Samsung Electronics said Tuesday it was considering splitting the company into two as it faces growing pressure to overhaul its governance during a crucial power transfer in top management.
The announcement came as the South Korean electronics giant is seeking to ensure a smooth succession to Lee Jae-Yong, the firm’s vice chairman and scion of the parent Samsung group’s founding Lee family.
It is also struggling to contain the fallout from a global recall of its Galaxy Note 7 smartphone caused by exploding batteries as well as a snowballing political scandal in South Korea.
The firm said in a statement it would consider breaking into a holding firm and a producing and operating unit, and would take at least six months to study the option.
It also said it would increase its dividend payout to shareholders to more than 4 trillion won ($3.4 billion) this year, up more than 30 percent from a year ago.
Other options on the table include plans to nominate at least one new independent board member with “global corporate experience” for approval at an annual shareholders’ meeting next March.
The plans suggest the firm is listening to calls for change after US hedge fund Elliott Management last month urged it to divide into a listed holding and operating firms to streamline a byzantine ownership structure.
The US firm also called for an increase in share dividends, the addition of new independent board members and a listing in New York.
“We view the plan outlined by Samsung to be a constructive initial step,” two Elliott units, Blake Capital and Potter Capital, said in a statement Tuesday.
“We anticipate more meaningful changes following the company’s corporate structure review. We look forward to working with Samsung.”
The Lee family controls the vast Samsung group — South Korea’s top business group — through a web of complicated cross-shareholdings among its units including the flagship Samsung Electronics.
“Samsung addressed a strong determination to overhaul its governance structure,” said Lee Sang-Hun, analyst at Hi Investment & Securities.
The latest announcement implies that the firm will eventually split to set up a holding company “in May or June next year”, he added.
However, he warned that the growing political scandal surrounding President Park Geun-Hye that has engulfed the company could delay the overhaul.
– Link to embattled president –
Park and her confidant, Choi Soon-Sil, are accused of coercing the major firms into donating tens of millions of dollars to nonprofit foundations Choi used as her personal ATMs.
Samsung made the biggest contribution of 20 billion won and is accused of separately offering millions of euros to Choi to bankroll her daughter’s equestrian training in Germany.
The scandal saw the Samsung group’s headquarters raided by authorities multiple times and several top managers including Lee Jae-Yong summoned to answer prosecutors’ questions.
Investigators have widened the probe to look into whether Samsung had lobbied officials at Seoul’s pension fund to garner support for its push for a controversial merger deal last year.
The merger of Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries — seen as a crucial step for the power transfer to Lee — was heavily criticised by many who said it willfully undervalued Samsung C&T.
Elliot, which then controlled 0.62 percent of Samsung, rallied opposition to the deal, which eventually went through after the pension fund — a major shareholder — sided with it.