Yesterday morning at Lincoln Center in New York (and simulcast in London), Samsung* launched its new flagship device, the Galaxy S8 and 8+, at its unveiling event, “Unpacked.” There are several unique aspects of the smartphone, including its Infinity Display that magically allows its content to spill over the edges of the device, and DeX for a desktop experience.
The story of the day for me was the bravura performance by DJ Koh, President of Samsung’s Mobile division. Mr. Koh has been the public face of the company throughout a challenging six months since the Note7’s initial recall and subsequent withdrawal from the market. He has consistently been direct and honest. He has established specific parameters for accountability; most significant is the use of an outside consultant to corroborate the findings of the company’s own engineers on the cause of the Note7’s problems. He has traveled regularly to key markets to brief Samsung influencers, deeply loyal to the brand and wanting it to succeed.
Yesterday, Mr. Koh was the first speaker. After a spectacular unveiling of the product in an “Unbox Your Phone” video, he took a well-deserved round of applause, then moved into substance. He talked about the Samsung Galaxy S8 as the gateway to promising services such as Samsung Pay and the connector to immersive technology via the new Gear 360 camera. He thanked the partners, from retailers to consumers, who have stayed with the company through these trying months. He made clear that the top priority of the company was the safety of its products, quality, and craftsmanship.
I was most struck by his demeanor. He was humble and straightforward, using facts instead of adjectives. He was emotional and empathetic, as if he were the owner of a small business that had survived a challenging time. And he made it about his colleagues: the engineers in Korea who worked tirelessly to build this new model that would overcome any residual concerns; his marketers who came up with the brilliant line, #DoWhatYouCant; and the top management of his U.S. operation who were entrusted with the introduction of specific features like multi-frame photo processing.
One of my favorite history books was written by President John F. Kennedy. Titled Profiles in Courage, it tells the stories of brave legislators such as John Quincy Adams, who was one of the first public opponents of slavery. Kennedy wrote, “In whatever arena of life one may meet the challenge of courage, whatever may be the sacrifices he faces if he follows his conscience…each man must decide for himself the course he will follow. The stories of past courage can define that ingredient…they can teach, they can offer hope, they can provide inspiration. But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul.” Mr. Koh, yesterday you set an example for all business leaders, who should learn to lead from the front in a way that others will want to follow.
Richard Edelman is president and CEO.