Even today, people talk about the "voluntary incineration" at Gumi. A drab factory town in south-central Korea, Gumi is home to one of Samsung's biggest plants. A decade ago, the company was best known for budget air conditioners and low-end TVs. Its leader, Kun-hee Lee, had grander ambitions, but when he sent out Samsung's new wireless phones as his 1995 New Year's gift, word came back that they didn't work. So that March he paid a visit to Gumi.
At Lee's command, the factory's 2,000 employees donned headbands labeled Quality First and assembled in a courtyard. There they found their entire inventory piled in a heap - cell phones, fax machines, nearly $50 million worth of equipment. A banner before them read Quality Is My Pride. Beneath it sat Lee and his board of directors. Ten workers took the products one by one, smashed them with hammers, and threw them into a bonfire. Before it was over, employees were weeping....