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Lee Kun-hee: 'Hermit philosopher' took Samsung to the global stage

Late chairman engineered rise of South Korea's top conglomerate

Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1993. Lee told executives to change everything but their wives and children in order to take the group to the next level.

SEOUL -- Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Kun-hee, who died Sunday, famously avoided the public eye and often preferred to stay home to contemplate the future of the group over going into the office. But he was also no stranger to drastic action, like burning defective phones in a bonfire, which helped propel the South Korean company into a global giant in a generation.

Lee took over Samsung's reins in 1987, following the death of his father and group founder Lee Byung-chull. Samsung by then was already one of South Korea's biggest chaebols, or family-owned conglomerates. But the company lacked substance in Lee Kun-hee's eyes.

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