Samsung’s Story: From Fish Exporter to Electronics Giant

When you see the name of this brand; Samsung, surely the first thing you have thought of is technology. Maybe right now you are reading our blog from one of the company’s devices or you have one of its appliances at home. But would you be surprised if we told you that they started selling only dried fish and fruits?
Eighty years ago, at the gates of World War II, the founder of what is today one of the 10 most important companies in the world, Lee Byung-Chul, thought that the business was in the trade of this type of products, for So he decided to create a company dedicated to this sector with an investment of approximately 30,000 won (around $ 30 today).

He named it Samsung, which means “three stars” in Korean, which can be seen in the first designs of the company’s logo. The concept of the brand and its aspirations are inspired by the three ancient gods of Chinese religion: Shou Xing, who represents eternity; Fu Xing, who represents success and good fortune; and Lu Xing, who represents prosperity, influence, and happiness; collectively they are known as Sanxing, the three stars.

Samsung's first building as an export company in 1938
Samsung’s first building as an export company in 1938

Growth of Samsung During the War

Lee Byung-chul, founder of Samsung in 1950
Lee Byung-chul, founder of Samsung in 1950

After Korea escaped Japanese occupation during World War II, Lee Byung decided to move to Seoul to expand his business, which he achieved by approaching the government of Syngman Rhee, who began to award him profitable foreign trade contracts.

In addition to this, in 1948 he created a subsidiary of construction, trade, and engineering along with Cho Hong-Jai, an entrepreneur who decades later founded Hyosung Motors & Machinery Inc. At that time, this subsidiary was called Samsung Moolsan and today it is known as Samsung C&T Corporation.

Despite all this growth, another war episode would overshadow the Asian country and in 1950, at the beginning of the Korean War, Lee Byung-Chul was forced to flee the capital towards Busan, in the southeast of the country, since this area was protected by the United States. Here he expanded his business into the field of the textile and sugar industry, and after the Korean War ended in 1953, Lee Byung-Chul returned to the capital as a man who was very good at business.

Samsung experienced great growth throughout the Syngman Rhee government, as, as we noted earlier, it offered very juicy contracts, a situation that aroused certain suspicions.
By 1961, when Syngman Rhee was overthrown through a coup; his successor, General Park Chung-hee, decided to draw up a list of companies to be investigated for corruption, including Samsung.

Finally, after several meetings between Lee Byung-Chul and the new ruler, it was agreed that the accusations of corruption would be forgotten if Samsung collaborated on the economic plan that had been thought to transform Korea impoverished by war, into an industrial Korea and economically powerful.

To do this, private companies needed to start investing in sectors that are fundamental to the economy and thus receive benefits from the state, so Samsung began to explore other industries such as electronics and insurance. From where Ankuk Fire & Marine Insurance (1958) was born, which would be renamed Samsung Fire & Marine Insurance in 1993.

Technological and Electronic Innovation: Samsung’s Catapults

The decade of the 60s and 70s are perhaps two of the most crucial in the history of Samsung since it is in them where several of the most important companies of the current conglomerate of Samsung Group are created. Let’s see:

  1. In 1969, the well-known Samsung Electronics was founded, after observing significant local demand in the electronics and technology sector. In addition, the Sanyo company is unified with Samsung.
  2. In 1970 the company associated with the Japanese company NEC Corporation start manufacturing black and white appliances and televisions; the latter is hugely successful with more than 10 million copies sold during the decade.
  3. In 1973 the subsidiary that is known today as Samsung Electro-Mechanics was created, which is in charge of manufacturing electronic components for audio, videos, computers, etc., and is the one that later would independently develop a color television tuner.
  4. A year later, in 1974, Samsung is chosen by General Park Chung-hee as the official company to take charge of the country’s shipbuilding, and then the subsidiary that is now known as Samsung Heavy Industries is created, one of the largest of its kind. Also in the same year, Samsung Petrochemical (which was acquired by Hanwha Group in 2015) was founded and absorbed Korea Semiconductor, thus entering the world of manufacturing semiconductors, chips, and chemical products from oil and gas.

In the remainder of the decade and since 1980, Samsung focuses on expanding its presence in different areas and begins to define its path towards the development of Information and Telecommunication Technologies (ICT), since, in addition to starting with the production Mass production of microwave ovens, color televisions, VHS video recorders, air conditioners, washing machines, computers, and refrigerators, inaugurates the Research and Development Center and the Samsung Institute of Advanced Technology (SAIT) in Suwon City, Korea.

These centers will contribute greatly to the company’s innovation in electronics, telecommunications, and engineering. In addition to this, Samsung manages to establish its first international office located in the United States and soon creates branches in Portugal, Tokyo, among others.


