Samsung offices and factories were buzzing on Tuesday after chief Lee Jae-yong walked free with a suspended sentence. Samsung staff were busy all day getting everything ship-shape for the return of their boss, even though the conglomerate had been ticking over nicely in his absence and raked in record profits.
"The biggest uncertainty for the company has now been removed thanks to Lee's release," a Samsung executive gushed. "Massive investments and mergers and acquisitions that have been put off due to his absence can now go ahead."
Samsung is poised to make a final decision on building another semiconductor plant in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province for up to W30 trillion (US$1=W1,088).
Lee left his home in Seoul around 9:30 a.m., but it was not known where he went. One Samsung staffer said Lee was to meet a handful of executives "in a secret location downtown" instead of coming to the office.
Lee remains vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, but there is speculation that he will keep a low profile for the time being. "Lee is healthy, but he will need to take some time to recharge because of his yearlong incarceration," another executive said. "He'll take good care of himself for the time being, instead of instantly returning to work."
Executives admitted that nothing much will change.
"Professional managers are operating each of the business divisions," one said. "Lee seems determined to leave the company's day-to-day management to them and let the Board of Directors make important decisions."
Rattled by the latest in a long line of corruption scandals and the jail sentence Lee was given at first instance, Samsung is going to appoint a new crop of independent outside directors this month. Lee himself is expected to concentrate on finding new growth engines, including making massive investments and M&A deals.
Samsung poured W43.4 trillion into facilities last year, most decided before Lee was jailed. Only a small part of new investments were made without him, though he was not held incommunicado and could have had any input he liked. But his physical absence still seems to have weighed on the minds of underlings.
Lee is not expected to attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang on Friday since he is a convicted criminal on probation, even though Samsung is an official sponsor and Lee's father Lee Kun-hee had a big role on national sports bodies before he fell into a coma in 2014.
The next big event he could show up at is the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona late this month.