This Bizarre Story About A Three Day Speech In A German Hotel Explains Samsung’s Culture

samsung chairman Lee Kun Hee
Chairman Lee Kun-hee with daughter Lee Pu-jin. Behind him are his wife Hong Ra-hee and daughter Lee Seo-hyun.

Samsung’s path to becoming the biggest consumer electronics company in the world started with a three day speech from its chairman in a boring German hotel conference room.

In 1993, Samsung’s chairman, Lee Kun Hee, went on a world tour to figure how his company was doing internationally.

According to Sam Grobart at Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Lee wasn’t happy with what he saw.

When he was in Southern California, he went into an electronics store and found Samsung’s TV collecting dust in the corner while Sony and Panasonic we getting top billing.

Lee had been running Samsung for six years at that point. He took over for his father, who founded Samsung in 1938. From 1987, when Lee took over, to 1993, Samsung grew by two and half times, Grobart reports.

Lee wasn’t satisfied. He wanted the company to be bigger. He wanted it be like G.E. — an internationally recognised industrial powerhouse. And he wanted it to happen sooner than later. He set a deadline of 2000.

In June of 1993, while on his global tour, he landed in Germany at the Falkenstein Grand Kempinski Hotel in Frankfurt, says Grobart. He called in Samsung’s hundreds of executives for a big meeting.

He gave a three day speech laying out his vision for the future of Samsung and what the company had to do to become successful. He took breaks in the evening for people to sleep.

The speech became known inside Samsung as the “Frankfurt Declaration of 1993.”

The most famous quote that came from the speech was, “Change everything but your wife and children.”

From that day on, Samsung started its ascent from second tier manufacturer to the biggest TV and smartphone maker in the world.

The speech was transcribed and turned into a 200 page book that was passed to all Samsung employees. The employees who couldn’t read got a cartoon version of the speech, says Grobart.

The speech was so influential and important to Samsung that it bought all the furniture and decorations in that German conference room, shipped it to Samsung’s Korean headquarters and recreated the room.

The recreated room is so sacred that photos in the room are “forbidden,” and “people whisper when inside,” says Grobart.