After almost half a century as president and founder of Samsung, Lee Byung-Chul died of cancer and the company was inherited by his third son Lee Kun-hee in 1987. This event marks the end of an era and the beginning of an even bigger one for the company when in 1988 Lee Kun-hee declared the ” second foundation of Samsung ” and raised the aggrandizement of the company through a major restructuring as a means to become one of the leading technology industries on the planet.

samsung founder Lee Byung-chul and his son Lee Kun-hee at a company meeting in the 70s
Samsung founder Lee Byung-Chul and his son Lee Kun-hee at a company meeting in the 70s

The New Samsung

In the early 1990s, major changes took place at Samsung Group, as promised by its new president. One of the most momentous was the fragmentation of the company into four groups: chemical products, which would be managed by the Hansol Group; warehouses, which would be managed by Shinsegae Group; food products, of which CJ Group would be in charge; and the rest, that is, electronic, technological, construction and engineering products, would be managed solely by Samsung, thus keeping the most beneficial businesses for the company.

This allowed Samsung to focus on the profitable electronics and technology business. At that time, among international consumers of these products, it was commented that Korean devices were not of such good quality compared to those of other countries on the continent, so among the new structuring, the objective was to invest much more in research and development (R&D) and encourage the creation of a mobile phone system.

Samsung also promoted the creation of the world’s first 64MB and 256MB Dynamic Random Access Memory (better known as DRAM), manufactured around 10 million industrial robots, and created the world’s first DVD recorder. All this under the slogan of ” quality first “.

Samsung SPH-WP10, the first watchphone or smartwatch
Samsung SPH-WP10, the first watch phone or smartwatch

This new vision of the company was celebrated in style and also led to a makeover, consequently, this whole modern scheme was made public in 1993, as was the new Samsung logo.

By the end of the 90s, Samsung had succeeded in breaking down the conceptions that were held about its quality and had become a great innovative company. In addition, thanks to the important strategy adopted by Lee Kun-hee, Samsung managed to overcome and grow during the severe financial crisis that hit Asia in 1997.

In those years, the company had already specialized in the unprecedented development of LCD screens, flat screens, 3D screens, and digital televisions, and by 1999, it was not only dominating the world TFT LCD market but launching a kind of watch phone ( very similar to today’s smartwatches ) and the first mobile phone with MP3 in the world, a market that would soon be disputed with the best telephone companies.

Samsung Galaxy S9 announcement in the tallest building in the world the Burj Khalifa
Samsung Galaxy S9 announcement in the tallest building in the world the Burj Khalifa

Additionally, the Samsung brand becomes a World Olympic Partner (TOP) in wireless communications and thus begins a company tradition of sponsoring large-scale sporting events, especially the Olympic Games.

He also grew much more in the construction sector, when he executed some of the most important and impressive works in the Asian region :

  • The Petronas Towers are located in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (1993-1996).
  • Taipei 101, located in Taiwan (1999-2004).
  • Incheon International Airport in Korea opened in 2005.
  • The Burj Khalifa, located in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Which would be inaugurated years later in 2010.




2000 to present: success and legal battles with Apple

The beginning of a new millennium is marked by technology, consumer electronics, the internet, and mobile telephony, aspects that would forever change how human beings live and interact. By then, Samsung was already well positioned in many of these issues, ranking 19 of Interbrand’s Best Global Brands for 2010, the year in which it launched the famous Galaxy smartphones.

Everything is growing for Samsung in these years, being admired and recognized worldwide for its technological contribution. Among some of the most notable products are flexible UHD televisions, massive and unpublished productions of DRAM memories with high storage capacity, creation of wearable devices with 3G, smartphones with curved screens, development of a mobile payment service, and more recently, the design of the world’s first LED cinema screen.

All of this and more has led Samsung to rank # 6 on Interbrand’s Best Global Brands list in 2017.

Global Launch of the First 3D Samsung Cinema LED Screen
Global Launch of the First 3D Samsung Cinema LED Screen

Another notable aspect is that Samsung’s growth has not only benefited the company but also its country.

Another notable aspect is that Samsung’s growth has not only benefited the company but also it is country. In fact, Samsung is perhaps the most influential company in the economy, politics, and culture of South Korea and it has been calculated that the production of all the companies that make up the conglomerate ( chaebol, as it is known in its country of origin), It represents a fifth of the nation’s total exports and its income corresponds to 17% of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the South Korean republic.

The value of the brand has experienced exponential growth in the last decade that has helped it climb the Interbrand list almost every year and that can be evidenced by the following figures:

Table via Samsung Mexico
Table via Samsung Mexico

Despite such success, Samsung has had problems related to its smartphones, as Apple, one of its main rivals in this market, sued the company for more than two billion dollars in 2012 alleging patent infringement. This situation remains unresolved and has gone down in history as one of the largest disputes between two mobile phone companies.

