By Kim Rahn
Ahn Cheol-soo, 49, a soft-spoken Seoul National University (SNU) professor, has gained popularity from a range of generations thanks to his upright personality, social entrepreneurship and attitude of taking on challenges.
Many youngsters want to have him as their mentor, saying he is a person with a sense of morality, modest attitude, entrepreneurship and responsibility for public interest. Recent public polls showed that the medical doctor-turned-computer expert could beat any candidates if he joins the Seoul mayoral race.
As he has stressed in countless lectures and in books, Ahn has lived a life of accepting challenges, refusing to remain satisfied with the status quo.
Ahn graduated from SNU’s medical college and obtained his master’s and doctor’s degrees at the same school. He became the youngest chief of professors at Dankook University medical college at the age of 27, and remained a medical doctor for 14 years.
During graduate school, Ahn became interested in computer programming. In 1988, he learned about computer viruses and made an anti-virus program named V1, abbreviating “vaccine” — the first invention of such kind in Korea.
Ahn kept upgrading versions of the vaccine called V2 and V3, and provided them to users for free.
Working as a doctor in the daytime and making vaccines alone at night for seven years, Ahn quit as a doctor and set up AhnLab in 1995 to focus on the latter. Even after establishing the company, he kept offering the vaccines for free to individuals, only receiving money from corporate clients. Despite such business strategy, AhnLab became only the second software company in Korea to make more than 10 billion won in annual sales in 1999.
In 2005, he resigned from the CEO post and took an MBA course at Pennsylvania University’s Wharton School. His wife, who was also a doctor, studied law in the U.S. as well.
After completing his studies in 2008, he taught management at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. Since June this year, he has been dean of SNU Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology.
Besides his unusual career, his upright personality has been known to the public through “Youth Concert,” a conversation-style lecture he and celebrity economic critic Park Gyeong-cheol have given to the public on social affairs for free since 2009. More than 1,500 people attend every time.
This year, 27 concerts were planned across the nation, with the last one scheduled this Friday. Participants, mainly in their 20s and 30s, say on the concert’s online bulletin board that they liked Ahn’s advice on life and his unbiased, sharp opinions on social issues.
Wanting to take advantage of his popularity, policymakers and political parties have wooed him by suggesting various posts, such as Grand National Party’s Seoul mayor candidate in the 2006 election, communications minister during the Roh Moo-hyun administration, a Cheong Wa Dae secretary and lawmaker.
He said earlier, “I refused them all because I didn’t have confidence in myself to survive well in the political circle and I don’t enjoy exercising power. I want to contribute to the society in a practical way.”