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Key Samsung executives depart from US business

At least five high-ranking executives from Samsung’s US mobile business have left or have given their notice over the past two months, CNET has learned.

Gregory Lee, president of Samsung Telecom America, opens up the New York version of Unpacked in September, sporting the Galaxy Gear smartwatch and holding a Note 3. Scott Stein/CNET

Samsung has a mini-exodus on its hands.

At least five high-ranking executives from Samsung's US mobile business -- known as Samsung Telecommunications America, or STA -- have left the company or have given their notice over the past two months, people familiar with the departures told CNET.

The departures, including the head of national sales, the mobile devices product chief, and a key strategist for Galaxy tablets and the Gear smartwatch, come less than a year after Gregory Lee took over as president and CEO of Samsung's US mobile and electronics operations. The moves also follow other turnover in Samsung's US operations as the company battles Apple in yet another patent-infringement case over key smartphone patents.

The previous patent trials, as well as the current suit under way in a California court, have featured depositions, evidence, and other testimony from several STA executives. STA Chief Marketing Officer Todd Pendleton, for instance, could be called to testify about Samsung's brand and advertising efforts for devices such as the Galaxy S3.

"As our US business continues to diversify and expand, we will continue to build an industry-leading organization with people who will contribute to even greater success for Samsung," Samsung said in a statement. "Some have left voluntarily to pursue other opportunities, and we thank them for their service."

The recent departures from STA, according to people familiar with the company, include Seshu Madhavapeddy, the senior vice president of product and technology who was responsible for development and delivery of Samsung's mobile devices; Nanda Ramachandran, the vice president and general manager who led strategy, marketing, and product management for Galaxy tablets, the Galaxy Gear smartwatch, and Samsung HomeSync; Mike Pennington, vice president of sales operations and head of national sales; Ketrina Dunagan, the vice president of retail and channel marketing who helped roll out the Samsung Experience Shops in Best Buy; and Donna Cerny, director of human resources.

The executives didn't immediately return requests seeking comment.

Samsung, a Korean company that dominates markets including mobile devices, memory chips, and TVs, has a reputation for driving its employees very hard. US executives often work US and Korean hours and travel frequently between the two countries. For Samsung, ranking less than No. 1 in the markets it pursues is seen as a failure. It expects its employees to do all they can to help the company control each market it enters.

Lee started his career with Samsung in 2004 at the company's headquarters in Korea. He then oversaw Southeast Asia and Oceania operations before shifting to the US in July 2013. At that time, Lee's predecessor in the US, Dale Sohn, returned to Samsung's Korean headquarters after seven years as the US head.

STA, which is based in a Dallas suburb, is one of the businesses that now reports to Lee.

Four months after Lee started at STA, Kevin Packingham, Samsung's chief product officer, left the company. At the time, Packingham said he left because he enjoyed his job less as Samsung shifted strategy to push its one big Galaxy S device rather than develop different devices for different carriers. He felt like his role became more of a sales effort instead of product development.

Another recent departure was Travis Merrill. He served as vice president of marketing for the Galaxy Tab products as part of the company's electronics business, Samsung Electronics America. He contacted CNET to announce his departure in mid March but didn't provide any reason for the move.

While the reasons for these individual departures are not yet known, the executives who left are those who have been on public display as the US faces of Samsung. Ramachandran often presented at the Consumer Electronics Show, and he was on stage to show off the Note Pro and Tab Pro tablets during the company's CES press conference in January. Madhavapeddy, meanwhile, represented the US team at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona in February, talking to outlets such as CNET about the Galaxy S5, Gear 2, and Gear Fit.

Cerny's LinkedIn profile says she has joined Apple's human resources department. It's not yet known what the other executives are now doing.