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#42 Lee Kun Hee $20.6B

Random fact: Jury ordered Samsung to pay $1 billion for infringing Apple patents.


Lee is the chairman and largest shareholder of Samsung Electronics, the publicly-traded producer of televisions, personal computers and smartphones. The Seoul-based company is the flagship of Samsung Group, the country's largest family-owned conglomerate, and had revenue of 201.9 trillion won ($174 billion) in 2016.

As of Oct. 17, 2017:
Last change -$36.2M (-0.2%)
YTD change +$6.49B (+45.9%)
Industry Diversified
Biggest asset 005930 KS Equity
Citizenship Korea, Republic of
Age 75
Wealth Inherited
View net worth over:   Max 1 year 1 quarter 1 month 1 week

Relative Value

Lee Kun Hee's net worth of $20.6B can buy ...

troy ounces of gold
barrels of crude oil

... and is equivalent to ...

of the GDP of the United States
of the total wealth of the 500 richest people in the world
of the top 100 U.S. college endowments
of the top 200 U.S. executives’ total awarded compensation
of U.S. existing home sales
times the median U.S. household income

Latest News

Net Worth Summary

Private asset
Public asset
Misc. liabilities
Confidence rating:

The majority of Lee's fortune is derived from his 4.6 percent stake in publicly traded Samsung Electronics, the main company in Korea's largest family-owned conglomerate by asset size, according to a March 24, 2017 Bloomberg News report. He holds 3.5 percent directly, according to the company's 2017 first-quarter report, and a 0.8 percent stake through his wife, Hong Ra-Hee, who doesn't have a management role with the company. These are credited to Lee because he ultimately controls the shares. He also holds less than 1 percent of the company's preferred shares directly, according to Samsung Electronics' 2017 first-quarter report.

Lee owns 21 percent of Samsung Life Insurance, the group's financial affiliate directly, according to the company's 2017 first-quarter report.

He also has a 2.9 percent direct stake in the new Samsung C&T, the successor of the group's holding company Cheil Industries, after it merged with the former Samsung C&T on Sept. 1, 2015.

Cash holdings are based on an analysis of calculated dividends, market performance and taxes.

The residential properties owned by the billionaire are the top 5 most expensive houses in Seoul, with a total value of $75 million, according to city land records.

Kevin Cho, a spokesman for Samsung, declined to comment on Lee's net worth.


Birthdate: 1/9/1942
Family: Married, 3 children
Education: 3/1965, Economics, Waseda University, Bachelor's Degree Seoul National University, PhD

Lee's father, Lee Byung Chull, founded Samsung with 40 employees in 1938, exporting rice, dried fish, noodles and produce to Manchuria and China from Korea during the Japanese occupation. Lee was born on Jan. 9, 1942, to a family with two brothers and five sisters. His father's businesses flourished and diversified into insurance, sugar, paper, textiles and property development following the Korean War. He expanded into electronics and appliances by the late 1960s, making products such as black-and-white TVs, electric fans and rice cookers. During that period, Lee studied abroad, first at Waseda University in Tokyo, obtaining a bachelor's in economics.

Throughout the 1970s, the government encouraged family-controlled conglomerates -- called chaebols in Korean -- through government financing by South Korea's President Park Chung Hee with the aim of developing heavy industry, chemicals, shipbuilding and construction. Samsung and Hyundai were among the chaebols. Lee's father was stricken with cancer in 1976, and in an unusual move, he selected his third son Lee Kun Hee as his successor. Traditionally in Korea, the eldest son would inherit the family business under long-followed Confucian practices. His father died in 1987, and Lee became chairman of Samsung.

Lee hired a Japanese adviser, Shigeo Fukuda, to examine the management of Samsung. The adviser came back with a scathing report of a rigid and outdated bureaucracy that had no concept of design. Lee then held a corporate retreat for 100 top executives on June 7, 1993, at a hunting lodge in Germany where he declared that Samsung was a second-rate company. He forced the managers to watch a 30-minute documentary on the shoddy production practices at a Samsung washing machine factory. He ended the retreat by telling them to "change everything except for your wife and kids." A year later, he ordered his executives to recall phones that were faulty. They collected 150,000 units and Lee invited workers to a bonfire, where they were destroyed.

In April 2008, he was charged with tax evasion and breach of trust after a corporate whistleblower said Lee owned almost $5 billion in Samsung Life stock, shares in other companies, and cash and bonds that were held illegally in 1,200 accounts under other people's names. Lee left Samsung and was convicted of tax evasion. He paid a $90 million fine, $40 million in taxes, and had a three-year prison term suspended. He was subsequently pardoned by South Korea's president and returned to Samsung in 2010. The reason given for the pardon: Lee helped the country's successful bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics. In 2012, Lee's older brother and sister sued him to obtain $3.7 billion in Samsung Life and Samsung Electronics stock that they said they were entitled to since their father's death. Lee won the court case in February 2013.

The billionaire had a heart attack in May 2014, and is still hospitalized.

  • 1965 Lee gets bachelor's degree in economics from Waseda University.
  • 1969 Samsung Electronics started in a Quonset hut to make TVs.
  • 1987 Lee Kun Hee becomes chairman of Samsung after father dies.
  • 2008 Charged and convicted of tax evasion. Leaves Samsung.
  • 2009 President pardons Lee. He returns to Samsung a month later.
  • 2012 U.S. jury finds Samsung infringed on six Apple mobile patents.
  • 2013 Older brother and sister lose in lawsuit to acquire $3.7 billion of his shares.
  • 2014 Underwent surgery after suffering a heart attack.