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Samsung diversifies board as Lee Jae-yong prepares for return

Samsung Electronics brought on a foreign executive and female board member Friday, in its first meeting of the board since Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong was released from jail on Feb. 5.

At the meeting held at the company‘s Suwon headquarters Friday, the board agreed to name Jeong Kim, chairman at Kiswe Mobile, Kim Sun-wook, former president of Ewha Womans University, and Park Byung-gook, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Seoul National University, as independent directors of the board. 


They will replace Kim Han-joong, former president of Yonsei University, and Lee Byeong-gi, a professor at Seoul National University.

The choices have been seen by many as reflecting Samsung’s road map for shareholder value as announced in November 2016, in which the company said that it planned to “invite new independent board members with international corporate experience” at the “global C-suite experience” level. 

A month earlier, US activist investor Elliott Management had pointed out a lack of gender diversity in the boardroom as a problem for Samsung.

This road map was pushed out of the spotlight last year when Vice Chairman Lee was taken into custody on charges of bribing former President Park Geun-hye and her confidante Choi Soon-sil in exchange for political favors to solidify his succession to the top of the Samsung empire.

Lee spent nearly a year behind bars serving a five-year sentence before being given a suspended sentence of two years and six months in an appeals trial.

Korean-American Jeong Kim is the co-founder and chairman of Kiswe Mobile, a company focused on interactive mobile technology. He also served as president of Bell Labs. He is well known for being the founder of Yurie Systems, which was later sold for $1.1 billion to Lucent Technologies in 1998.

Kim Sun-wook is a law professor and former president of Ewha Womans University. She is just the second woman to be named to Samsung Electronics’ board.

Park Byung-gook is an engineer specializing in semiconductors who has served as the head of the Inter-university Semiconductor Research Center at Seoul National University. 

The expansion of the board, now at 11 members, to include executives with diverse backgrounds is touted as a step towards increasing transparency of Samsung’s decision-making process. With public opinion still largely turned against Vice Chairman Lee following his release from prison, increasing the independence of the board may help to regain some of the reputational ground lost by the company, industry watchers said.

Lee was conspicuously absent from the meeting. Although Lee is still technically listed as a member of the board of directors, he has not yet officially fully returned to helming the electronics company.

Samsung Electronics will hold a regular shareholders‘ meeting on March 23 to discuss approval of the new members of the board, changes to board members’ compensation, and its first-ever stock split, announced at the end of January.

By Won Ho-jung (