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SNU professors write books on Samsung CEO Lee Kun-hee

Posted June. 22, 2013 07:05,   


Samsung has an image of dual faces. A Korean would feel proud to see Samsung’s electronic signboard at Times Square in New York and its logo on jerseys of Europe’s football club Chelsea. However, when one sees ill-advised behaviors such as hard-handedness of the so-called “Republic of Samsung” as a chaebol company that acts like a “master” of smaller companies, management without allowing a labor union, controversy over its slush funds, he or she naturally feels bitterness.

Though Samsung saw its brand value rise to the world’s ninth, it has stayed out of the “30 most admired companies” by the Fortune magazine in the U.S. for several years. Its ranking is a testament to the image of Samsung, which makes Koreans feel proud yet fails to make them feel friendly toward it.

Three books dealing with Samsung have been published in succession: “SAMSUNG WAY,” “Young Man Lee Kun-hee,” and “20 Years after Lee Kun-hee’s Reform, Yet Another Challenge.” The books have been released to mark the 20th anniversary of his declaration of New Management,” which is widely known for the slogan “Change Everything but Your Wife and Children.”

“SAMSUNG WAY,” written by management professors at Seoul National University, focuses on analysis of management strategy since his declaration of New Management. “Young Man Lee Kun-hee,” and “20 Years after Lee Kun-hee’s Reform, Yet Another Challenge” authored by reporters of business dailies highlighted changes of Lee Kun-hee as man. These books contain ample interviews with Samsung executives and staff members and testimonies at worksites by the reporters who gather news at frontiers. The books are hardly dealt with controversy over Samsung’s management that does not allow labor union, and the controversy over its slush funds, however.

“SAMSUNG WAY,” which has been compiled based on a research paper published for the first time by a Korean college professor in Harvard Business Review in 2011, focuses on in-depth analyses. The last chapter, which analyzes “Samsung Way, is it sustainable?,” draws attention all the more.

The authors advise that Samsung should not remain merely a “strong company” but also analyze and scrutinize one by one countless challenges, including the need to overcome gaps in competitiveness between electronics affiliates and non-electronics affiliates. Apple applied the profit distribution ratio of three to seven between the company and its suppliers in favor of the latter. Google also has followed Apple through a business model of co-prosperity based on a similar ratio. With the “master-servant” relationship emerging as a buzzword in Korean society in recent months, this is an issue that Samsung is advised to pay close attention. The authors also highlight Samsung’s merits, the so-called “paradox management” as well. This refers to management that simultaneously pursues factors that appear incompatible at first sight. Samsung’s three major paradoxes are being speedy despite being a giant organization; harmony between diversification and specialization; and harmony between factors of Japanese style and U.S. style management.

The other two books only take favorable approaches to the figure, rather than seeking critical and analytical approaches.

“Young Man, Lee Kung-hee” finds the driving force of his New Management in episodes from his adolescence. Except using the expression describing him as “Lonely Man,” the book even presents the impression as accounts of a hero’s adolescence in a heroic novel. They include stories about him suggesting that he disassembled and assembled a bicycle and an automobile, to learn their structures while staying in Japan to study for three years from the fifth grade. The last paragraph in the book, which briefly suggests that Chairman Lee’s remaining challenge is “to cultivate creative human resources,” makes readers to regret whether this is actually the only thing to note at all.

“20 Years after Lee Kun-hee’s Reform, Yet Another Challenge” is a direct compilation of his speeches at workshops and unofficial verbal remarks. But with no hint of critical views, this book makes readers wonder whether it has been somehow pre-screened and edited. The titles “Magic changes pessimism into optimism” and “Burning down defective products” sound as if they are tributes to Samsung. The culmination of the tributes is inclusion in the book’s closing section of the scene of Chairman Lee bursting into tears when Pyeongchang in Gangwon Province was named the host to the 2018 Winter Olympics.