A Brief History Of Samsung

by George Lovell | | 0 comments

Founded by one man in South Korea in 1938, Samsung was originally a small trading company, dealing in local food and groceries. Starting with just 30,000 Won (£22), Lee Byung-chul dropped out of University in Japan and moved back to Korea to open his business in the city of Taegu. His core business was trading noodles and other goods produced in and around the city and exporting them to China.

Samsung is Korean for "Three Stars" which is a reference to a constellation and represents something powerful and everlasting.

After the Korean War, Samsung expanded into textiles. Lee focused intently on industrialization with the goal of helping his country redevelop after the war. The Korean government implemented protectionist policies which helped domestic corporations by providing easy access to financing and shielding them from competition.

In the late 1950s, Samsung had acquired three of Korea’s largest commercial banks as well as an insurance company, a cement company and a fertilizer company. By the 1960s Samsung had gone on to acquire several more insurance companies as well as an oil refinery, a nylon company, and a department store.

Lee's noodle shop had quickly grown and diversified into food processing, textiles, insurance, securities, and retail. But it was in the late 60's and 70's that they really hit their stride, entering the electronics and shipbuilding industries respectively.

Samsung's first electronics products were black-and-white TVs and microwaves. It just so happened, that they were better at making them than their rival Japanese firms. This led them on to manufacturing other electronics products including refrigerators and air conditioners.

At this point, Lee was the richest man in Korea.

Splitting into five groups, Samsung electronics went on to become the largest and most successful division of the Company - starting with switchboards, telephones and fax machines; specialising first in memory chips, then later in LCD panels; before really hitting their stride with consumer tech - namely mobile phones.

Samsung really struggled to compete in with mobile phone market initially. Companies like Motorola were making better quality, more popular products. In the 90's, Samsung switched their business model to focus on creating new, innovative products. That's when things took off.

Fast forward to 2012 and we see Samsung overtake Nokia to become the worlds largest mobile phone manufacturer by sales, a title they still hold to this day. 

Samsung sell somewhere in the region of 280 million smartphones per year, giving them a 22% market share, compared to Apple's 15% and Xiamoi's 14%.

Samsung is one of the most diverse companies in the world, operating in many industries and selling a huge range of products:
  • Mobile phones
  • Tablets and laptops
  • Smartwatches
  • Virtual reality equipment
  • Televisions
  • Components for electronics including autonomous vehicles
  • LCD and LED screens - including most iPhone screens
  • Kitchen appliances
  • Medical equipment and services
  • Shipbuilding
  • Engineering: constructing power plants
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Renewable energy - solar and wind
  • Financial services

All-in-all, Samsung comprises around 80 companies.

Their largest company, Samsung Electronics, employs 266,673 employees across 74 countries, and generates around $245 Billion in annual revenue.

All this, from one ambitious man selling noodles in Korea.
Lee Byung-chul died in 1987. His son, Lee-Kun-hee took over as chairman until his death in 2020. His only son, Lee Jae-yong is the current chairman. Samsung spans over three generations of the Lee family.

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