Samsung has been relatively open and complacent in the on-going investigations of the overheating and exploding Galaxy Note 7 line of smartphones, even going as far as giving a worldwide broadcast outlining its theories on how the device turned dangerous. However, the exploding phone is really just a symptom of much bigger problems within the culture of Samsung and South Korea itself.
Is corporate culture to blame for these issues?
Samsung is in a particularly unusual situation within the South Korean business sphere.
This one corporation alone is responsible for 20 percent of exports, and any time the company experiences scandal or less than successful product launches, it can cause massive ripples throughout the economy. When you add that to the fact that South Korean culture, and the company culture at Samsung, function largely as top-down systems where workers are expected to follow orders without question, it’s easy to see how Samsung was a problem waiting to happen.
Samsung’s current head, Jay Y. Lee, is someone who has raised more than a few eyebrows. First, when he was accused of bribery in a presidential scandal, and again when he began taking strides to make Samsung more employee-friendly. Lee had not only encouraged employees to use English more often in international dealings, but had been effortlessly working to root out the harsh and often violent language commonly used by Korean supervisors when addressing staff members.
A lot of pressure
Unfortunately, the former chairman of Samsung – Lee’s father, Lee Kun-hee – suffered a stroke in 2014, after which the corporate culture once again began to contract. “In the Samsung culture, managers constantly feel pressured to prove themselves with short-term achievements,” Chung-Ang University Professor and former Samsung employee Kim Jin-baek explained to the New York Times. “Executives fret that they may not be able to meet the goals and lose their jobs, even when they know the goals are excessive.”
Samsung has apologized for the massive oversight in its Galaxy Note 7 smartphone devices and pledged to take particular steps to prevent the problem from recurring, including naming a board of battery advisors. Whether this is too little, too late, will be hard to know right away, but Samsung culture will have to again be addressed for the company to move forward.