Ahn Cheol-soo

Chief executive officer and president, AhnLab

Nationality: South Korean.

Born: February 26, 1962, in Busan, South Korea.

Education: Seoul National University, College of Medicine, BS, 1986; Seoul National University, College of Medicine, PhD, 1991; The Penn Engineering and Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, MS, Executive Master of Technology Management (EMTM), 1997; Strategy and Entrepreneurship in Information Technology (SEIT) program, Stanford University, 2000.

Family: Son of Youngmo Ahn (medical doctor) and Guinam Park; married Mikyung Kim (medical doctor), children: one.

Career: Seoul National University College of Medicine, 1986–1989, research assistant; Dankook University, 1989–1991, lecturer at College of Medicine and head of premedical course; Army of the Republic of Korea, 1991–1994, medical officer; AhnLab, 1995–, CEO and president; IA Security, 2000–2003, CEO and president.

Awards: 50 e-Leaders in Digital Society, Digital Times , 2001; 30 Asia Leaders for 21st Century, SAPIO , 2001; Top 3 CEOs of Korea and Top Digital CEO of Korea, Economist Weekly , 2002; 25 Stars of Asia, BusinessWeek , 2002; 18 Korean Representatives of Next-Generation Asian Leaders, World Economy Forum , 2002; 10 Best CEOs, CEO Monthly , 2002; Grand Prize for Transparency Management in the 1st Korea Ethical Management Grand Prix, Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Energy of New Industry Management Academy, 2003.

Publications: Virus Analysis and Vaccine Writing, 1995; Virus Preventing And Cure, 1997; Learning Korean Windows '98 With Charles Ahn, 1998; Ceo Charles Ahn: Business With Principles, 2001.

Address: AhnLab, Inc., 6th Floor, CCMM Building, 12 Yeouido-dong, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul 150-869, South Korea; http://www.ahnlab.com.

■ Ahn Cheol-soo (Charles), born in 1962, was part of a new generation of South Korean entrepreneurs, making his fortune with intellectual capital rather than in traditional industry. He was educated in medical science and headed toward a career in medical research when his avocational interest in writing software programs to combat computer viruses took center stage in his life. By mid-2004 his company AhnLab had captured nearly two-thirds of the South Korean virus-protection market and had also expanded into Japan and China. Ahn believed that companies needed to earn profits but also contribute to society along the way. Upbeat and unpretentious, he grounded his company in core values based on selfimprovement, trust in and respect for employees, and attention to customers.


Ahn Cheol-soo was the son of a physician and destined for a promising career in medical research. He attended South Korea's leading educational institution, Seoul National University, earning both a BS and a PhD from the College of Medicine. He wrote a doctoral dissertation on cardiac electrophysiology.

Initially Ahn's interest in computers was simply a hobby; he was self-taught in computer technology. He was aware of computer viruses and the need for software security but did not develop an interest in the field until his own software became infected in 1988. He quickly understood the need to reverse-engineer computer viruses in order to neutralize them.

After his graduation Ahn began his professional career along predictable lines—as a lecturer in the College of Medicine at Seoul's Dankook University. From 1991 to 1994 he served as a medical officer in the Army of the Republic of Korea in order to complete the military service compulsory for all South Korean men.


Upon leaving military service at the beginning of 1995 Ahn founded AhnLab, Inc. with the modest seed-capital fund of $64,000, half of which was provided by Hangul & Computer Company, the country's largest software developer. The firm's mission was to provide a complete, integrated client-security solution, offering virus-protection software, online-security application service provider (ASP) service, and security consulting. His core program, the V3 Antivirus Solution, captured nearly two-thirds of the South Korean antivirus market and had the highest profit margin in the field. The program enjoyed strong customer loyalty, garnered many local awards, and was widely used for industry benchmarking studies.

