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PANAMA - Telecoms & IT

Sang Jik Lee (Zezinho)

President, Samsung Central America and the Caribbean

Bio

Sang Jik Lee, known as Zezinho, joined Samsung in 1996 and rose through the ranks, building leadership skills and business insight. He served as President of Samsung Electronics Venezuela in 2009, making Samsung the leading brand there. In 2015, he became President of Samsung Electronics Argentina, overseeing market growth in Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. In 2020, he took on the role of President of Samsung Electronics Mexico, excelling in mobile, screens, 5G networks, IoT, and AI. Now, as President of Samsung Central America and the Caribbean, Zezinho is focused on innovation, e-commerce, expanding into new sectors, and driving comprehensive growth. He holds degrees in Literature and Business Administration from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul.

"When we talk to the Ministry of Education and the government, we can see how focused they are about the digitalization of the country."
TBY talks to Sang Jik Lee (Zezinho), President of Samsung Central America and the Caribbean, about the company’s operations in Panama, global production, and societal and educational outreach.
How has Samsung’s Panama journey influenced its global growth and adaptation?

Our first export out of South Korea in 1971 was to Panama where we exported 500 black-and-white TVs. The first offices that we opened outside of Korea were in Panama as well, in 1978. Our growth in Panama was possible because of the country’s location as a logistics hub. We have grown with the country, though it has not always been easy. The pandemic brought logistical problems in the supply chain; we continue to work on new technology, launch new products, and take care of consumers with better post-sales service. In the past, countries such as South Korea and the US had the best internet services, unlike Central America. However, during the pandemic, these services became a necessity due to people working from home or having online classes and education delivered via video calls. This accelerated the need for an overhaul of the infrastructure. As a result, our B2B sales grew significantly. Panama is an interesting market. It is a major regional and even global transport hub; yet there were certain challenges within Panama. After the pandemic, however, things have started to change for the better.

How does Samsung adapt to Panama’s changing focus on technology?

When we talk to the Ministry of Education and the government, we can see how focused they are about the digitalization of the country. A new subway to connect other cities is being built. Panama is reaching out to other countries to work together on the supply chain. Panama’s government has changed significantly. Before, it was all about being a logistics hub; however, it is now working on becoming a technology and energy hub. Our focus is on innovation, providing innovative products, and great communication with our collaborators and partners. We want to focus on improving our post-sales service. A company cannot retain its leadership position if one element is missing. We need to work on all elements. One key aspect we prioritize is creating a seamlessly connected lifestyle for the people of Panama. In this endeavor, Samsung stands out as the sole provider of a comprehensive and open Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem. Through Smart Things, we offer a central hub that integrates over 150 brands of smart devices, in addition to our own products. By connecting your household appliances, you gain the opportunity to enhance efficiency, not just in terms of productivity—where multiple tasks can be managed with a single command, affording you more free time to pursue your passions—but also in the realm of energy conservation. Smart Things can intelligently adjust settings on various devices to align with your consumption goals, resulting in significant cost savings.

Can you elaborate on Samsung’s global production network and the countries where different product lines are manufactured?

We have factories in many countries depending on the product. Phones are produced in South Korea, Vietnam, and India as well as some production in Argentina and Brazil. With our partners, we also have factories in Turkey, Argentina, and Indonesia. TVs are produced in Mexico, Korea, Vietnam, and Brazil, while assembly is done in Ecuador and Egypt. We have products in many countries. Our white-line factories are in Mexico, the US, Vietnam, and Malaysia. During 2023, we have launched many products in Panama. In February, we launched the S23. Then, we have a Bespoke home line with fridges, washing machines, dishwashers, and microwaves, with different designs. Bespoke means “designed by you.” We also have 77 & 98-inch TVs and a micro-LD TV with advanced technology that is as expensive as a car. And our most recent launch is Foldables with the 5th generation of Galaxy Z Series.

How does Samsung’s education support align with Panama’s semiconductor ambitions?

For the 10th year now, we have been working on a project for secondary schools in Panama where they solve problems as a community, with their own ideas. In 2023, we have more than 8,000 students participating, including 11 countries in Central America and the Caribbean. We also have the second edition of the Samsung Innovation Campus for university students. Samsung is working to encourage programming and provide courses and certifications for free. Students need to learn about coding and programming, and we want to support Panama with this program. When the two Koreas were at war, everything was destroyed, and there was nothing left. Korea was the poorest country in the world. The one thing that never stopped was school and education. Now, the educational level in Korea is the highest in the world, with more than 70% of people being university graduates. We know education is the key to change. Samsung used to have many social responsibility activities, but we subsequently decided to only focus on education. Panama’s government has an agreement with the US about microchips and semiconductors, and Panama wants to develop that and enter the supply chain. Samsung is a major company in the semiconductors industry, so we would like to work on this with the government. However, this requires a high amount of trained people and experts. There are now students studying this, but it will take time, which is why we have to think about other ways to support this.

Can you provide concrete examples of Samsung’s collaborations with other companies and institutions in Panama to create a positive societal impact?

Samsung has established strong partnerships with various companies and institutions in Panama with the aim of creating a positive impact on society. Our collaborators engage in volunteer activities, such as visiting schools in communities and making significant improvements to learning spaces, demonstrating our commitment to community well-being. Samsung has also partnered in the past with “Panama Fashion Week” to merge fashion and technology, providing attendees with a unique five-day event full of fun and creativity, where technological innovation and design come together in surprising ways. To keep local media and consumers informed about our latest products and innovations, Samsung has a “Samsung Newsroom Latinoamérica,” solidifying our commitment to transparency and effective communication.

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