I was in Seoul for the past three days. While there, I made my first pilgrimage to the Samsung Innovation Museum on Monday afternoon. It is located in Suwon, part of the massive Samsung Digital City complex, with about 40,000 engineers and researchers working on the next generation of products.
The first floor of the Museum is a true walk down memory lane. There are pictures of the first grocery store, opened by the Lee family in 1938. The first generation was involved in retailing then — the trading of dried fish. The electronics business began in 1969, with its first products in television, refrigerators and washing machines. In the 70s, the company diversified into semiconductors (with its first 64k chip in 1983), then entered telecommunications in the 80s. To watch Elvis Presley on a black and white TV was a blast from the past; so was the VCR and tape deck.
The most poignant photos in the museum were of a Samsung TV on sale in a Los Angeles store, dusty and ignored, at a price point far below competitors on the higher shelves closer to consumers. Apparently, Chairman Lee, seeing this on a store tour, called a company-wide meeting in Frankfurt. He delivered a stern edict, “Change everything at the company, except your wife and kids.” In short, Samsung was going to improve its products, raise its price point and market itself as a leader instead of a discount brand.
The second and third floors of the museum are a window into a future of technology that is exciting and alluring. The Internet of Things allows you to check into your hotel on the way from the airport via your mobile phone. You then bypass the reception desk and go straight to your room. The door opens with a key enabled by your cell phone. Or your phone enables you to assess what is in your refrigerator and remotely order orange juice and yogurt from a local retailer for delivery timed for your return from work. The 100-plus inch wide ultra hi-def curved television is simply stunning in its clarity and magnitude (I dream of watching my beloved Chicago Bears play in a Super Bowl on that screen one day). The medical devices include an ultrasound machine that shows, with great clarity, a fetus at three months, a vast improvement over the grainy black and white photo I saw of my youngest at that age just about twenty years ago.
The essence of this company is a never-ending desire for improvement and achievement. There is no cult of personality, no honoring of individual engineers or marketer. Truly at Samsung*, it is a team game, a global game and, yes, a family game, where the only expectation is to do your best every day to deliver amazing customer experiences. I can only hope to instill the same kind of self-effacing and decent culture at Edelman, where we serve our clients with all we have. I am honored, along with my Samsung team colleagues, to have worked on this business for the past twenty years; it is a great partnership.
This article originally appeared on 6A.M., Richard Edelman’s blog on trends in communications, issues, lessons and insights.