At first glance, Yun Jong Yong might not look like much of an innovator. He has been with Samsung Electronics Co., one of the most conservative of South Korea's chaebol, for 37 years. He was made chief executive in 1997 not because of any great vision but because he had the skills to get Samsung out of a bad mess: As prices of computer chips tumbled, the company was barely avoiding losses.
However, Yun, 59, has made Samsung one of the world's fastest-growing brands, selling feature-packed digital gadgets and state-of-the-art chips. The company has a market capitalization of $57.7 billion. Sales in 2003 are expected to reach $36 billion. Profits are expected to be just over $5 billion, a 15% decline from 2002 because of a sharp drop in chip prices, but analysts predict that profits could top $7.5 billion in 2004.
Yun went on an efficiency campaign, shutting factories for weeks to cut inventories, slashing the workforce by one-third, and selling off dozens of noncore divisions. In a radical move, he pulled Samsung appliances off the shelves of discounters Wal-Mart Stores and Target in favor of electronics chains such as Best Buy and Circuit City Stores. "Our future will depend on our brand equity," says Yun. "If we keep selling low-end products, it damages our corporate image."
Yun's goal now is to make Samsung the leader in the age of digital convergence by offering networked home-electronics gadgets. "You must constantly change and adapt to a new environment," Yun says. Spoken like a true innovator.
-- Cemented Samsung's global leadership in the memory-chip business by grabbing nearly two-thirds of the market for NAND flash memory, a technology mainly used in removable cards that store large music and image files.
-- Samsung displaced Motorola as the second-largest maker of cell phones in terms of value, but it remains No. 3 in volume.