On February 12 in the year 1910, one of the best-known Korean entrepreneurs was born in Gyeongsang, a province in the south of Korea. His name was Lee-Byung-chul, the founder of Samsung Group, the world’s leader in electronics.
Lee Byung-Chul was the son of a wealthy landlord. He was sent to study at the Waseda University in Tokyo but did not finish a course. In 1936, he used his inheritance to open a rice mill. In 1938, he moved to Taegu and started Samsung Trading Company, a small but profitable trading and trucking firm dealing with dried fish, vegetables, and fruit and exporting them to Manchuria and Beijing. Samsung means “three stars” in the Korean language.
After Japan’s defeat during the Second World War and the coming of thousands of American soldiers during the Korean War in the early 1950s, Lee’s fortune grew as Samsung got large contracts for food supplies and transportation. With enormous profits, he expanded into flour and sugar milling, confectionery, and textile manufacturing, industries that were very much needed as Korea was then mired in poverty.
When General Park Chung-hee gained power in the 1961 coup d’etat, Lee was in the United States and was afraid to return because the military was conducting investigations involving top business leaders. Eventually, Lee negotiated his return and promised to cooperate with the generals.
In the succeeding decades, Samsung diversified into electronics which eventually became the group’s bread and butter. It captured top market positions in television, home appliances, memory card and other semiconductor devices. It also became a leader in fire and marine insurance.
Lee Byung Chul died in 1987 at the age of 77. He married twice and had ten children. In 2020, Samsung Electronics rank #15 in the Fortune Global 500 List with revenues of $221.5 billion and market capitalization of $333 billion. It had over 309,600 employees worldwide.