Where the death of its patriarch leaves South Korea’s biggest firm
大家长去世,韩国最大企业何去何从

李家出路 The Lee way-书迷号 shumihao.com

IN THE SPRING of 1995 word got to Lee Kun-hee that a batch of Samsung’s brand-new mobile phones, which it had doled out as new-year gifts, did not work. Incensed, the group’s chairman ordered employees at the factory that had made the offending devices to pile up tens of thousands of them in a courtyard. A cool $45m-worth of equipment then went up in flames.
一九九五年春天,三星集团会长李健熙得知一批作为新年礼物分发给员工的全新三星手机出现故障。怒火中烧的他立即命令制造这款问题手机的工厂员工把十几万部设备堆到工厂的空地上,把整整4500万美元付之一炬。

The episode is emblematic of the way Mr Lee (pictured), who died on October 25th aged 78, turned a South Korean maker of knock-off electronics into a technology powerhouse. He was obsessed with quality and demanded total devotion from executives. Every decade or so he made bold bets. His last one, on smartphones and semiconductors, paid off handsomely. Samsung Electronics, the group’s crown jewel, has a market value of $311bn, more than JPMorgan Chase, America’s biggest bank.
李健熙(如图)于10月25日去世,享年78岁。他把一家韩国的山寨电子产品制造商打造成了科技巨头,当年这一幕很能说明他是如何做到的。他执着于品质,要求高管全心投入工作。每隔十年左右,他都会做出大胆押注。最后一次是押注智能手机和半导体,获得了丰厚回报。集团的瑰宝三星电子的市值达到3110亿美元,超过了美国最大的银行摩根大通。

The patriarch’s death was not unexpected—he had been incapacitated since a heart attack in 2014. It will not prompt leadership changes. But it highlights two challenges facing South Korea’s biggest chaebol (conglomerate). The group must find growth beyond maturing smartphone markets. And it has to grapple with Mr Lee’s other legacy: an over-cosy relationship with politics that has embroiled his company, as well as his son and successor, Lee Jae-yong, in corruption cases.
这位掌门人的去世并非意料之外——2014年心脏病发作后,他就丧失了行动能力。这不会引发公司领导层变动,但突显了这家韩国最大的财阀面临的两大挑战。三星集团必须在趋于成熟的智能手机市场之外寻求增长。此外,还需解决李健熙遗留的另一个问题:与政界过度亲密。这样的关系已使他的公司和接任的儿子李在镕陷入腐败案件。

The rise of Samsung mirrors that of South Korea. When Lee père took over from his father in 1987, the country was an emerging economy that had yet to make the transition to democracy. When he fell ill in 2014 it was rich, thriving and democratic. On his watch Samsung abandoned the “fast follow” strategy adopted by South Korean firms since the 1970s and allowed himself “to imagine that his company could be number one in its own right”, says Park Ju-gun of CEO Score, a corporate watchdog. This entailed some mistakes, such as an expensive foray into carmaking. But it mostly brought success.
三星的崛起是韩国腾飞的写照。1987年李健熙从父亲手中接管三星时,韩国是一个尚未过渡为民主政体的新兴经济体,到2014年他病倒时,韩国已经成了富裕繁荣的民主国家。企业经营评估机构CEO Score的朴洙根说,在李健熙的治理下,三星放弃了韩国企业自上世纪70年代以来普遍采用的“快速跟随”战略,让他“可以想象自己的公司能凭借自身成为第一”。这个过程中三星走了一些弯路,例如涉足汽车制造就损失惨重。但大多数情况下是成功的。

Although the group maintains businesses from shipbuilding and life insurance to amusement parks, the younger Mr Lee, de facto boss since 2014, has kept a focus on electronics. Today Samsung is the world’s biggest maker of smartphones and its second-biggest of memory chips. It has defended its position in mobile devices against competition from China. Lee fils has forged global partnerships, including with competitors such as Apple, which Samsung Display, a subsidiary, supplies with screens for iPhones. He has also begun to move the company away from producing solid but unsexy hardware towards an emphasis on design and software, which accounts for American big tech firms’ trillion-dollar valuations.
尽管集团的业务范围仍涵盖从造船、人寿保险到游乐场的众多行业,但李在镕这位2014年以来三星的实际掌舵人还是一直专注在电子产品业务上。如今三星已是全球最大的智能手机制造商和第二大存储芯片制造商。面对来自中国的竞争,三星保住了自己在移动设备领域的地位。李在镕在全球建立起合作关系,包括与苹果公司等竞争对手合作——集团子公司三星显示(Samsung Display)为iPhone供应屏幕。他还着手把公司业务重点从生产实实在在但欠缺魅力的硬件转向设计和软件——美国大型科技公司万亿美元的市值都是基于后一块。

