Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Crisis Signals Problems at Korea Inc.
SEOUL, South Korea — Before a world audience watching online, Samsung on Monday offered details and schematics showing how its Galaxy Note 7 smartphone went from cutting-edge technology to a costly, combustible failure.
韩国首尔——周一，三星公司(Samsung)当着世界各地网络观众的面提供的细节和简图，展示了其盖乐世Note 7智能手机(Galaxy Note 7)如何从一个尖端科技产品演变成一场代价高昂、易于产生“火爆”效果的事故。
But for many of the company’s critics, the most interesting part of the presentation was what Samsung did not say: How could such a technologically advanced titan — a symbol of South Korea’s considerable industrial might — allow the problems to happen to begin with?
The answer to that question gets to deep shortfalls that former employees, suppliers and others who watch the company say may have contributed to the incident. Samsung, like South Korea as a whole, fosters a top-down, hidebound culture that stifles innovation and buries festering problems, they say.
For those critics, these problems have come to light through another front: politics. Samsung has been caught up in a scandal surrounding the country’s president, which they say illustrates a hierarchical culture that tends to micromanage away creativity and insulate family-run business empires from accountability and competition.
“The Korean economy as a whole has reached a kind of limit,” said Park Sang-in, a Seoul National University economics professor who thinks that the cozy relationship between the government and business is stifling innovation in South Korea.
“韩国经济整体而言已经到遇到了某种瓶颈，”首尔大学(Seoul National University)经济学教授朴相仁 (Park Sang-in)说。他认为韩国政府和企业之间的亲密关系正在扼杀创新。
Mr. Park pointed to a decision by a South Korean court last week to block the arrest of Jay Y. Lee, Samsung’s de facto leader, after a prosecutor sought a warrant accusing Mr. Lee of bribery in relation to the presidential scandal. A string of major South Korean executives, including Mr. Lee’s own father, have been pardoned or had sentences suspended after being convicted of wrongdoing over the past decade.
朴相仁提到了韩国一个法庭上周做出的拒绝批捕三星实际掌门人李在镕(Jay Y. Lee)的决定，一名检察官此前指控李在镕卷入了与总统有关的丑闻、涉嫌行贿，并申请了逮捕令。在过去十年中被控不端行为之后，韩国的多名大企业高管，其中包括李在镕的父亲，已经受到特赦或被判缓刑。
Samsung has said Mr. Lee did nothing illegal. But corporate executives in recent years have said Mr. Lee has been working to loosen up a top-down corporate culture. Under him, Samsung began a campaign to root out harsh and often violent language supervisors used with their staff, a practice common in the South Korean corporate world. Samsung officials described Mr. Lee as a polite, casual leader who encouraged employees to use English more widely in internal communications.
Though Samsung did not address its corporate culture directly in its discussion of the Note 7, it apologized and detailed new steps it would take to stop future problems, including naming a board of battery advisers.
“To produce an innovative Galaxy Note 7, we set the goals on battery specifications,” D. J. Koh, Samsung’s mobile chief, said on Monday. “We now feel a painful responsibility for failing to test and confirm that there were problems in the design and manufacturing of batteries before we put the product out to the market.”
“为了生产具有创新性的盖乐世Note 7，我们就电池的规格设定了目标，”三星移动通信业务总裁高东真(D. J. Koh)周一表示。“产品上市前，我们没能就电池设计和生产方面的问题进行测试和证实，我们现在深感痛心地意识到自己对此负有责任。”
Over the past decade Samsung and South Korea have been widely viewed as a model of forward-thinking, technological prowess. In Asia it was viewed as the exception to the sluggish economic growth of nearby Taiwan and Japan, whose once world-beating electronic makers have been in decline.
So large and influential is Samsung that some worried South Koreans call their own country the “Republic of Samsung.” The company is responsible for 20 percent of South Korean exports, and any blow to its success often raises anxiety about the overall health of the country’s economic prospects.
But as with the rest of the country, a shake-up has been slow to come. In recent years the company has run initiatives to push back against what is widely described as a rigid, top-down management system. Samsung engineers and midlevel managers are seldom allowed to second-guess management goals set by top bosses, former employees say.
Pressures rose after Mr. Lee’s father, Lee Kun-hee, its chairman, suffered a stroke in 2014 and fell into a coma. One engineer in the United States who works with Samsung suppliers on projects, including the Note 7, said Samsung’s no-questions-asked corporate culture had grown more inflexible in recent years.
李在镕的父亲李健熙(Lee Kun-hee)是三星公司的董事长，2014年，他身患中风陷入昏迷，之后压力开始上升。一位与三星供应商进行项目合作（包括Note 7）的美国工程师表示，三星这种绝不表达质疑的企业文化近年来变得愈发僵化。
“In the Samsung culture, managers constantly feel pressured to prove themselves with short-term achievements,” said Kim Jin-baek, who worked at Samsung until 2010 before becoming a professor at the business school of Chung-Ang University in Seoul. “Executives fret that they may not be able to meet the goals and lose their jobs, even when they know the goals are excessive.”
With the Note 7, Samsung pushed its business model, as well as its technology, to the limit, according to Samsung officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity while the Note 7 investigation was being completed. Driven by the desire to prove it was more than a fast follower of Apple, Samsung rushed the Note 7 to market ahead of Apple’s iPhone 7. To fend off Chinese competitors like Huawei and Xiaomi, it packed the phone with new features, like waterproof technology and iris-scanning for added security.
根据多位三星管理人员的说法，在Note 7这款机型中，三星公司已经把自己的商业模式和技术推到极限，因为Note 7的调查尚处于尾声，所以他们不愿透露姓名。由于希望证明自己不仅仅是苹果的快速效仿者，三星在苹果推出iPhone 7之前仓促将Note 7推向市场。为了击败华为和小米等中国竞争对手，它在这款手机上集成了众多新功能，诸如防水技术和用于增加安全性的虹膜扫描技术。
Samsung’s insistence on speed and internal pressures to outdo rivals in part signal a breakdown in the ability to truly innovate and push out new ideas, critics say. In place of big new ideas, Samsung focused on maxing out the capability of components like the battery. That philosophy, which worked to keep Samsung on the heels of the likes of Apple, simply is not as effective as Samsung tries to push ahead, they argue.
A similar strain can be felt in other parts of South Korea’s economy. Even the symbols held up as signs of the country’s forward thinking, like speedy internet and eye-popping creative mobile apps, come in part from the support of the government. While that has helped create new companies, workers in the tech industry argue that approach also ensures start-ups do not challenge the country’s biggest companies.
“The government is trying to pick the next Steve Jobs,” said Mr. Park, the Seoul National University professor. “You cannot pick the next Steve Jobs. You need to allow somebody to achieve that.”