Republic of Samsung
So sprawling is Samsung’s modern-day empire that some South Koreans say it has become possible to live a Samsung-only life: Use a Samsung credit card to buy a Samsung TV for your Samsungmade apartment in which you’ll watch the Samsung-owned pro baseball team.
Samsung is South Korea’s greatest economic success, and, more recently, is also the subject of major controversy.
Economists, owners of smalland medium-size businesses, and some politicians say Samsung no longer merely powers the country, but in fact overpowers it, wielding influence that nearly matches that of the government.
Samsung draws the greatest scrutiny because it is by far the largest chaebol – the Korean term for corporate groups that were jump-started with government support – and because it is experiencing runaway prosperity as the rest of the economy slows down.
The conglomerate contributes roughly a fifth of South Korea’s gross domestic product.
Some Koreans call the country ‘‘The Republic of Samsung.’’
Famous globally for its electronics, Samsung would be one of the largest conglomerates in almost any country.
It’s a do-everything monolith, building roads and oil rigs, operating hotels and amusement parks, selling insurance, making not only the world’s best-selling smartphone, the Galaxy, but also selling key components to Apple for the iPhone – even as the two battle in a series of lawsuits.
Critics see in Samsung closed-door wealth, a family affair in which chairman Lee Kun-hee is passing power to his only son, Jay Lee.
‘‘You can even say the Samsung chairman is more powerful than the South Korean president,’’ said Woo Suk-hoon, host of a popular economics podcast. ‘‘Korean people have come to think of Samsung as invincible and above the law.’’
That sentiment has intensified in recent years, a period during which Samsung has obstructed price-fixing investigations – drawing only minor fines – and seen its chairman indicted for financial crimes, only to receive a presidential pardon ‘‘in the national interest’’.
Samsung, which began in 1938 by exporting vegetables and dried Korean fish, became a budding power after the alliance was forged between its founder, Lee Byungchull, and the military dictator, Park Chunghee, who controlled the country’s banks and determined who got loans. His daughter, Park Geun-hye, is president elect.
The conglomerate thrives now because it makes good products.
Samsung’s Galaxy Note: Larger than a smartphone and smaller than a tablet. The company will likely sell 20 million of them this year. It’s already sold over 100 million of its Galaxy smartphones.