Samsung heir seeking to consolidate power

Samsung heir Lee Jae Yong seen arriving for a company event at the Shilla Hotel in Seoul on Jan 19, 2015. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Since his father Lee Kun Hee collapsed from a heart attack in 2014, Samsung heir Lee Jae Yong has been slowly but surely consolidating his power and preparing to take over South Korea's biggest family-owned conglomerate when the time comes.

The 48-year-old Harvard graduate is vice-chairman of the group's crown jewel Samsung Electronics. He also owns a 17.1 per cent stake in Samsung C&T, a construction and trading company.

To streamline the group's operations and increase his stake in key businesses, he reportedly pushed for a series of bold restructuring moves, such as a US$8 billion (S$11 billion) merger last year between two key affiliates - Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries, Samsung's de facto holding company.

Analysts say he will need to secure more control of Samsung Electronics - one of the group's most profitable businesses - to ensure a smooth succession. But it will not be easy as 50.6 per cent of the listed company lies in the hands of foreign investors.

Meanwhile, his two younger sisters have also risen to key leadership roles in Samsung affiliates.

Ms Lee Boo Jin, 46, heads the luxury Hotel Shilla chain. She is known to resemble her father in personality and strong leadership style, and has often been described as "Little Lee Kun Hee". She expanded the hotel's operations and increased revenue from 430 billion won (S$526 million) when she took over in 2001 to a high of 2.9 trillion won in 2014.

Ms Lee Seo Hyun, 43, helms Samsung C&T's fashion division. She has been tasked with growing the business amid intense competition from fast-growing brands like Uniqlo and H&M.

A third sister, Ms Lee Yoon Hyung, committed suicide at the age of 26 while pursuing post-graduate studies in New York in 2005, reportedly over relationship problems.

Chang May Choon

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 16, 2016, with the headline Samsung heir seeking to consolidate power. Subscribe