May 17, 2014 4:43 am JST

Samsung leader's son seen as likely successor

SEOUL -- Even before the sudden hospitalization of Samsung's 72-year-old leader, Lee Kun-hee, last weekend, preparations were well underway to install a successor at the South Korean conglomerate.

     The presumptive heir is Lee's eldest son, Lee Jae-yong. The 45-year-old already serves as vice chairman of core company Samsung Electronics and was the top stockholder of the group's de facto holding company with 25.1% of the shares as of the end of last year.

     Fluent in both Japanese and English, Lee Jae-yong studied management at Japan's Keio University and Harvard after graduating from South Korea's prestigious Seoul National University.

     Lee is knowledgeable about electronics trends, and has a reputation for exemplary talent and character. He has already played a significant role in decision-making at Samsung Electronics and should have little difficulty rallying the company behind him.

     Still, the younger Lee has yet to rack up the sort of legendary achievements that have defined his father's tenure. Questions remain as to how he would steer the company once at the helm.

     The presumed ascension of a third generation of Lees to the company's top spot has garnered criticism. The process by which he became a major group shareholder entailed the issuance of corporate bonds with equity warrants at relatively low prices.

     The elder Lee's overwhelming successes allayed criticism of the way he controlled the group despite wielding a minority stake through an opaque investment structure. His son will have to bolster his own track record if he is to quiet the carping surrounding this dynastylike succession.