Samsung looking to acquire mobile companies (but not RIM)
Samsung Electronics Co. has long shunned outside help in favor of developing devices on its own.
But as the smartphone market rapidly shifts its emphasis from hardware to software, the Korean manufacturer is realizing it must change its insular corporate culture.
Samsung has begun aggressively hiring foreign software engineers, especially in India, to build up its software prowess and keep pace with the rapid rise of rival Apple Inc. and its popular iPhone.
The company is also embracing acquisitions, a turnabout in strategy for a company that has become a manufacturing juggernaut by developing its own hardware.
“The technology industry is growing very quickly and it is too much of a burden to try to do everything in-house,” said J.K. Shin, president of Samsung’s mobile business. “There are many qualified workers from India that are very skilled in software. And there are small companies that we can acquire that have good research and development capabilities.”
Mr. Shin, whose division accounted for three-quarters of the company’s $4.5 billion in profit in the first quarter, said Samsung is in talks with several software firms.
“If the opportunity allows, we will do M&As,” he said. “There is something in the works right now,” he said, declining to provide a name of the acquisition target.
He denied market rumors that Samsung would look to acquire Canada’s Research In Motion Ltd. that would give it access to RIM’s operating software used in smartphones for businesses.
Samsung overtook Nokia Corp. as the world’s biggest handset maker by shipments in the first quarter and is also the world’s biggest maker of semiconductors, flat screen TVs and smartphones.
But the rise of smartphones, in particular Apple’s iPhone, has made it clear that software will drive sales.
The emphasis on software took on new urgency over the past year after Google Inc., maker of the Android operating system prevalent in smartphones including many of Samsung’s, announced it is acquiring Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc.
Also last year, Nokia and Microsoft Corp. unveiled a partnership to jointly develop smartphones based on Microsoft’s Windows Phone software. Research In Motion is also coming out with a new operating system called BlackBerry 10.
While Samsung has been internally developing its own mobile software for many years, its platform called Bada has proven to be unpopular among consumers. Most of its smartphones now predominantly run on Android software.
Younghee Lee, senior vice president of sales and marketing, said Samsung will continue to work with Android because it is the most popular platform currently. However, the company’s strategy is to work with multiple software platforms, and to continue investing in Bada, she said.
“Samsung could benefit from some in-house software capability that would give it greater control of hardware, software and services but executing on that is becoming increasingly difficult on its own,” said Neil Mawston, executive director at market research firm Strategy Analytics.
Mr. Shin points to Samsung’s new top-of-the line smartphone, the Galaxy S III, which was unveiled Thursday, as an example of Samsung’s new emphasis on software. While the phone is based on Google’s Android operating system, Mr. Shin said Samsung engineers were able to write software for new features such as one that allows users to watch video clips while emailing on the same screen. The phone, which also has face-detection capabilities, follows users’ eye movements to keep the phone switched on.
Hiring foreign engineers is a sensitive topic in South Korea, where the big conglomerates are expected to provide jobs for the country’s workers. While unemployment is currently just 3%, the jobless rate for recent college graduates is about 8%.
To court foreign software engineers, Samsung is paying them more than they would make in their own countries, and people familiar with the situation say there are hundreds of Indians now working alongside local Korean employees at the headquarters of Samsung’s mobile business in Suwon.
The company has two big research and development centers in India, but aggressively hiring foreign workers in Korea is a change for the company. Samsung would not say how many foreign workers it has in Korea, but they are evident in a company lunchroom at its main campus for mobile devices.
“Software is where Samsung is weak,” said one engineer from Pakistan, who asked that he not be named. “Hardware doesn’t matter much nowadays so Samsung is placing more emphasis on software development and hiring from outside.”
The company now serves curry and Halal meat in its cafeteria, which had at least 50 Indian and Pakistani employees there on Friday.
“Samsung can’t get to the next level unless they create an environment that can foster creativity to flourish and that’s what Google does,” said the software engineer.