Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee dies at 78

Chairman Lee Kun-hee built Samsung Electronics into a global giant in tech and electronics.

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Image: Samsung

Samsung group chairman Lee Kun-hee has passed away at the age of 78 on Sunday, Samsung said.

Lee has been incapacitated since 2014 after suffering a heart attack.

His son and hair-apparent, vice chairman Lee Jae-yong, has been the de facto leader of the conglomerate since then.

The chairman, the richest man in South Korea at the time of his death, was one of the country's most influential businessman.

He is credited with transforming an obscure South Korean electronics company into one of the world's top brands in smartphones, TVs, and semiconductors.

He became the leader of Samsung in 1987 after his father and founder of the conglomerate, Lee Byung-chull, died.

In 1993, he made his famous "New Management" declaration, in which he asked employees for fundamental changes, saying "change everything except your wife and children". He declared that the company would put quality first over quantity. He famously ordered millions of dollars worth of phones to be burned in front of employees when a defect was found.

Under his leadership, Samsung surpassed Japanese rivals in memory semiconductors in the 1990s. In the 2000s, the South Korean tech giant surpassed Sony in TVs and became a powerhouse in handsets under his tenure.

However, his tenure was not without controversy -- as the leader of South Korea's largest family-owned conglomerate, known as chaebol, he has been convicted twice for white collar crimes, but was pardoned on both counts.

"Chairman Lee was a true visionary who transformed Samsung into the world-leading innovator and industrial powerhouse from a local business," Samsung said in a statement. "All of us at Samsung will cherish his memory and are grateful for the journey we shared with him."

"Our deepest sympathies are with his family, relatives and those nearest. His legacy will be everlasting."

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