Go to contents

A tale of two venture enterpreneurs

Posted February. 19, 2013 00:14,   


A global venture entrepreneur has come home from across the Pacific. Kim Jong-hun, president of Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs, is a 1.5-generation Korean American and tapped to head the new Future Creation and Science Ministry. A successful venture entrepreneur and among the top 400 richest Americans, Kim has much in common with Ahn Cheol-soo, a former Korean IT guru who ran in the last presidential election.

Kim was born in Seoul in 1960 and Ahn in Busan in 1962. Ahn graduated from the medical school of Seoul National University and Kim majored in electrical engineering at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. Ahn started Ahn Lab, an information security company, in 1995, while Kim started Yurie Systems, which commercialized the technology of the military communications device ATM, naming his company after his oldest daughter’s first name. Kim was a professor at the University of Maryland and Ahn a chair professor at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and dean of the Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology at Seoul National. Kim donated more than 2 million U.S. dollars to the Korean studies program of Stanford University in 2004 and handed out 40 percent of his company’s shares to employees. Ahn distributed computer vaccines for free in the initial stage and gave shares to his staff after his company saw phenomenal success.

Though they have many similarities, they are different in their backgrounds and the size of their businesses. If Kim is a self-made man who immigrated to the U.S. in 1975 and studied in a poor Maryland neighborhood while working as a newspaper carrier and at a convenience store, Ahn was born to a wealthy family with a doctor for a father. Kim sold his company for 1 billion U.S. dollars in 1998, or 100 times the 100 million dollars offered by the world’s largest PC vaccine company for AhnLab in 1997. The market capitalization of AhnLab was 626.9 billion won (581 million dollars) based on the closing price Monday.

In the run-up to the April by-elections, rumor has it that Ahn will return home and run for office. Internet users have debated over and compared Kim and Ahn. Byun Hee-jae, head of Media Watch, posted on Twitter Saturday and Sunday, “I can’t eval‍uate Kim as a minister but given his track record in the private sector, he is a global leader who cannot be compared to Ahn.” In response, a Twitterian who supports a pro-Ahn group said, “This shows how desperately they want to follow the U.S.” Disenchantment with traditional politics turned Ahn into a presidential contender, and the failing Korean economy called in Kim as a relief pitcher. Hopefully, Kim will do his best in his capacity for his motherland.

Editorial Writer Park Yong (parky@donga.com)