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Samsung promotes chairman's son and heir, Jay Lee

Samsung Electronics has promoted its expected heir of the conglomerate to the position of vice chairman, it has been revealed.

44-year-old Jay Lee is the son of company chairman Li Kun-hee, whose 25-year tenure has largely been praised for turning the company into a global powerhouse that now beats Apple in terms of smartphone sales.

Jay Lee, a Harvard Business School graduate, is already chief operating officer and president at the firm and many analysts believe the promotion is a precursor to him taking over his father's position in the near future.

"It is a stamp of approval from the chairman that the vice chairman has shown capability to manage Samsung. It's a major step forward [for Jay Lee to become] the future successor at Samsung," a Samsung executive familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Meanwhile, the company said in a statement that Lee would "continue to play a critical role in transforming Samsung's business model - the set [product] business into one based on a platform and the component business into a total solution provider".

Samsung Group was founded in 1938 by Lee Byung-chull, Jay Lee's grandfather, as a small trading company. Samsung Electronics is now estimated to be worth £121 billion. The firm sells more televisions, memory chips, flat screens and mobile telephones than any other company in the world. Its latest flagship smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy Note 2, has sold more than five million units since its launch just two months ago.

However, Samsung and other family-run conglomerates in South Korea, known as "chaebols", have come under fire in recent years for their dominance of Korea's economy - a country where the wealth gap is widening. Politicians have pledged 'economic democratisation' in a bid to rein in chaebols' growing economic power.