Samsung Electronics heir promoted

The Samsung Galaxy S III launched in the United States in June and, to date, has reportedly sold more than 20 million units.

Story highlights

  • Hereditary transfer of power at the huge chaebol groups and their sheer economic clout is coming in for criticism
  • It is widely assumed in Mr Lee's home country that he has been groomed for succession from a young age

Samsung Electronics has promoted the only son of chairman Lee Kun-hee to vice-chairman, taking him a step closer to the leadership of the world's top technology company by sales.

The new position for Lee Jae-yong, also known as Jay Lee, is a reward for his "invaluable contributions to the unprecedented growth of Samsung's smartphone and TV businesses", the company said on Wednesday.

Mr Lee, 44, represents the third generation of leadership at a conglomerate that dominates the South Korean business landscape.

Samsung Electronics is the world's biggest maker of mobile phones, televisions and memory chips, and the broader Samsung group covers sectors ranging from shipbuilding to life assurance and leisure industries.

It is widely assumed in Mr Lee's home country that he has been groomed for succession from a young age during two decades at the company. But the hereditary transfer of power at the huge chaebol groups -- and their sheer economic clout -- is coming in for criticism as South Korean voters voice their unhappiness with growing income inequality ahead of this month's presidential election.

Mr Lee's critics argue that he is untested, and highlight the failure of an ecommerce business that he ran early in his career. But a senior official at Samsung said Mr Lee had played an important role in developing the successful Galaxy smartphone series and in switching the emphasis in display panel research from liquid-crystal displays to the increasingly popular light-emitting diode technology.

That person added that Mr Lee, in his most recent position as well as in his previous post as chief customer officer, had played an important role in managing relationships with companies, such as Apple, that are both competitors in the consumer market and customers for Samsung's components.

Despite a high-profile global court battle between the companies, Apple remains Samsung's single biggest components customer, although analysts say it is shifting demand to other suppliers.

"No company of this size has ever had to juggle the conflict of interest between the parts business and the sets business -- all the major clients are both clients and competitors. The juggling of this conflict of interest has been primarily his job," the Samsung official said.

But Lee Jae-hyuk, an analyst at Daiwa Securities, said there were still questions over Samsung's putative next chairman, despite his "clear interest" in wireless devices and LED technology.

"He has never been responsible for anything and has yet to show any visible achievements because it has been his father who has done everything so far," he said. "It seems too early for him to run the company and he needs more time to prove his ability."

Shares in Samsung outperformed the broader Seoul market on Wednesday, rising 1.8 per cent to a new record of Won1.46m.

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