Lee Kun-hee (Korean pronunciation: [iːɡʌnhi]; born January 9, 1942) is a South Korean business magnate and the chairman of Samsung Group. He had resigned in April 2008, owing to a Samsung slush funds scandal, but returned on March 24, 2010. He speaks Korean, English, and Japanese. In 1996, Lee became a member of the International Olympic Committee. With an estimated net worth of $12.6 billion, he and his family rank among the Forbes richest people in the world. He is the third son of Samsung founder Lee Byung-chul.
Lee was named the world’s 41st most powerful person by Forbes Magazine’s List of The World’s Most Powerful People in 2013, the second highest amongKoreans after Ban Ki-moon.
Lee Kun-hee joined the Samsung Group in 1968 and took over the chairmanship on December 1, 1987, just two weeks after the death of his father, Lee Byung-chul, who founded Samsung.In the early 1990s, believing that Samsung Group was overly focused on producing massive quantities of low-quality goods and that it was not prepared to compete in quality, Lee famously said in 1993 “Change everything except your wife and kids” and true to his word attempted to reform the profoundly Korean culture that had pervaded Samsung until this point. Foreign employees were brought in and local employees were shipped out as Lee tried to foster a more international attitude to doing business.
Under Lee’s guidance, the company has been transformed from a Korean budget name into a major international force and arguably the most prominent Asian brand worldwide. One of the group’s subsidiaries, Samsung Electronics, is now one of the world’s leading developers and producers of semiconductors, and was listed in Fortune magazine‘s list of the 100 largest corporations in the world in 2007. Today Samsung’s revenues are now 39 times what they were in 1987, it generates around 20 percent of South Korea’s GDP, and Lee is the country’s richest man.
On April 21, 2008, he resigned and stated: “We, including myself, have caused troubles to the nation with the special probe; I deeply apologize for that, and I’ll take full responsibility for everything, both legally and morally.” On December 29, 2009, the South Korean government moved to pardon Lee Kun-hee.
On March 24, 2010, he announced his return to Samsung Electronics as its chairman.
In an interview, Lee expressed pride in the fact that Samsung attracts the brightest minds in South Korea but added that his new goal is to attract talent from all over the world to ensure that Samsung will remain one of the top companies in the world for years.
Notable Samsung industrial subsidiaries include Samsung Electronics (the world’s largest information technology companymeasured by 2011 revenues), Samsung Heavy Industries (the world’s second-largest shipbuilder measured by 2010 revenues), Samsung Engineering and Samsung C&T (respectively the world’s 35th- and 72nd-largest construction companies), and Samsung Techwin (a weapons technology and optoelectronics manufacturer). Other notable subsidiaries include Samsung Life Insurance (the world’s 14th-largest life insurance company), Samsung Everland(operator of Everland Resort, the oldest theme park in South Korea) and Cheil Worldwide (the world’s 19th-largest advertising agency measured by 2010 revenues).
Samsung produces around a fifth of South Korea’s total exports and its revenues are larger than many countries’ GDP; in 2006, it would have been the world’s 35th-largest economy. The company has a powerful influence on South Korea’s economic development, politics, media and culture and has been a major driving force behind the “Miracle on the Han River“.
His siblings and some of their children are also executives of major Korean business groups. As of 2010, his son Lee Jae-yong is vice chairman of Samsung Electronics. Lee Boo-jin, his eldest daughter, is president and CEO of Hotel Shilla, a luxury hotel chain, as well as president of Samsung Everland, a theme park and resort operator that is “widely seen as the de facto holding company for the conglomerate” according to Associated Press. Lee’s eldest brother’s son is currently chairman and CEO of the CJ Group, a company holding businesses in food, beverages and entertainment. His second eldest brother’s sons ran Saehan Media, one of the largest blank media producers. His older sister is the owner of HansolGroup, the country’s largest paper manufacturer and producer of electronics and telecommunications. One of his sisters is married to Koo Ja-hak, brother of a former chairman of the LG Group and himself a former chairman of LG Semiconductor. He is currently running one of the largest food services firms in South Korea. Lee’s younger sister, Lee Myung-hee, is chairwoman of the Shinsegae Group, the largest retail company in South Korea, with major holdings such as the Shinsegae Department Stores and E-Mart. His daughter Lee Yoon-hyung committed suicide in 2005.
Lee’s older brothers Lee Maeng-hee and Lee Sook-hee initiated legal action against him in February 2012, asking a South Korean court to award them shares of Samsung companies totaling US$850 million (913.563 billion won), which they claim their father willed to them. Court hearings began in May 2012. On February 6, 2014, courts in South Korea dismissed the case. On May 11, 2014, Lee was hospitalized.