Samsung innovation chief: Israel key to remaining at tech's cutting edge

First chief innovation officer of South Korean tech giant Samsung Electronics and president of Samsung NEXT, David Eun, understands innovation like nobody else.

Samsung Electronics chief innovation officer and Samsung NEXT president David Eun (photo credit: SAMSUNG NEXT)
Samsung Electronics chief innovation officer and Samsung NEXT president David Eun
(photo credit: SAMSUNG NEXT)
For the world’s largest corporations, the very foundations of their initial success can also prove to be their downfall. As discovered by the likes of Xerox, Nokia and Blockbuster in recent years, over-reliance on past accomplishments and refraining from embracing change can lead to failure.
When it comes to the challenge of driving innovation, few understand the scale of the task better than David Eun, the first chief innovation officer of South Korean tech giant Samsung Electronics and president of Samsung NEXT.
The company employs some 350,000 workers around the world, tops the global smartphone market, and sells an estimated two televisions every second of every day.
Eun is tasked with driving future growth opportunities for the electronics giant and identifying innovative solutions through its innovation arm Samsung NEXT, no matter where they might be found in the world. The multi-faceted global innovation group is responsible for in-house development of technologies, mergers and acquisitions, investments and strategic partnerships.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post while visiting Tel Aviv this week, Eun said Israel and its start-up scene have been prioritized in his efforts to funnel innovation into the company. Eager to gain access to Israeli technology, Samsung NEXT has made 15 investments in the country to date.
“The Israel hi-tech ecosystem has evolved and grown so much that there are absolutely cutting-edge things here,” said Eun on a visit to Samsung NEXT's Tel Aviv hub. “There’s thought-leadership in different tech spaces, and there are many Israeli start-ups leading the pack. Israel is one of the top priorities for us in terms of our investment and engagement.”
Playing an active role in the Israeli hi-tech ecosystem has been a priority for Samsung NEXT since it established a permanent presence in Tel Aviv in September 2016. All aspects of its innovation strategy are active in Israel, and the company regularly hosts events at its Sarona headquarters for local entrepreneurs.
“We’re doing it because we believe it’s the right thing to do as members of the community,” Eun said. “In a self-serving way, the more we invest and help people become stronger and more informed, then ultimately that’s good for all of us. I absolutely subscribe to the theory that all boats rise with the tide. It is great if we can help contribute to that.”
For Israeli entrepreneurs aspiring to scale up, Samsung’s deep interest in local innovation offers a potentially lucrative route to global success. In fact, the first acquisition Eun led as a Samsung executive was Tel Aviv-based media streaming start-up Boxee for a reported $30 million in July 2013.
With many promising Israeli start-ups aspiring to penetrate the American market in particular, Eun says Samsung can offer the necessary commercial experience and expertise that will provide global relevance and distribution.
“There are things in Israel that are particularly interesting,” said Eun. “Newer areas include how artificial intelligence is now integrating into different verticals like healthcare. You’re seeing some very interesting combinations.”
For Samsung, remaining at the cutting-edge of technology has also meant combining its traditional hardware prowess with software innovation. In a process that Eun calls “thoughtful integration,” both hardware and software companies are required to smartly cross the divide and match evolving consumer behavior.
“Consumers don’t want to know about hardware and software,” Eun said. “Those our are issues. They just want great experiences.”
While ensuring that the company fulfills the demands of potential customers today and tomorrow by embracing innovative technologies, Eun is also determined to be one step ahead of the competition when it comes to changes further down the road.
One of the major challenges he forecasts for consumer-facing companies including Samsung is the emergence of innovative business models – a major shift from one-time transaction models to access-based, often subscription, models.
“There’s an investment we made in a European start-up where you can effectively subscriptionize access to any number of products, and electronics is a big chunk of it,” said Eun. “Imagine a world where instead of buying the table in your home, you would pay a monthly fee to subscribe to it.”
Eun also identifies a significant shift in consumer behavior, which he calls “experiences over things.” Especially among younger consumers, there’s a desire for authentic social interactions, which leave longer-lasting shared memories than the fleeting happiness of purchasing an item.
“If you’re a company that sells premium things, that has huge implications,” Eun told the Post. “It doesn’t mean that people won’t purchase things, but those things have to enable another end.”
Much of the Samsung executive’s fondness for Israel, he says, emanates from his perception of clear parallels between South Korea – both the home of Samsung and his parents’ place of birth – and Israel.
Similarities include the small size of the countries, thousands of years of documented history, direct but loyal business cultures, and lack of natural resources.
“It is through dint of brains and elbow grease that the countries have become a success and punch way above their weight,” said Eun, expressing his desire to visit Israel more than once per year. “In Korean and Jewish cultures, education is not just a means to an end but is itself a virtue – to study and to know. At top universities, there are disproportionate amounts of Asian and Jewish students. It’s a cultural reflection of what’s important and what the communities invest in. That’s why Korea and Israel might not be big countries, but they are respected on a global stage.”