How big is Samsung?

It should not be a problem to equip a house only with Samsung products. The Koreans would even be able to build the house themselves. Samsung is active in many industries. Like hardly any other company, Samsung serves the image of a Korean chaebol: a widely ramified economic giant, in the hands of one family.

The word “chaebol” is a compound of the Korean words for “rich” and “clan” or “clan.” In 1938, Lee Byong-Chul founded a vegetable trading company and named it: Samsung. Again a compound, this time of the number 3, a lucky number in Korea, and the Korean word for “star.” A rice brewery was added. Lee continued to expand and brought his sons into the company. In the 1950s, Samsung was also active in insurance and security, in addition to retail.

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Good contacts with high-ranking politicians

The Korean chaebol is also known, if not infamous, for its good relations with politics. Samsung founder Lee and then South Korean President Park Cheung-hee stumbled upon a smuggling scandal in the mid-1960s. Although Lee owned a newspaper and a radio station, he was forced to resign because of public pressure.

He left his eldest son in charge. It was then no problem for him to enter the electronics industry, even though other chaebol put up considerable resistance and Samsung had no experience with electronics at the time. Politicians were sympathetic to him. In 1969, Samsung Electronics was founded, which is still the heart of the company conglomerate today.

From the first TV set to the microchip

In 1970, the first Samsung television set saw the light of day. Only three years later, the company presented its first PC. At this time, the oil crisis was affecting the Korean economy. The government lured the chaebol into heavy industry with preferential lending. Samsung went along with it, probably because other chaebol such as Hyundai did likewise – again: without having any knowledge of shipbuilding or machinery, of mining or the oil, gas and steel industries.

The Korean economy gained momentum in the 1970s. According to a dissertation on the emergence of the Korean chaebol from the University of Göttingen, the growth of a Korean company from 1970 to 1979 was 130 percent. The chaebol, on the other hand, grew by a whopping 340 percent, mainly through acquisitions of small and medium-sized companies, which enabled them to strengthen their market position more and more. Samsung, for example, bought Korea Semiconductor in 1974 and was henceforth active in semiconductor and, from the 1980s, chip manufacturing.

Samsung produces the most LCD screens worldwide

Today, Samsung serves all areas of consumer electronics. No other company produces more LCD screens. No wonder the Koreans are number 1 in the flat-screen TV sector. Samsung is also considered the world’s largest chip manufacturer. Even the first iPhone featured a Samsung chip.

The Samsung conglomerate includes around 80 companies that operate independently. “If you were to list all of Samsung’s products, the company would look like a large department store where you can buy everything from food to high-quality production equipment,” says the dissertation from the University of Göttingen. In addition to televisions, this department store would also contain washing machines, medical equipment, cars, and even tanks were developed by Samsung Techwin.

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Building, advertising, leisure and fashion

Samsung was involved in the construction of the Burj Dubai, the world’s tallest building, and the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. The world’s largest advertising agency belongs to the Koreans, as do a fashion brand, hotels and Korea’s largest amusement park including a zoo. Samsung maintains a cultural foundation and an economic research institute. The mega corporation employs 268,000 people, more than Google (102,000), Apple (154,000) or Microsoft (181,000).

Last year, Kun-hee Lee, who until then had led Samsung’s business, passed away. The third eldest son of the company’s founder was convicted of corruption in 2009, but later pardoned. As a member of the Olympic Committee, Lee ensured that the 2018 Winter Games went to Pyeongchang. He was succeeded by his son Lee Jae-yong. Thus, Samsung remains in the hands of the Lee family in the third generation, continuing the traditions of a Korean chaebol – with all the positive and negative effects.

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