Samsung’s Lee Kun Hee –
S. Korean Business Icon, 78, dies

October 27, 2020

The Samsung Electronics group’s Chairman, Lee Kun Hee, passed away at the Samsung Medical Center located at Irwon-Dong, Gangnam-Gu, Seoul on Sunday, 25 October 2020. He was 78. In May 2014, Chairman Lee suffered a heart attack and was admitted to Samsung Medical Center. He stayed there for 6 years plus till his demise on Sunday.  

A deep sense of loss was felt across the nation for the passing away of Chairman Lee who is regarded as one of S. Korea’s top business icons. Chairman Lee has been credited for transforming the Samsung Group into an international electronics powerhouse. He succeeded his father, the late Lee Byung-Chul, founder of Samsung, in November 1987.  All Korean language dailies paid tribute to Chairman Lee for his contribution to entrepreneurship in S. Korea and making the nation proud with the Samsung brand internationally. Donga Ilbo said “ Lee leaves behind ‘best of best’, Chosun’s headline was “ Challenger who turned S. Korea into world class state from underdeveloped nation”, and Kookmin Daily said, “Big Star of Business wanes, leaves ‘best of best’ Samsung behind’. The English language Korea Herald stated that President “Moon mourns passing of 'business icon' Lee Kun-hee.” 

The wake began on Monday, 26 October with the family members in tow to be the first to pay respects. Chairman Lee left behind his wife, Hong Ra-hee, his only son Lee Jae-yong, 52, ( Vice Chairman of Samsung Electronics group), and two daughters, Lee Boo Jin, 50, ( President and CEO of Hotel Shilla group) and Lee Seo-hyun, 48 (Head of Samsung Welfare Foundation). His youngest daughter, Lee Yoon-hyung, died sadly of suicide in November 2005 while pursuing studies at NYU, New York. Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong has one son and a daughter from his former marriage to Lim Se-ryung, joint heiress with her sister to the Daesang Corporation fortune. Chairman Lee’s younger sister, Lee Myung-hee, Chairman of the Shingsegae group, was one of the earliest to pay respects to her elder brother.  

Condolences poured in from top business partners, local and international dignitaries, and the executive branch of government including President Moon who praised Chairman Lee for developing the semiconductor industry into a major industry for Korea and for making Samsung a global leader in the smartphone market.  

Rare interview

Chairman Lee gave few interviews in his lifetime. A memorable one was an interview given to Louis Kraar which was published in Asiaweek 1 June 1994 issue. He frankly spoke about his father, Lee Byung-chul, founder of the Samsung Group, and the difficulties of working with him. Chairman Lee was not the eldest son. He had two elder brothers, Lee Meng-hee and Lee Chang-hee. As the youngest son, he had not thought of helming the Samsung empire and he enjoyed his studies at the prestigious Waseda University in Japan and later at the George Washington University in USA. Upon his return, he found that his father had decided that he was to be groomed to be the successor. In Lee Byung-chul's autobiography published in 1986 which was referred to in the Asiaweek interview, the founder said his eldest son had no intention to become a businessman while his second son preferred to run one company rather than a huge, complex organisation. But the foresight of the founder was proven right. Lee Byung-chul passed away in November 1987 leaving behind 4 major divisions – electronics, engineering, construction and hitech products. Chairman Lee took over thereafter and transformed Samsung into a global electronics powerhouse with a powerful brand name.  

Both Chairman Lee and his father were avid art collectors and the Lee family possesses one of the largest private collections of Korean art in the country, some of which have been designated National Treasures by the Korean government. They are displayed in the Ho-Am Art museum. The Ho-Am Gallery, the Rodin Gallery, the Leeum and Samsung Museum of Art in Seoul.  


Read more 

  1. Reuters. 25 October 2020. Joyce Lee and Hyung-joo Jin. Factbox: Samsung's Lee leaves behind $21 billion wealth for inheritance. 
  2. Yonhap News Agency. 26 October 2020. Top headlines in major S. Korean newspapers. 
  3. The Korea Herald. 25 October 2020. Shin Ji-hye. Private funeral planned for Lee Kun-hee. 
  4. Yonhap. 25 October 2020. Lee will be formally laid to rest in a ceremony starting at 9 a.m. Monday.  
  5. The Korea Herald. 25 October 2020. Moon mourns passing of 'business icon' Lee Kun-hee. 
  6. The Korea Herald. 25 October 2020. Kim Young-won. Samsung stocks rally on expectations of succession, possible governance revamp. Market closely watches scenario of owner family acquiring late chairman’s stake in Samsung Life Insurance. 
  7. The Korea Times. 25 October 2020. Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee, force behind Korea's rise to tech powerhouse, dies at 78.
  8. The Korea Times. 25 October 2020. Samsung chief was wealthiest man in Korea. 
  9. The Korea Times.26 October 2020.  Baek Byung-yeul. Lee Jae-yong to lead post-Lee Kun-hee era. Achieving smooth transition key to success of new leadership for Samsung.