FUN FACT: according to Fortune magazine, by the end of 2017 Samsung reached a 21.9% share of the global smartphone market, thus surpassing Apple, which achieved a market share of just 15.2%, which, For now, it makes the Asian giant the leader in the production of these devices.


Additionally, in 2017 the company faced significant criticism and losses of several million dollars when it launched the Galaxy Note 7 and it resulted in a factory problem: the phones were literally exploding. This situation generated losses for the company of up to 8% in the stock markets and represented a danger for its users; which finally forced Samsung to completely withdraw the devices from its stores. Fortunately, this did not happen again with the next generation Galaxy Note, which has received a positive response from the market.

FUN FACT: to compensate a bit for the Galaxy Note 7 disaster, Samsung encouraged several marketing campaigns, including “Welcome aboard, Galaxy Note 8” in conjunction with the Spanish airline Iberia, which had previously had conflicts with the device. For this, Samsung gave 200 people on board a flight, a Galaxy Note 8 to “reward the loyalty and trust of Spanish users.”

In April 2018, former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak had to face the law on various charges, one of them referring to allegedly accepting a bribe from Samsung to pardon Lee Kun-hee, for which he was convicted of tax evasion.

“Inspire the world, create the future”

Under this new slogan, Samsung proposes a new vision for 2020, which seeks to optimize the experiences of its users with their devices and innovate in consumer electronics. In addition to this, the company makes clear its intention to investigate further in other areas such as health and automotive electronics, a business that in the past was a failure given the historical context of the financial crisis and with which it will be able to vindicate itself thanks to the astonishing reputation of the Asian company.

In fact, it is already taking great steps in this direction, as in January 2018 it announced its new DRVLINE™ platform, a technology to drive the development of autonomous vehicles, which it was able to create thanks to the acquisition of the company Harman International Industries in 2016. for a figure of 8 billion dollars.

Other interesting aspects of the direction Samsung is heading are related to services and devices based on platforms for the Internet of Things (IoT), the increase in sales of ultra-large screens as a result of important sporting events that occurred in 2018, Like the reports that exist on the design of a Galaxy X with a folding OLED screen, characteristics that no smartphone had until then, Samsung becoming a pioneer in the matter.

For you to understand even more part of Samsung’s vision, we invite you to watch this video:

Evolution of Samsung Logo

As we told you at the beginning of the article, the meaning of the word Samsung was greatly reflected in three of the four logos that the company has adopted.

The first of them was designed in 1938. It corresponds to the time and the activity in which the company developed, which at that time did not give so much importance to the logo. It can be seen that the three stars on the circle are the main element and are superimposed on three horizontal stripes and a plant, which symbolizes the trade in food products.

First Samsung logo in 1938
First Samsung logo in 1938

The second was adopted in the late 1960s and marked Samsung’s step towards producing black and white televisions and other household appliances. We see that the difference is quite large compared to its predecessor because although it still retains the three stars and the circle, the main element falls a little more in the wordmark, and a little color is added.

Samsung logo from 1969 to 1979
Samsung logo from 1969 to 1979

As you may have read in a few paragraphs back, in 1993 fundamental restructurings were introduced for the destiny and success of the company, which included the logo of the same that remains until today. In its design, we see that the three stars are finally removed and the wordmark is defined as the most important. This is superimposed on an oval inclined at about 10 degrees, which symbolizes the world moving through space, which conveys change and innovation.

Samsung logo from 1993 to the present
Samsung logo from 1993 to the present

This logo is usually used with or without the oval, posing an even more minimalist version.

Samsung logo
Samsung logo

What can be Learned from Samsung’s Long Experience

It can be said that the history of this company is one full of work, discipline, and perseverance; Furthermore, it teaches us that thriving in the most catastrophic situations is possible. If we do a review, we note that Samsung not only managed to survive through two devastating wars and a financial crisis but also grew and did it intelligently, adapting to the changes generated by the circumstances.

Lee Kun-hee and Samsung Executives Celebrate South Korea's Election to Host the Olympic Games in 2018
Lee Kun-hee and Samsung Executives Celebrate South Korea’s Election to Host the Olympic Games in 2018

It shows us that, regardless of the context, what really increases a company’s chances of success is the response that it may have to adversity or situation that escapes its hands. It is knowing how to anticipate the scenarios and make the smartest decisions. This is how Lee Kun-hee envisioned it in 1993 when he decided to change the direction of the company towards sectors that would soon become the most profitable on the planet.

Also noteworthy is the importance that Samsung attached to the quality of its products and how this greatly influenced the gigantic expansion of the South Korean company.

In short, we believe that Samsung’s contribution to the world is incredibly valuable, it is a brand that stands out in any sector that you want to explore and we are convinced that it will forever leave a mark in human history.

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