Son’s rise may not augur quick leadership change

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Son’s rise may not augur quick leadership change

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Jay Y. Lee


At 44, Jay Y. Lee, who was promoted to vice chairman at Samsung Electronics yesterday, is one year younger than his father Lee Kun-hee was when he became chairman by succeeding his own father, founder Lee Byung-chull, in 1987.
The junior Lee’s promotion to the second-highest position in the global tech king took 21 years since he joined the company. Chairman Lee launched his career at TBC, a Samsung affiliate, in 1966 and assumed his current role 11 years later at his father’s request.

Although the chairman’s only son has long been held as the presumptive heir to the throne, Rhee In-yong, the new president and head of communications at the Samsung Corporate Strategy Office, a de facto control tower of the group, seemed wary of interpreting his latest promotion as a signal that the 70-year-old Lee will step down sooner than expected.

“It is not appropriate to link [his promotion] with a succession move,” he told reporters as soon as the reshuffle was announced yesterday at Samsung’s Seocho headquarters in southern Seoul.

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A spokeswoman with Samsung added that “as Chairman Lee has been more actively involved in the business side of things lately and is making more overseas trips than ever before, we are afraid Jay Y. Lee’s promotion could be misinterpreted.”

But when asked whether the younger Lee’s role would be expanded, Rhee said, “While he has been focusing on management, now that he has been promoted to vice chairman he will be supporting all of the electronics unit’s business affairs on a more in-depth level.”

Samsung said in a statement that the heir-apparent has been “credited with building strong relations with global business leaders through strategic alliances and business development overtures in an increasingly complex and competitive business environment.”

Since he was promoted to Samsung Electronics president two years ago, Lee has made more frequent public appearances, breaking the practice of keeping a low profile behind his father’s veil.

Starting with attending the memorial service for late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs in October last year, the new vice chairman has had a series of meetings with CEOs at global corporations such as Intel, General Motors, Siemens and Volkswagen.

In June, he grabbed attention after being appointed as an outside director for Exor, the holding company of Italian automaker Fiat. The news sparked rumors that Samsung was interested in resuming its automobile business, which it gave up 12 years ago. But the group flatly denied such speculation as groundless.

Most recently, Jay Y. met with Carlos Slim, a Mexican business magnate and the chairman of telecommunications firms Telmex and America Movil, in September. But his most pressing task seems to be overseeing Samsung’s ongoing patent trial against Apple.

His two younger sisters also have roles in their father’s businesses. Boo-jin, the first daughter, is CEO of Hotel Shilla and Seo-hyun, the second daughter, is executive vice president of Cheil Industries. Neither received promotions this year.

Through the routine annual reshuffle among the highest echelons of Samsung’s flagship unit, the company made it clear that the promotions were strictly based on merit - what it calls “the performance-based principle” - and were targeting innovative figures who will lead change and future growth.

Two figures, including Jay Y., were promoted to the rank of vice chairman, seven to president and eight were relocated to other subsidiaries.

Park Keun-hee, formerly president and CEO of Samsung Life Insurance, was appointed vice chairman and CEO of the same company. The 59-year-old has served as president of Samsung’s financial arms, such as Samsung Capital and Samsung Card.

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From left : Park Keun-hee, Rhee In-yong and Lim Dai-ki

“Park has been spearheading aggressive sales strategies with considerable management insight and drive, and expanded the company’s market dominance, which has helped it make a new leap forward,” Samsung said in a statement.

Within the IT & mobile communications division, which oversees smartphones and made the biggest contribution to the tech bellwether’s unprecedented revenue and profits this year, two vice presidents were promoted.

Lee Don-joo, 56, previously executive vice president of sales and marketing, was promoted to president of sales and marketing at the division, while Hong Won-pyo, 52, the former executive vice president of Media Solutions Center, has been appointed president and head of the same entity.

Following Lee’s promotion, the IT and mobile communications division has four presidents including J.K. Shin, who keeps a high profile by often presenting new Galaxy gadgets.

No one filled the vice chairman’s post at the finished goods division of Samsung Electronics, which has remained empty for six months. The division encompasses two subunits: consumer electronics and IT and mobile communications.

“Given that [they are both] so huge in scale now, one person overseeing both could end up undermining their efficiency,” said Rhee, implying that two figures may be chosen.

Two executive vice presidents formerly of the Samsung Corporate Strategy Office, were named presidents. Rhee In-yong, 55, has become president and head of communications at the control tower, and Lim Dai-ki, 56, was appointed president and CEO of Cheil Worldwide.

This returns Lim to the place he made his name by climbing the corporate ladder as an advertising expert before moving to the strategy office in 2009.

A reshuffle of vice presidents and lower posts will be announced tomorrow.

By Seo Ji-eun [spring@joongang.co.kr]

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