When I was 12, my family moved from beautiful Perth, Western Australia, to a council estate in Romford, Essex. I spent most of my teenage years plotting to get out again. No other kid there had the FT delivered every day. I think people thought I was a bit odd.
We’re the first generation who’ll work in tech all our lives. I got a Saturday job at Rumbelows when I was 14. By 21, I was the youngest area manager in the south-east. I knew what every button did. Now I have a lot of other responsibilities, so I can’t pretend to know it all.
You don’t have to hop around in this business, but I start to get worried if I find myself somewhere that’s second best. I’d been at Sony for 12 years, when it started to lose its shine, so I left for Samsung in 2005.
Ambition can be fast or it can be slow. Samsung has fast ambition. In my interviews, I was asked whether I could make it the number one brand in consumer electronics. I said yes, of course, but they really meant it.
In 2013, I became one of the first non-Korean presidents of a major subsidiary, after 30 years working for oriental firms. Eastern societies are Confucian – they’re hierarchical. You have to build your reputation and play the long game.
You’ve really got to live with tech products to make sure you don’t sink into looking at them like an engineer. I make a real nuisance of myself in our stores, barraging the merchandisers with questions. They see me coming now.
Everyone’s younger than me now. Most people at Samsung are in their 20s and 30s. They need me because I’ve seen it all before. We’re very keen on apprenticeships. I love having 20 year-olds around. You see them grow as individuals.
Samsung and Apple are very different. We talk to consumers and work very closely with Google, whose Android platform we use. Part of Samsung’s personality is wanting everyone to be involved, rather than just an elite.
We’ve seen the rise and fall of so many brands like Sony, Nokia and BlackBerry, partly because they weren’t looking over their shoulder. There are lots of innovative companies from China and elsewhere bringing something fresh and different. A healthy level of paranoia is important.