Last week we reported on the unfortunate fate of Samsung’s acting chairman and de facto leader, Lee Jae-yong, who was sentenced by a South Korean court to five years in prison for his alleged bribery, perjury, embezzlement, corruption and collusion with the administration of former South Korean President, Park Geun-hye.
And so, with the top boss of the world’s largest chip-maker and handset manufacturer behind bars for the next 1,825 days or so, it’s understandable that the general sentiment among Samsung employees has been an open dialogue entwined with uncertainty about the company’s future.
Earlier this week, President and CEO of Samsung’s consumer electronics division, Yoon Boo-keun, appeared in a rare interview on Wednesday where he expressed his concerns over the company’s “vastly complex” inner-leadership structure, while adding that he personally feels like he’s “sailing without a captain.”
“While the IT industry is going through tremendous transformations, we are facing significant difficulties in steering the wheel by filling up the absence of the ‘captain of our fleet,’” Yoon told Korean reporters covering a consumer electronics show in the German capital, adding specifically that “Each head of the four business divisions [device solutions, mobile communications, consumer electronics, and visual display] are having a hard time in terms of structural restructuring and mergers and acquisitions.”
According to Yoon, due to these issues, Samsung has already been forced to give up on one of its major automation projects through its AI business; although he stopped short of elaborating on what exactly was lost and why. “It is not right to say that the project fell apart due to the leadership vacuum, but it’s how you interpret it,” Yoon said, adding that “Doing a business is a matter of timing. I’m not allowed to reveal details of the project, but please understand it as that we missed the right timing.” Similarly, Yoon said Samsung has also lost out on major deals that would have otherwise helped it stay in the game while its leader simmers in the slammer, including the opportunity to acquire an “artificial intelligence technology company,” says Yoon.
Lee Jae-yong, often referred to as the “Crown Prince of Samsung,” is the eldest child and only son of Samsung’s founder and Chairman, Lee Kun-hee, who appointed him to serve as the tech-giant’s ‘de facto leader’ in light of his father’s declining health. Jae-yong is widely considered by his peers and the South Korean media to be the successor to his father’s consumer electronics empire. However Samsung has been dealt a major blow in Jae-yong’s absence, particularly considering how he is considered the “ultimate key” in making final decisions on crucial matters such as corporate restructuring.
Yoon indicated that Samsung may look into taking legal steps that will allow it to function though its leader remains behind bars, however, so It’ll certainly be interesting to see how Samsung fares in the face of this ‘dire uncertainty’. (NOTE: it doesn’t appear the company is suffering all that badly so far, at least.)