It has not all gone the Lees’ way. Wielding economic influence to preserve a corporate structure that benefits the founding family has landed them in trouble. Lee père was twice convicted for corruption, including bribing the president—and twice pardoned when politicians deemed his continued involvement in Samsung to be in the national interest. His son has already spent time in prison, for bribing a confidante of Park Geun-hye, a former president, to gain approval for a merger, which prosecutors allege helped him consolidate control over the Samsung empire. Ms Park was removed from office and Mr Lee is facing retrial on those charges, plus a fresh one on related accusations of manipulating stock prices to facilitate the merger. Mr Lee and Samsung deny wrongdoing.
但李家父子也不是一路顺风顺水。他们利用经济影响力维持有利于创始家族的公司架构,这让他们惹上了麻烦。李健熙两次因行贿被定罪,包括贿赂总统,但两次均获赦免,因为政客们认为让他继续掌管三星符合国家利益。他的儿子为了让一项合并案获批而贿赂前总统朴槿惠的闺中密友,为此已入狱过一次。检方称该合并案有助李在镕巩固对三星帝国的掌控权。朴槿惠遭弹劾下台,李在镕正面临对这些指控的重审,另外还有一项有关操纵股价促成合并交易的新指控。他和三星集团均否认行为失当。

If either case lands Mr Lee in prison, his leadership may be in jeopardy. That need not spell doom—the day-to-day running of the company is in the hands of professional managers. But it may make it harder to perform the late patriarch’s occasional, sweeping changes of direction.
如果有任何一项罪名让李在镕入狱,他在三星的领导地位就可能不保。公司倒未必会因此颓败,毕竟日常运营是由职业经理人负责。但要实施已故掌门人那种偶尔的大幅转向可能变难了。

Some of his son’s bets seem to be working. Samsung Biologics, the listed biotech subsidiary, is building a new $1.5bn factory. Its share price is up by 50% this year. That of Samsung SDI, a battery affiliate, has nearly doubled (see chart); it has invested $2.1bn since January and is eyeing the electric-car market. It is planning to expand a factory in China and build a new one in Hungary. But at a combined value of $63bn they look small next to Samsung Electronics. And competition in both areas is hot.
李在镕押注的一些领域似乎已见成效。三星集团的上市生物技术子公司三星生物制剂(Samsung Biologics)正斥资15亿美元建设一座新工厂。它的股价今年上涨了50%。生产电池的子公司三星SDI的股价也几乎翻倍(见图表),自今年1月以来该子公司已投资21亿美元,且正瞄准电动汽车市场。它正计划扩建在中国的工厂并在匈牙利建设新厂。但相比三星电子,这两家市值共计630亿美元的公司仍显弱小。而且这两个领域的竞争都非常激烈。

Samsung Electronics’ third-quarter results on October 29th beat forecasts. It plans to spend around $10bn on its contract-manufacturing chip business over the next ten years. American sanctions against Chinese technology firms, which have already hurt its smartphone rivals such as Huawei, may help with that—and with its flagging foray into 5G telecoms. But the firm warned of lower chip demand in the short term. And the market share of its chip “foundries” lags behind Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the industry leader. No new mega-bet in the style of Lee père is on the horizon.
三星电子10月29日发布的第三季度业绩优于预期。公司计划未来十年在芯片代工业务上投入约100亿美元。美国制裁中国科技公司的行动已损害了华为等三星的智能手机竞争对手,这可能有助三星这项计划,并提振它在进军5G市场时的低迷态势。但该公司已警告短期内芯片需求将减少,而且其芯片代工厂的市场份额落后于行业领先者台积电。目前看来,还没有李健熙式的新豪赌在酝酿。

Lee fils has apologised for his group’s run-ins with the law and vowed to break with tradition and not pass control to his own progeny. The Lee family says it plans to pay the full inheritance tax on the patriarch’s $16bn shareholdings. Honouring his positive legacy may prove harder. ■
李在镕已为集团的违法行为道歉,并誓言要打破传统,不再让子女接班。李家表示将为继承李健熙的160亿美元股权支付全额遗产税。但要继承他的积极的遗产也许会更难。