Behold Samsung's empire -- from suits to boats to hotels

CNET's Shara Tibken travels to Korea and finds some far-ranging element of the big Samsung Group just about everywhere she turns.

Samsung Group's massive operations include fashion brands, including one named Galaxy. Shara Tibken/CNET

Editors' note: Be sure to catch the other stories in this package: on Samsung's bid to rule the world , on road-testing Samsung's S Translate app , on TVs and appliances in a Q&A with co-CEO Boo-keun Yoon , and on how Samsung torture-tests its products .


SEOUL, South Korea -- I came here in search of a giant.

As it turns out, I didn't have to venture far. After getting off the plane, I was surrounded by all things Samsung. Samsung TVs displayed Samsung commercials while I waited at customs to get my passport stamped. A seeing-eye dog trained by Samsung (and wearing its logo) walked past the bus I took to my hotel. Ubiquity might be too a subtle word for the company's influence on this country.

Such is the impressive scale of Samsung, which is responsible for nearly a fifth of South Korea's economy. At the center of the Samsung Group family of businesses, which includes everything from construction to property insurance, is Samsung Electronics. The consumer electronics arm is the crown jewel of the conglomerate, having had a particularly impressive run that includes taking the top spots in key areas such as televisions and smartphones.

Such influence and size wouldn't fly in the US, where regulators worry about too much power concentrated into too few hands. But it's far more accepted overseas, with its multitude of massive conglomerates (in Korea, the term for one is chaebol).

Samsung's increasing reach and influence has rippled throughout the tech world. The company's dominance in flat-panel televisions has turned Sony from a powerhouse position into an also-ran, while driving other, weaker television players out of business. The same thing is starting to happen with smartphones and tablets, as the company moves to fortify its leadership position in mobile. Even Apple has noticed, as evidenced by the increased clashes in both the marketplace and courtroom.

Samsung Group owns a high-end hotel in Seoul, South Korea, called the Shilla. The front gate is constructed in traditional Korean architecture. Shara Tibken/CNET
As odd as it sounds, Samsung is so much more than electronics when you visit Korea. It also makes high-end men's clothing. And builds boats. And runs a fancy hotel in Seoul. In reality, Samsung stretches into virtually any business you can think of.

It didn't start that way. Samsung was founded in 1938 as a small export business to sell dried Korean fish, vegetables, and fruit to China. Over the next several decades, Samsung expanded into textiles and, thanks to some acquisitions, moved into the insurance business. In 1966, Samsung opened Joong-Ang Development, an engineering, food service, and amusement park operator later renamed Samsung Everland. It wasn't until three years later that Samsung Group made a bigger push in technology with the founding of Samsung Electronics.

Over the next four and a half decades, Samsung grew into the behemoth that you see today. Check out the slideshow to see what I found in Korea. Hint, there's another Galaxy in town, and it's not electronics.

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About the author

Shara Tibken is a senior writer for CNET focused on Samsung and Apple. She previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and the Wall Street Journal. She's a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."

 

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