News July 23, 2020

A Closer Look at Samsung Offers Insights into South Korean Society

On the Business Insider's podcast "Brought to You By. . .", APARC and the Korea Program Director Gi-Wook Shin discusses how Samsung Electronics became so entwined with the history and identity of modern South Korea, and what the internal politics of the company indicate about broader Korean society.
Show attendees watch a flat-screen television display at the Samsung booth during a convention
Show attendees watch a flat-screen television display at the Samsung booth during a convention. Getty Images

Samsung is a veritable business empire. In 2017, it passed Apple as the most profitable tech company. But there is more to the company than flat screens and smartphones. In Korea, Samsung is ubiquitous not only as a leading electronics brand, but as a major shaper of culture and politics.

In the episode "The Republic of Samsung" from Business Insider's “Brought to You By . . .” podcast, APARC and Korea Program Director Gi-Wook Shin gives his perspectives on how Samsung transformed from a small family produce shop to become a core pillar of Korean identity. “Samsung really has become a very powerful group in Korea,” reflects Shin. “Their influence is everywhere, not only in business, but in politics, in education, and in culture.”

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This blurry intermingling of business interests, politics, and identity is both the key to Samsung’s success and the source of scandals over bribery, corruption, and nepotism that have rocked the company in recent years. For Shin, the longstanding Korean saying, “What is good for Samsung is good for South Korea,” has additional meaning in the present moment as both the company and the government of the ROK grapple with issues of systemic self-interest, erosion of accountability, and abuses of power that threaten the integrity and identity of each.

Under the leadership of Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong, the company is working to refurbish its image. But these efforts are mired in ongoing legal setbacks and new allegations. “Samsung can’t continue in the way that they have in the past. It’s a different era. Now, people demand more transparency, more fairness, more justice,” Dr. Shin emphasizes. As a predominant force for shaping business, politics, and identity in South Korean, this counsel to Samsung may prove a litmus test for the wellbeing of the Republic of Korea’s future as a whole.

Listen above to hear more of Dr. Shin’s insights and learn the rest of the story.

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