(In paragraph 9, clarifies Lee's Harvard studies)
By Miyoung Kim
SEOUL May 14 Unassuming, media-shy and, as yet,
unproven, Jay Y. Lee is the unofficial heir-apparent to lead
Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, as the world's biggest
technology group by sales approaches a crossroads after years of
The only son of Samsung's frail 72-year-old chairman Lee
Kun-hee, Jay has been groomed for years to take over the
sprawling South Korean family-run "chaebol", a conglomerate with
interests spanning technology and insurance to shipbuilding and
construction. Samsung Group's 2012 revenue of 380 trillion won
($371 billion) was more than a quarter of South Korea's nominal
The younger Lee, 45, became Samsung's vice chairman in 2012
after a spell as chief operating officer in what appeared to be
a well choreographed long-term succession plan. But his father's
ill-health - Lee senior was hospitalized for a heart attack at
the weekend - has raised concerns over whether
Jay is ready to take control.
"(Our) vice chairman is a strategic thinker and is very
tenacious," said a senior Samsung executive, who didn't want to
be named as he's not authorised to talk to the media. "He's been
doing things that senior executives can't easily resolve on
their own. For example, he spends a lot of time meeting key
clients and then manages to cut a deal that would seem almost
"We've actually benefited significantly from his deal
brokering and strategic decision making. He's been doing far
more than what many people outside Samsung might guess. He's
been learning for years from the chairman and has already been
deeply involved in daily operations."
Fluent in English and Japanese and dubbed the "Crown Prince
of Samsung" by local media, Jay Lee has become the public face
of Samsung in recent years, at meetings with corporate leaders,
and politicians from China and the United States, building
relationships for a group which had been regarded as secretive.
When South Korea's president invited Google Inc
CEO Larry Page to visit Seoul a year ago, one of the first to
meet him was Lee, who flew Page to a display plant south of the
Korean capital to show off the latest technology Samsung was
working on, including flexible screens that could potentially be
fitted to Google Glass wearable devices.
The two firms haven't signed a deal on supplying bendy
screens, but have since agreed global patent cross-licensing in
a joint attack against Apple Inc - defying speculation
of fraying ties as Samsung, the biggest smartphone maker using
Google's Android platform, develops its own mobile operating
Lee has generally shunned the limelight. He has no official
Twitter account and little is known of him outside the company -
bar a high-profile divorce in early 2009. He has a degree in
East Asian History from Seoul National University, an MBA from
Japan's Keio University and completed a business administration
doctoral program at Harvard. He joined Samsung Electronics in
While some critics say Lee doesn't have the experience for
the top job, and lacks his father's charisma, insiders say his
quiet, urbane manner disguises a steely determination and a
tenacity to get things done.
"He was born with a silver spoon. We don't know whether he
is capable of running (things) yet as he has no track record,"
said a senior official at Samsung Electronics, who asked not to
However, a second Samsung executive who worked closely with
Lee said he was "very insightful," was on top of key issues and
asked probing questions. "He's very sharp and thinks outside the
box," said a third executive at the group founded by Lee's
grandfather in 1938.
A fourth executive, who has known Lee since childhood, said
he is "very committed to work and a serious businessman."
Other insiders have noted that despite his powerful
position, Lee takes time to reply personally to emails and
enjoys horse-riding and golf.
Beyond the confines of Samsung's headquarters, investors
said Lee would naturally be under pressure to succeed, but this
could be an opportune time to hand over power as smartphone
growth slows and the group looks to new businesses to drive
future growth. Samsung's mobile business is expected to show a
first annual profit decline in three years as smartphone sales
"The new businesses Samsung has been preparing are starting
to take shape, and I think they will start showing us something
concrete from this year," said Hong Jeong-woong, a fund manager
at Alpha Asset Management in Seoul. "It's inevitable he'll feel
pressured to prove his abilities to become chairman, so we may
see Samsung pick up the pace on pushing new businesses. I think
the risk of any management vacuum is small."
Samsung has also been looking at solar and bio healthcare as
potential future growth engines, and other senior executives Lee
has met include those from global automakers Nissan Motor Co
, Volkswagen AG, Toyota Motor Corp
and BMW - potentially eyeing opportunities in electric
batteries and screens, as well as possibly embedding smartphones
into auto navigation systems.
Analysts noted that Samsung has taken recent steps to ease
Lee's path to leadership, including the planned listing of
Samsung SDS Co, which provides IT services to Samsung
Lee junior is one of the main shareholders in Samsung SDS,
with a stake of more than 11 percent, and the listing could net
him more than $1 billion in cash he can use to buy shares in
other Samsung companies or earmark for tax related to inheriting
his father's wealth, analysts said.
Forbes last month estimated Jay Lee's fortune at around $5
"Lee needs to free himself from controversy related to SDS.
His stake could lead to negative talk once the company goes
public," said Hong at Alpha Asset Management. "SDS could be the
part of Samsung that takes the lead on new businesses like the
'Internet of things' or remote medical services."
($1 = 1024.3500 Korean Won)
(Additional reporting by Se Young Lee; Editing by Ian