Samsung CEO Kwon Oh-hyun to resign citing ‘unprecedented crisis’

Kwon Oh-hyun, Samsung Electronics’ CEO, vice chairman, and the head of its hugely successful components business, has announced his resignation. He will step down from the CEO role, as well as his positions on the board and as CEO of Samsung Display, in March 2018.

“It is something I had been thinking long and hard about for quite some time. It has not been an easy decision, but I feel I can no longer put it off,” Kwon said in a letter sent to employees. “As we are confronted with unprecedented crisis inside out, I believe that time has now come for the company start anew, with a new spirit and young leadership to better respond to challenges arising from the rapidly changing IT industry.”

The unnamed “crisis” in Kwon’s letter no doubt includes the imprisonment of Lee Jae-yong, the de facto leader of the entire Samsung group, on corruption charges. While Lee didn’t take a hands-on role in Samsung Electronics’ regular business, Kwon’s resignation is the first sign that the scandal could have a major impact on the company’s operations and culture.

Samsung Electronics is performing well, however, having announced earnings guidance hours ago that predicts a second straight quarter of record profits. The company expects its operating profit to have nearly tripled year on year, demonstrating strong recovery after the equivalent period in 2016 saw the Galaxy Note 7 recall disaster. But Kwon says that the current performance is thanks to decisions made in the past, casting doubt over the company’s ability to predict trends and grow in the future.

“There are no words to describe how proud I am that we built together one of the most valuable companies in the world. We have come a long way to create a company that truly changes how people live, work and communicate with each other,” Kwon’s letter continues. “But now the company needs a new leader more than ever and it is time for me to move to the next chapter of my life.”

Kwon, 64, has been Samsung Electronics CEO since 2012 and was named Samsung Display CEO in 2016. He joined the company in 1985, rising to lead its semiconductor business before his appointment as CEO. Samsung hasn’t announced a successor, although Kwon has had two “co-CEOs” — BK Yoon and JK Shin — in the past. Both stepped back from day-to-day operations in 2015, however, retaining their titles.

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