All eyes on Samsung’s yearly shuffle

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All eyes on Samsung’s yearly shuffle

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Jay Y. Lee / Lee Seo-hyun

Samsung Group, Korea’s mega-conglomerate with more than 60 affiliates in electronics, engineering, finance, textile and hospitality, is expected to announce its annual executive reshuffle next week.

The company reshuffles its execs at the end of every year. Last year, the shuffle took place on Dec. 3.

Media speculation is mounting on what this year’s reshuffle will bring. The Korea JoongAng Daily compiled some of the rumors as a preview of possible upcoming changes at Korea’s biggest company.

Smaller scale

Industry insiders say that the upcoming reshuffle won’t be major for two reasons.

First, Samsung Group conducted a bold, news-making reshuffle last year, promoting Chairman Lee Kun-hee’s three children to key posts within the empire. This was seen as part of a gradual power transfer to the third generation of the founding family.

Jay Y. Lee was named COO and president at Samsung Electronics, Lee Boo-jin became president of Hotel Shilla and Everland, and Lee Seo-hyun became executive vice president at Cheil Industries.

Second, since Chairman Lee began coming to work regularly at Samsung’s Seocho headquarters since April - instead of working from his Hannam-dong residence as he did in the past - he has become more hands-on than ever and has already punished or promoted people without waiting for the year-end shuffle.

In June, Samsung replaced the heads of its internal inspection and human resources departments after discovering improper behavior at one of the group’s affiliates. It restructured its LCD division in July after losses and its medical center unit to beef up that business in October.

Another promotion for Jay Y.

Market watchers are keeping a close eye on whether Jay Y. Lee, the only son of Chairman Lee, will be promoted again, possibly to the a vice chairman’s post.

In recent months, the son has been increasing his profile at the company. He had a well-publicized meeting with Apple CEO Tim Cook last month when he flew to the U.S. to attend a memorial service for Apple founder Steve Jobs.

Jay Y. told reporters at the airport that they “discussed how Samsung can supply better parts [to Apple] in 2013 and 2014,” and that “we will continue to compete fiercely in the market - as we have in the past and are at present.”

That was a more robust role than when Jay Y. used to stand beside his father and let him do all the talking for the press. And such chances have triggered speculation that Samsung might speed up its power transfer to the third generation, especially Jay Y., the heir apparent.

“We can take a cue from the promotions of Chung Eui-sun [vice chairman at Hyundai Motor], who’s 41 years old, and Chung Yong-jin [vice chairman at Shinsegae], who’s 43, the same as Jay Y.,” said an executive at a Korean conglomerate.

There are further rumors that Kwon Oh-hyun, the president of Samsung’s recently merged chip and display division, will also be promoted to a vice chairman’s position.

Additionally, some say Lee Seo-hyun might be promoted to the president’s position at Cheil Industries, which would put her in the same level as Boo-jin, her older sister.

Younger and softer

Another question is if Samsung’s C-Suite will continue to get younger.

Recently, Chairman Lee has been emphasizing the need to be agile to cope with the fast changes in the industry.

As a result, the average age of Samsung presidents was 57.9 years old in 2009 but fell to 55.8 years old last year.

There is speculation that a handful of 60-something Samsung executives will step down, and 50-somethings will be promoted.

“Generational shift was the keyword in last year’s reshuffle and is also the focus of this year’s reshuffle,” a Samsung executive told Korean media.

Also drawing interest is whether there will be a first female president at Samsung aside from the women from Chairman Lee’s family.


By Kim Hyung-eun [hkim@joongang.co.kr]

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