Lee Kun-hee, force behind Samsung’s rise, dies at 78

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Lee Kun-hee, the ailing Samsung Electronics chairman who transformed the small television maker into a global giant of consumer electronics but whose leadership was also marred by corruption convictions, died yesterday. He was 78.

Lee died with his family members by his side, including his only son and Samsung Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, the company said in a statement.

Samsung didn’t announce the cause of his death, but Lee had been hospitalised since May 2014 after suffering a heart attack and the younger Lee has been running Samsung, South Korea’s biggest company.

“All of us at Samsung will cherish his memory and are grateful for the journey we shared with him,” the Samsung statement said. “Our deepest sympathies are with his family, relatives and those nearest. His legacy will be everlasting.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in will offer a floral tribute and send two senior presidential officials to console Lee’s family as soon as a mourning site is established, Moon’s office said in a statement. It said a personal condolence message from Moon would be conveyed to the family at the mourning site.

Lee’s family said the funeral would be private but did not immediately release details.

Lee Kun-hee inherited control of the company from his father, and during his nearly 30 years of leadership, Samsung Electronics Co became a global brand and the world’s largest maker of smartphones, televisions and memory chips. Samsung sells Galaxy phones while also making the screens and microchips that power its major rivals — Apple’s iPhones and Google Android phones.

Its businesses encompass shipbuilding, life insurance, construction, hotels, amusement parks and more. Samsung Electronics alone accounts for 20 per cent of the market capital on South Korea’s main stock exchange.

Lee leaves behind immense wealth, with Forbes estimating his fortune at USD16 billion as of January 2017.

File photo shows Lee Kun-hee (L), Chairman of South Korea’s largest group Samsung, during a press conference at the group’s headquarters in Seoul. PHOTO: AFP