Things may look bleak, but it has the luxury of the ultimate long-term mentality.
Sometimes companies, like people, just can’t catch a break. Samsung Electronics was just starting to get its groove back this summer when it suffered the body blow of launching a massive recall of its flagship smartphone. Adding insult to injury, Southwest Airlines evacuated a flight Wednesday when a phone its owner says was a replacement Galaxy Note 7 began smoking.
Now Samsung is under attack by the hedge fund Elliott Management. The New York firm wants Samsung to simplify its complicated ownership structure, arguing that doing so would attract more non-Korean investors and eliminate a discount that investors place on Samsung’s shares.
Elliott is an efficient activist. It went after Samsung last summer, waging a proxy battle to prevent a merger of two Samsung entities. Elliott ran a tireless campaign against Samsung out of its Hong Kong office, but it ultimately lost. Now it is back, this time purporting to be supportive of the founding Lee family, which effectively controls Samsung despite its low-single-digit ownership stake.
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I happened to be in Seoul reporting a profile on Jay Y. Lee, Samsung’s third-generation leader, when Elliott launched its blitz. Among Elliott’s past conquests is the government of Argentina, whose defaulted bonds Elliott turned into an international conflict. In Samsung, however, it met its match. Samsung is kind of like a country. Indeed, to equate it with South Korea, at least from a commercial perspective, isn’t a stretch.
Things may look bleak, but Samsung has the luxury of the ultimate long-term mentality. As an example, it has invested heavily in a making “biosimilar” drugs and stands to cash in soon with an IPO that might raise as much as $2 billion.
Don’t count Samsung out. And don’t expect it to cave easily to Elliott.