Samsung Electronics Co. Chairman Lee Kun-hee automatically gets lots of media attention as the head of South Korea’s largest business and because he is the country’s richest person. He usually doesn’t do much with it though. Mr. Lee hasn’t given any media interviews since the 1990s. So when Mr. Lee decided on Thursday to speak out about a debate going on in the South Korean government right now about the well-being of small- and mid-sized companies, his comments generated big headlines.
Mr. Lee responded to a question about an idea being discussed by the Presidential Commission for the Shared Growth of Large and Small Companies to develop a method of profit-sharing. No formal proposal has been made and not even the commission has fully defined the idea. Even so, Mr. Lee said on Thursday: “I studied economics for a long time as I grew up in an entrepreneurial family, but I have never heard of this anywhere else, nor do I understand the concept, either.”
Mr. Lee said he wasn’t trying to express whether he was for or against the idea, but in expressing that thought he appeared to question the ideology of government leaders. “I just don’t know if the system is from a socialist economy, capitalist or communist economy,” he added. The issue holds particular importance for Samsung, a group of approximately 60 companies that, in addition to being largest in size, also generates the biggest profits and is frequently criticized by left-wing politicians and interest groups. Samsung Electronics Co., the biggest of all Samsung firms, last year earned a record 16.15 trillion won, or about $14.6 billion, far more than any South Korean company ever has.