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Ahn Chul-su, No Doubt a Great Leader, but a Great Politician?"People tend to admire Ahn just as a great leader not as a politician"


 “Ahn Chul-su’s Idea” ranks at the top of sales charts in various bookstores and online bookstores.

“Who would you choose as a great role model for a leader?” asked a professor of a leadership class at Dongguk University. Not surprisingly, most who chose to answer said “Ahn Chul-su.” These days he easily gets the most support from young people in their twenties. Recently, “Ahn Chul-su’s Idea” which he published, ranks at the top of sales charts in various bookstores and online bookstores. The reason why his book is selling well is because he is receiving a lot of love and support from people in all parts of society. Moreover, people are interested in him because of his candidacy for the next presidential election has yet to be decided. There are people who want him to run for president because of his integrity and because he seems like an independent man with belief. On the other hand, there are people who do not want him to run for president. They say, “It is right that Ahn is a rising leader, but he is not fit for president” and “He is too clean to engage in politics.” Furthermore, there are some people who even doubt his leadership qualities. If he decides to run for presidency, how many people would support or oppose him and for what reasons? The Post has interviewed and surveyed several young people in their twenties to see what they think. 

First of all, Ahn Chul-su was born in February 26th, 1962 in Busan and he received an M.D. (Doctor of Medicine) from Seoul National University. His career began as a doctor who focused on curing human diseases, but he also worked hard on developing vaccines that could cure computer viruses. One of his remarkable achievements is that for the first 7 years, he supplied those vaccines to people for free. As time passed, he had to make a choice between his ‘personal success’ and the ‘contribution for the entire society.’ It could have been an adventure for an over 40-year-old doctor, but he decided to change his career from a doctor to a businessman. In 1995, he finally founded AhnLab Inc. and with his own management philosophy Ahn made his company the NO.1 Internet security enterprise in the nation. In terms of his management philosophy, he emphasized ‘honesty’ and ‘sincerity.’ One big difference between general CEOs and Ahn is their points of view for making profits. Most CEOs think making profits is the object of their companies but Ahn thinks it is a result from business activities. According to Ahn, he believes that if CEO makes honest and sincere decisions, eventually profits will come along. However, at the peak of his success he decided to resign and left for his further study in management. He obtained an MBA from the Wharton School of Business and is currently teaching students as Dean of the Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology in Seoul National University. His efforts to communicate and interact with the younger generation have continued with Ahn as he has been giving lectures in ‘talk concerts’ and writing books. Now there are many titles by which he could go by, a doctor, businessman and professor, but recently, most people call him a ‘national mentor.’ Moreover, he founded ‘Ahn Foundation’ last year and donated half of AhnLab’s stock that he possessed. 


Ahn has gained the trust of the people. This is why most people, especially the younger generations, like Ahn for his incorrupt personality and immense contribution to society. As you can see in the graph, 74% of students picked Ahn Chul-su as a leader who was most needed in our contemporary era. However, it is also true that not every person thinks he is a proper leader. This is because Ahn holds to a very different leadership style which could be termed ‘Servant Leadership.’ This is very different from many leaders of the past. A servant leadership focuses on giving priority attention to the needs of his followers by gaining trust. The characteristics of a servant leader assemble the management characteristics of Ahn. While traditional leaders are authoritative, servant leaders emphasize horizontal relationships. According to Ahn, he uses the honorific to all of his employees. When it comes to the quality of relationships, traditional leaders push thier followers on their own way but servant leaders ask followers for ideas and work with them. With this leadership, Ahn could have made AhnLab one of the best companies in Korea. 


  ▲ His Talk Concert in Daejeon and many people attended to hear his views on social problems.  
For his admirable ideas and successful work, people have been charmed by Ahn and this has lead to what members of society are calling ‘The Wind of Ahn.’ The wind began when Ahn appeared in a TV program called ‘Mu-ru-pak-do-sa.’ In that show, Ahn talked about his view of life, management philosophy, and things that are needed to make the world a better place. His words represented most people’s minds and people were moved and empathized with him. Kim Il-wan from Dongguk University said, “After watching the show, I fell in love with Ahn Chul-su. He is a good role model for the younger generation as a mentor and as a leader. I want to emulate him for devoting himself to his work and have that same kind of self belief. He also seems like really righteous and upright person. He can be a good example of a leader who is needed in our contemporary period.” Ahn gained popularity and power with the ‘The Wind of Ahn’ because it reached to every area of society. His fan clubs began to be formed and his lectures were filled with students and reporters who wanted to hear about his successful life story and experiences. His most recent lecture was held at Pusan National University and about 2800 people attended to hear his views on social problems. He also appeared in a TV show called ‘Healing Camp’ and thanks to Ahn, the ratings of the show recorded their highest point ever since the show first aired. Even the stock prices changed dramatically in accordance with his words. 

