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Camp Samsung

To develop winning products, the Korean giant isolates artists and techies for months on end

Last June a group of 11 Samsung Electronics Co. employees pledged to do the last thing most people desire just as spring bursts into summer: stay inside a drab room with small, curtained windows for the bulk of the next six weeks. The product planners, designers, programmers, and engineers had recently entered Samsung's so-called Value Innovation Program (VIP) Center, just south of Seoul. They were asked to outline the features and design of the company's mainstay flat-screen TV, code-named Bordeaux. And their bosses had vowed to keep them posted there until they had completed the assignment.

After an introductory ceremony attended by senior executives of Samsung's video division, the team joined a dozen or so similar groups at the VIP Center and got down to work. The facility is a sort of boiler room where people from across the company brainstorm day after day -- and often through the night. Guided by one of 50 "value innovation specialists," they study what rivals are offering, examine endless data on suppliers, components, and costs, and argue over designs and technologies. The Bordeaux team hammered out the basic look, feel, and features of the model by mid-August. Then over the next five months designers and engineers worked out the details, and by February the sets were rolling off Samsung assembly lines. They hit stores in the U.S. and South Korea this April, starting at about $1,300 for a 26-inch set. "For the first time in our company, we developed a TV appealing to customers' lifestyles," says Kim Min Suk, an official at Samsung's LCD TV Product Planning Group.