Can Samsung Mobile’s new president turn around a stalled juggernaut?

1 Dec 2015

Former Samsung Mobile president JK Shin at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona earlier this year

Samsung has replaced JK Shin as president of its ailing mobile division with a new president Koh Dong Jin. The big question is can the new president reverse Samsung’s dwindling sales?

Let’s face it, Korean tech giant Samsung has always made superbly crafted phones, but for too long its dogfight with iPhone maker Apple distracted it from its most realistic threat: other Android phone makers in Asia.

The Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge represented to many the pinnacle of Samsung’s technological excellence in the fight against Apple, with it having a better camera sensor than the iPhone 6 for one thing, but the reality is Samsung was unable to triage a gaping wound in its sales, in Asia, in particular. Lower-cost rivals like ZTE, Xiaomi, OnePlus and Huawei are on a mission to become household names worldwide and have the capacity to produce high-end but lower-priced devices than Samsung’s premium products.

In just two years, Xiaomi and Huawei have eaten Samsung’s lunch while Apple’s steely grip on consumers’ hearts and minds has only grown stronger – and more profitable.

Musical chairs at Samsung

So what is Samsung to do? Well, it has replaced JK Shin with a chap called Koh Dong Jin who will take over day-to-day control of operations at Samsung Mobile.

Shin will stay on as head of mobile, where he will focus on long-term strategy and potential growth opportunities.

So who is Koh Dong Jin? Koh previously helmed the development of popular devices like the Galaxy S6 and the Note 5 as head of Samsung Electronics’ R&D group. He also worked on Samsung Pay and Samsung’s security group Knox.

This suggests a keen grasp of technology and wider industry trends. But it isn’t easy to turn around a battleship like Samsung in the face of never-ending threats from nimble and ambitious young rivals in China. It will require operational genius.

The shake-up is part of a wider management revamp being spearheaded by Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman of Samsung Group, who has started to take on more responsibilities after his father Lee Kun-hee, Samsung chairman, suffered a heart attack.

But Samsung has other tricks up its sleeve. It has begun programmes to better foster engineering talent within its ranks and has been steadily acquiring internet of things companies like Smart Things to develop an ecosystem for the digital home.

And there are signs of hope for Samsung. In its recent third quarter results, it reported that revenues were hurt by price cuts for its Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge devices, as well as furious competition at the lower end of the smartphone market.

However, Samsung also reported a “significant increase” in smartphone shipments in its recent third quarter results.

Let’s see if Samsung Mobile’s new president can turn things around.

Samsung Mobile image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years