Lee Kun-hee was born in Daegu, Japanese-occupied Korea, on January 9, 1942, to Park Doo-eul and Lee Byung-chul, who had founded Samsung a few years earlier as an exporter of fruit and dried fish. The younger Lee was a wrestler in high school.
Samsung first grew to dominate consumer staples, such as the sugar and textiles that war-torn Korea needed. Later it expanded to insurance, shipbuilding, construction, semiconductors and more. Lee Kun-hee graduated from Waseda University in Tokyo in 1965. He then studied for a master's program at George Washington University, but did not receive a degree. . When he became chairman in 1
"We are in a very important transition," Lee said shortly after taking charge, in an interview with Forbes. "If we do not move into more capital- and technology-intensive industries, our survival may be at stake."
The radicality of the transition he had in mind was made clear when he summoned many Samsung Electronics executives to a luxury hotel in Frankfurt in 1993. For several days he lectured executives and encouraged them to bury old ways of working and thinking. "Change everything," he said, "except your wife and children."
Samsung, he decided, would focus on improving product quality instead of increasing market share. It would bring in talent from abroad, and it would require top executives to carefully understand foreign markets and how to compete in them.