When Samsung Wasn't A Household Name

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It's Thursday morning and people are still buzzing about Ellen DeGeneres' "record-breaking" selfie at the Oscars more than three days ago.

More importantly—at least to the event's $20-million advertising sponsor—people are also talking about Samsung, maker of the Galaxy Note 3 that has become as much a part of the conversation as the stars in the snapshot. 

The Samsung name is familiar to us all now, but the brand is no overnight sensation, at least here in America. Way back in 1996, I wrote an essay for Samsung's chairman at the time, Kun-Hee Lee, which addressed the company's plans to expand outside of Korea.   

Digging the essay out of an old cardboard box this morning, I found Lee's sentiments to be refreshingly on target and free of the usual chest-beating hubris. (Extra credit points for allowing me to use a feminine pronoun.) In the spirit of #ThrowbackThursday, here's the intro to that piece: 

A young child wins a schoolyard race and dreams of becoming a champion. She works hard and advances from local and regional contests to national competitions, challenging athletes who share the same dream.

At each level, the competition gets tougher, requiring new skills and greater discipline. Until one day, after years of sacrifice, she lines up against the world's best and awaits the sound of the starter's pistol to fulfill her destiny.

The same can be said for Samsung. For many years, we have dominated the Korean market, winning the hearts and minds of consumers. In our home country, we have built a legend for never failing, a tradition of being the best in every endeavor. But in the world arena, it is a different story.... and we need to change the way we think, the way we work and the way we serve our customers... to become a respected global leader. 

Since I was writing for a $92.7 billion company (at the time), I found Lee's modest tone and customer-focused message to be striking. I hope Samsung's current management goes back to read the essay from time to time rather than becoming transfixed by their own selfies.