Ahn's story reflected South Korea's evolution as a softwaredeveloping nation with the appropriate protections for the intellectual property of its technological innovators. The government enacted laws against copyright piracy in 1988, but enforcement was slow, and many users expected to pay only for hardware. Piracy of software was commonplace, and a legitimate local industry did not exist.

Attitudes and enforcement both evolved. By mid-2004 Ahn's virus-protection software successfully dealt with the two-hundred-odd known "native" Korean viruses. Ahn himself wrote several volumes on virus protection and software security. His corporate customers included almost all of Korea's major chaebol , or industry giants, and the Blue House or executive branch of the government.


Conscious of his lack of formal education in management, Ahn enrolled in an extended course of study in business. He commuted monthly to the Penn Engineering and Wharton School's Executive Master of Technology Management (EMTM) program from Seoul, staying in touch with associates and employees through the Internet and completing the program in 1997. He then went on to complete the Strategy and Entrepreneurship in Information Technology (SEIT) program at Stanford Business School in 2000, again commuting from Seoul and running his company online.

The year 2003 was prolific for Ahn. In April he was granted a patent for his system for client-computer analysis. Later in the year he filed various other patent applications, including one for a method to prevent stealth key inputs and one for a network-status display device. He had patents pending for a number of other methods, such as for detecting malicious scripts using either code insertion or static analysis, for detecting malicious behavior patterns by monitoring control flow and data flow, and for analyzing and decoding malicious encoded scripts.


Ahn believed that the meaning of existence lay in making contributions to society and indeed framed his management philosophy in spiritual terms. He believed that continuous improvement should begin with the self and expand outward, that managing the development of employees and the company's affairs should be done with respect and trust, and that the voice of the customer and the company's commitment to its customers were essential. Ahn wanted his firm to endure and defined its core values around those principles.

He was able to do this partly because, as a member of the generation of entrepreneurs coming of age in the 1990s, he benefited from the First World infrastructure built by the older generation, under the auspices of a handful of chaebol . During the two decades of rapid industrialization, from the 1960s through the 1980s, the very acts of building roads and bridges contributed to the common good. With a venture emerging from intellectual capital, he embedded his values in the daily work of creative development.


Ahn was profiled in numerous publications and granted many awards within a relatively short period of time. In the mid-2000s, established in the domestic market, he had already expanded into overseas markets, most notably in neighboring China and Japan. Ahn himself was well regarded in the industry—a significant fact in the relationship-driven Korean business community; financial analysts cited Ahn's positive image as a factor in favorable assessments of AhnLab securities. Joel Adler, the Associate Director of the Wharton School's EMTM program, described Ahn's intellectual agility in the Far Eastern Economic Review , saying that he could "jump from one scientific paradigm to another" with ease (May 30, 1996).

Ahn held numerous positions of leadership in the domestic software industry: he was chairman of the Software Venture Association and the Korea Information Security Industry Association, director of the Korea Information Processing Society and the Korea Institute of Information Security & Cryptology, and counselor to the Policy Development and Research and Development Divisions of the government, the Korea IT Industry Promotion Agency, and the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute.

In 2000 Ahn made good on his philosophy of giving back to society by donating three-year licensed V3Pro 2000 Deluxe virus-protection software to a number of nongovernment organizations, including Green Korea United, the Korean Federation for Environment Movement, the Korean Confederation of Trade Union, and the National Farmer's Federation.

sources for further information

"The AhnLab Web Site," http://www.ahnlab.com , June 2004, http://info.ahnlab.com/english/ahnlab/02_1.html .

Holloway, Nigel, "ENTREPRENEURS—Disk Doctor: Korean Medic's Business Is Curing Computer Viruses," Far Eastern Economic Review , vol. 159, no. 22, p. 53, http://www.feer.com/articles/archive/1996/9605_30/P058.html , May 30, 1006.

Kim Jung Min, "A Feeling of Security," Far Eastern Economic Review , http://www.feer.com/articles/2001/0111_08/p057money.html , November 8, 2001.

—Carole S. Moussalli

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