from an industrial powerhouse to a global consumer brand, and is probably best known today. Samsung Electronics, The company is now just a spider web of Samsung companies, and is valued at around $ 350 billion. This makes it one of the most valuable companies in the world.
While his business acumen and strategic insights in dealing with Samsung have been praised, he has struggled in recent years. He was convicted of tax evasion in the late 2000s, but was ultimately pardoned (no relationship) by then-President of the country, Lee Myung-bak.
Samsung has also been targeted by groups like Elliott Management for Chairman Lee's attempts to secure Samsung's financial future for his son Lee Jae-yong, who took over the effective running of the conglomerate after the elder Lee's heart attack in 2014 . Lee Jae-yong has suffered his own violations of the law, found guilty of bribery and sentenced to five years in prison, which was eventually suspended by a judge.
After his heart attack, Lee Kun-hee remained in stable condition in the hospital, according to Yonhap. Rumors of his condition have surfaced over the past six years.
According to Bloomberg, Lee leaves a fortune of roughly $ 20 billion and is the richest South Korean citizen. He is survived by his wife and four children.