The League of Gentlemen’s Extraordinary Path to Innovation Vol.4 Jaesaeng Sung

on November 14, 2014
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The solution to overcoming crisis: people – protect them as your family


Jaesaeng Sung, SAMT Chairman_1


The interview with SAMT Chairman, 66-year-old Jaesaeng Sung at the office in Nonhyeon-dong, Gangnam was full of energy from beginning to end. Despite our age difference, you could tell he has a young mind. This must be what it feels like to be in his “idea meetings,” which he frequently holds with his employees.


From the first step in the lobby, something felt different about this company. One of the first things you’ll see in the SAMT office building is part of former Samsung Vice President Jiseob Lee’s rare mineral collection on display (check out part 1 of this series). In the chairman’s office, there is a huge digital frame showing a slideshow of well-known masterpieces. In fact, the creative atmosphere was being nurtured in different parts of the office and in many different ways. Perhaps that is why Chairman Sung looked much younger than what I had expected him when I read his profile – ‘retired Samsung Electronics VP in his mid-60s’.


Spearheading ATOM, a legendary marketing Task Force

Jaesaeng Sung, SAMT Chairman_2


Sung’s competence and drive are considered legendary in Samsung Electronics. In the 1980s when Japanese companies were dominating the global electronics market, a new local Korean electronics company took a big leap forward in terms of marketing. And in the center of it was so-called ATOM – a marketing task force ‘Attack Team of Marketing’. This team is remembered as ‘ATOM’ or ‘Marketing Attackers’.


Established in 1969, Samsung Electronics initiated the development of an intensive strategy to overcome the small, unstable domestic home electronics market environment, making opportunities and solidifying the structure. Fostering sales experts was one of the ideas benchmarked from the crisis management case of Sharp. The main point of ATOM’s project was to give special sales training to some of the employees working in the production line – which was not big enough and faced frequent operation halts – so that they could go out to the sales outlets when things were slow and educate salespeople and employees there.


Chairman Sung has a reputation for radical thinking. Sung was appointed as the second ATOM chief in November 1983. It was when the economy was beginning to liven up and the demand for home electronics was slowly rising. The importance of ATOM, which was organized to overcome crisis during depression, was growing weak. However with a bold reverse thinking strategy, Sung boosted the influence of ATOM even further. The company was not recruiting more staff, but he employed new people exclusively for ATOM and treated them with exceptional respect.


In the early 1980s when he was leading ATOM, the domestic home electronics market was led by two big players, Goldstar (now LG) and Samsung Electronics, and then there was Daewoo Electronics, the newbie that was clawing its way up. In 1984, in such a competitive situation like this, ATOM decided to use saleswomen specifically in the home electronics field. At the time, especially in Asia, saleswomen generally worked in the cosmetics or dairy sales industries. Thus, Samsung’s decision was seen as a groundbreaking move that even Japan recognized.


Realizing the actual purchasing power for home electronics was often in the hands of women, Sung established a sales strategy angled towards women. And he tried to sell products using the personal network of the saleswomen. The first item saleswomen started to promote was the microwave. Back then, microwave was something unfamiliar – people had no idea what it was used for. The saleswomen carried around a microwave with them for sales. They did not hesitate to cook in front of the clients if they thought it was necessary. Their efforts quickly started to pay off. The previously slow sales of microwaves grew exponentially. Sung’s creative marketing tactic caught the industry off-guard and played a role as a driving force for Samsung Electronics to become the best among the top three home electronics manufacturers in Korea.



“670 alumni have got your back.”

Jaesaeng Sung, SAMT Chairman_3


When we first asked about what he does now, Sung skirted the question by saying, “Don’t ask me about what I do now. The important thing in this interview is that I have left Samsung but I still have the mind of Samsung family. If there is anything that I can do to help, I am ready to hop in and do it.”


Sure enough, Sung has all the rights to say that. He is the head vice chairman of an e-CLUB composed of retired Samsung Electronics directors. Organized by former Vice Chairman Gwangho Kim, e-CLUB has 670 active members as of October 2014. Sung’s pride in the e-CLUB was apparent as he chatted amiably about how the club operates. 


The very first phrase in the motto of the e-CLUB says ‘Inspire loyalty to the company with the pride of having worked for Samsung Electronics.’ Every e-CLUB member has worked for Samsung Electronics with pride will continue to support the company. This is probably why their gatherings are incomparably more active and solid than other social gatherings of retirees.


In terms of the e-CLUB’s logistics, the main purpose is fellowship, but membership operates on a divisional basis – just like in the company. Club members are grouped into different areas like house electronics, display, semiconductor, IT, R&D, sales, support, communication, overseas, and western US. The e-CLUB cleverly holds their general meeting right before their year-end party. Attendance is always high and the true character of this e-CLUB is clearly on display at their year-end party.


Members carry out various volunteer services and CSR activities. The departments form a volunteer team within their organization and request additional help from other groups like Good Will Volunteer Service and Wife Volunteer Service. There are a few hobby clubs as well to aid the purpose of the organization. Some of the popular clubs include golf, hiking, travel (local and abroad), billiards, go (or baduk, in Korean), photography, calligraphy, music, and film.


Family values, valuing family

Jaesaeng Sung, SAMT Chairman_4


Chairman Sung said that the ‘company as family’ spirit was what led Samsung Electronics to achieve such a great development within a relatively short period of time. “Of course there must be other factors, but if you would ask me to pick the most important factor, I would say ‘company as family’ spirit the employees and the company itself has. In that sense, e-CLUB is another family. It’s a family-like gathering where people who have done their service at Samsung come together.” “I think current Samsung executives are very interested in our gathering. It’s probably because of the characteristics of our organization,” added Sung.


“Behind the miracles that Samsung has achieved thus far was the management system of ‘connecting people with the heart of a family’. The e-CLUB is another example of Samsung’s strong roots holding up the family tree. The 670 members at e-CLUB have got the back of Samsung Electronics with the heart of a family!”


Retired but still a member of the Samsung family

Jaesaeng Sung, SAMT Chairman_5


Sung’s career has run the gamut for an electronics company – his rare history has ranged from parts production to marketing of finished goods. His extensive personal network, along with his open thinking, is his main asset built over a long period of time. His energy was the best contributor to the legendary achievements he has accomplished while he was at Samsung. This is also where the stable foundation for operation at his current job SAMT, an IT marketing company, comes from.


“You may say Samsung Electronics is experiencing a crisis. But as far as I remember, Samsung always overcame big and small crises. The main agent that can bring the breakthrough is ‘people’. If people trust each other and push forward, then any crisis can be conquered.”




* Views and opinions expressed above are of Jaesaeng Sung and do not represent those of Samsung Electronics.

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