The Man Who Shook Up Samsung
By Louis Kraar

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Even in a year of remarkable recovery for Asia, some of the region's leading companies were foundering because of old bad habits. That wasn't the case with Samsung Electronics, whose CEO, Yun Jong Yong, used Asia's current chaos to reinvent a company that seemed near death--a feat that has earned Yun FORTUNE's title of Asia's Businessman of the Year.

When Yun took command of Samsung three years ago, earnings had largely evaporated because of a long decline in the prices of memory chips--then Samsung's main source of profit. And the company was losing money on its low-priced me-too models of TVs and microwave ovens. "There was a sense that this company could go down. It was that extreme," says Yun. So extreme, in fact, that Samsung's chairman authorized Yun, an electrical engineer who has been with the company since its founding in 1969, to make changes shocking to most Koreans--chopping one-third of the payroll and replacing half of the senior managers; selling off $1.9 billion in assets, from an executive jet to an entire semiconductor division; refusing to tolerate long presentations or reports; and welcoming a foreigner to the corporate board. Then Yun launched a slew of leading-edge products, including Internet music players, flat-panel displays, and a line of 5.5-oz. cell phones with both voice-activated dialing and Internet access. The result: Analysts estimate that 1999 earnings will rise more than tenfold, to $2 billion, when final figures are released; and the company's stock, listed in Korea and widely held internationally, rose 233%, to $227 a share, last year.

--Louis Kraar