Samsung engineering maven to lead world's top phone business

Roh Tae-moon is the youngest president at Samsung.
Roh Tae-moon is the youngest president at Samsung.PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (BLOOMBERG) - Samsung Electronics has appointed Taemoon Roh the head of its smartphone division, tasking a veteran executive with oversight of the world's largest mobile devices business.

Roh, who was formerly the unit's No 2 executive, will take over the top job from Koh Dong-Jin from Monday (Jan 20). Koh remains head of the Korean conglomerate's IT and mobile communications division but hands the reins of smartphones over to a 52-year-old lieutenant credited with building up the marquee Galaxy line of smartphones and tablets. Roh, a two-decade veteran of Korea's largest corporation, is regarded internally as an engineering maven who's meticulous about phone features.

Samsung's shares climbed as much as 2.5 per cent in Seoul. The largest maker of mobile phones, displays and memory chips shakes up its executive ranks each year, with the extent of the changes often correlated to how its businesses are doing. This month, the company reported preliminary earnings that showed operating income declining by about a third from a year earlier.

Korea's largest company is racing to secure an early lead in fifth-generation wireless smartphones as well as foldables, both of which will take centerstage during its annual Unpacked event in San Francisco in February. While it still sells more devices than any other brand, Samsung in recent years has come under assault from both long-time adversary Apple as well as new rivals from Huawei Technologies to fellow Chinese names Oppo and Vivo.

"Roh is known to be a person who expanded Samsung's original design manufacturing policy for low- to mid-range smartphones," said CIMB analyst Lee Dohoon. "Samsung may now gradually follow Apple in focusing on design and developments. Though it's expanded outsourcing for production, Samsung will keep a tighter rein on quality control to protect its brands."

The Korean tech giant will try to keep expanding its market share in Asia and Europe this year while closest rival Huawei is struggling to protect its market share in the wake of Trump administration sanctions, Lee added.

Samsung is expected to unveil on Feb 11 a second foldable device that folds into a square. The company's mainstream flagship device - whose name is rumored to be the Galaxy S20, a change in naming scheme - is also likely to be unveiled at that event.

Its devices accounted for 54 per cent of the global 5G smartphone market as of November 2019, after it shipped more than 6.7 million Galaxy 5G smartphones last year, the company has said. Separately, Huawei said last week that it shipped more than 6.9 million 5G phones in 2019.

Roh will also assume responsibility for repairing the mobile division's reputation. Under Koh's leadership, Samsung suffered from major quality issues at least twice: In 2016, Samsung killed off the Note 7 for good after models tended to burst into flames. Last year, Samsung also had to delay the Galaxy Fold by several months after review models exhibited issues with displays that were easily peeled off. Those debacles were widely seen as a result of the company's rushing phones to market to try and steal a march on Apple and Huawei.

 

Away from smartphones, the chiefs of three key Samsung divisions - semiconductors, consumer appliances and electronics and IT services - remained the same. That ensures stability given vice chairman and heir apparent Jay Y Lee is defending himself in court over graft allegations, raising the possibility of a potential leadership vacuum.