After Apple launched the first iPhone in 2007, Samsung responded with a drive to create world-leading smartphones of its own. It succeeded, with the result that its Galaxy smartphones are now pretty much neck-and-neck with Apple’s iPhones in terms of performance and popularity.
But Samsung does so much more than just making phones.
The Samsung Group is a chaebol, one of South Korea’s family-controlled giant corporate groups that consist of multiple subsidiaries operating in a wide range of areas. In fact, the Samsung Group is the biggest chaebol; so big that some have speculated that the entire South Korean economy would collapse were Samsung to fail.
Samsung was founded by Lee Byung-chul as a small trading company in 1938, when Korea was still under Japanese colonial rule. In the period following Korea’s independence in 1945, various non-democratic and military regimes developed a symbiotic relationship with the chaebol. In short, the government offered chaebols concessions and benefits; in exchange, the chaebols toed the government line on economic policy, and provided financial support to the political class.
Today, the Samsung Group has dozens of subsidiaries, and they make… a lot of stuff. In theory, it would be possible to live your life depending entirely on Samsung products. You could be born at Samsung Medical Center, live in a Samsung apartment, buy your clothes from Samsung C&T Fashion Group, eat at Samsung Welstory food courts, study at Samsung-affiliated high schools and universities, work for a Samsung subsidiary, drive a Renault-Samsung car (though, strictly speaking, it’s not produced by Samsung), have fun at a Samsung theme park, stay at a Samsung hotel, pay for it with a Samsung credit card, insure yourself with Samsung Life, and end up coming full circle with your funeral at Samsung Medical Center.
In February 2017, South Korean business website Chosun Biz put the number of Samsung Group subsidiaries at 58, but this is relatively meaningless as the group frequently acquires, sells, merges and renames various subsidiaries. Basically, there are a lot of Samsung subsidiaries, and many of them are among South Korea’s biggest companies in their own right.
But back to the main question: What do they make?
Samsung Electronics, the largest subsidiary, makes a huge range of products ranging from consumer electronics such as TVs, tablets, smartwatches, virtual reality headsets, home theater and audio, desktop computers, laptops, monitors, printers, memory devices, home appliances and security/monitoring systems, to semiconductor and memory parts.
Other major subsidiaries and their key products are as follows:
Samsung Heavy Industries
Ships, particularly, specialised vessels for use in the oil and gas industry; wind turbines
Skyscrapers, civil engineering projects, apartment complexes, clothing
Consumer and industrial batteries, other ESS (energy storage system) components, and components for LCD screens, OLED screens and photovoltaic panels
Displays for mobile devices, TVs and other products
Ultrasound devices and other medical equipment
Originally Samsung Motors, but acquired by Renault Group from the Samsung Group in 2000. But the latter retains a minority stake of about 20 percent in Renault-Samsung, and allows the use of the Samsung name by Renault as part of an agreement.
Finally, it has to be mentioned that the Samsung Group has been accused of making excellent slush funds.
Ben Jackson authored and Ho Kyeong Jang contributed to this article.
Cover image: Samsung Electronics headquarters in Seoul (Se-Woong Koo/Korea Exposé)
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