Samsung chief touches down, rumors take off

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Samsung chief touches down, rumors take off

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Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee, right, arrives Saturday at Gimpo International Airport. He returned to Korea via private jet after spending the winter going back and forth between Hawaii and Tokyo. [NEWSIS]

As had been widely speculated, Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee returned to Seoul on Saturday after 86 days overseas. Attention is now gathered on whether he will come up with a fresh and aggressive management scheme to continue the stunning success of the conglomerate led by the nation’s top electronics producer that is in the best shape of its decades-long history.

He arrived at Gimpo International Airport on his own plane after shuttling between Tokyo and Hawaii for nearly three months. Last year, he left Korea on Jan. 9 and returned Jan. 21, resuming his commuting to Samsung’s Seocho headquarters in southern Seoul on Feb. 7.

Probably because of the cold climate in Seoul, the 71-year-old chairman who overcame cancer about a decade ago barely spends any time here during the winter anymore. Sources say his routine involves resting in Hawaii and business meetings in Japan. When asked about his health, he said he is “okay except for uneasy feelings on my feet because I haven’t been working out that much.”

If precedent is any indication, a major announcement by Lee may be in the offing. After a six-month stay overseas in 1993, he declared a new management plan, whereby he ordered Samsung staff to “change everything except wife and children.” This year marks 20 years since he made the so-called “Frankfurt declaration.”

“I met a lot of people, traveled much and gave deep thoughts on the future,” he told reporters at the airport on Saturday.

A key impending issue is the size of Samsung’s investment for 2013. Although he vowed at the official new year commencement ceremony to “expand investment as much as possible,” Samsung has yet to unveil any details.

Kim Jong-joong, president of Samsung’s corporate strategy division, said only that the group would “focus on hiring more and invest flexibly according to economic conditions,” without elaborating further in a meeting Thursday with Yoon Sang-jik, minister of trade, industry and energy, and heads of other top conglomerates.

Given that Lee has been stressing a “sense of crisis” to keep employees focused despite the group’s persistent growth, he also is expected to continue efforts to identify and develop growth drivers for a future beyond smartphones and semiconductors. Some of them are known to encompass biomedical engineering, medical equipment and next-generation batteries.

In his first official comment on the inauguration of President Park Geun-hye, he said, “Since she, who has long been studying [politics], became [president], I think she will do well. And Samsung, despite being small, should try hard to assist her.”

Meanwhile, the chairman’s return was satirically associated with the ongoing threats from North Korea. Online communities in Korea exchanged jokes, saying now that the chairman is back home, the chance of the Korean Peninsula seeing a war has dwindled.

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