The power of Ahn-fever did not seem to end, and remarkably, ‘The Wind of Ahn’ blew into the political world. Ahn was not related to politics until the Seoul mayoral race in last October. His name began to show up in public opinion polls with the expectation of him being a new leader who could understand the people’s minds better and he was rated number one with overwhelming support from the people. In “Ahn Chul-su’s Idea,” he stated, “I have talked about the way our politics can be improved with my close friends. However, a few days later, one person in the media wrote an article of me running for election as if it was a fixed fact. At that time, I realized the disappointment that people felt from our current politics. I felt there were expectations placed on me that I could create a better society.”


Despite great attention from people, he decided not to plunge into the political world and yielded his position for another candidate in the Seoul mayoral race. However, his name is being raised up again recently due to the upcoming presidential election. Until now, Ahn has not mentioned anything about running for the presidential election and has only said that he is trying to grasp at what his supporters need before he decides on running for the presidential election. It is true that most people in their 20’s would choose Ahn as a socially required leader, but people have different opinions on this matter. As you can see in the graph, only 34% of people responded positively about Ahn running as a candidate in the presidential election.

People who want Ahn to become a candidate for the presidential election emphasize his incorruptness and claim that he is a person who knows what he does and he is able to understand what the ordinary people want unlike the existing politicians. Lee Seung-hee from Dongguk University also said, “From his management philosophy, I could tell he seeks not personal success but the success of the entire society. He emphasizes the importance of communication and interactions, and he has the capacity of understanding others.” She also added, “On one TV show, the host asked the question ‘What kind of president do you think is needed?’ and he answered, ‘The biggest assignments for contemporary era are resolving social welfare, justice and peace problems.’ I agree with him and, if he becomes a president, I believe he will make our life much better since he knows exactly which parts our society needs to work on.”

On the other hand, there are people who oppose Ahn’s engagement in politics and the people are divided into two groups. One group of people has doubts about his political talent. Another group of people just cherish him truly from the heart.

The first group’s opposing reasons are diverse; “there were a lot of CEOs who reverted their property and it was only Ahn who got the spot light,” “he does not have enough political experience,” “he lacks the support of powerful men,” “he is too mild” Son Eun-mo, who majors in Mechanical Engineering at Dongguk University said, “It just looks like he is trying to get more votes by emotions. Also, it is impossible to live in the world only with a good heart. For example, when a war breaks out, the nation needs a leader who is decisive and charismatic more than one simply has a good heart. Third, his ideas of national security are far from reality.” Another student who majors in Communication Studies argued, “I believe that for someone to become a president, he or she needs both knowledge and experience of politics. Since Ahn has neither of these, it is obvious that he should not run for president. It is unfair for those who take years of their lives preparing to become president since you could say that Ahn is merely using his status to reach the presidency. Therefore, it would be a waste of his time to even spend time in a presidential campaign instead of spending his time on something that could actually help people.”

The other group's opposing reasons are also diverse and could fit into cherishing Ahn. One student who majors in economics said “He might actually be talented in politics perhaps better than any other politician. But if he becomes a politician there certainly will be a loss for Korean society and Ahn himself. Also, he has mentioned that he is not apt for politics. This clearly shows that he has no interest in politics. Ahn should do what's right for him and what he enjoys.” He added that he does admire him especially for passing down his knowledge as a professor. Kim Su-yeon from Dangguk University said, “His lack of experience in politics and his clean mind could be his strengths.

However, when he becomes a president and has to deal with politicians, could his good strengths be a help to him? The good strengths only look good before he engages in politics and they will become his weaknesses after that. I don’t want to see him regretting his choice.” Through these interviews, it shows that students’ ideas mostly show that they care about Ahn and are worried about him because he could be a political victim of anti-MB sentiment.

Chun Young-gi, a Joongang Ilbo Editorial Writer, analyzed young people (in their twenties)’s ideas. First, the background of Ahn Chul-su fever in society is because people have politics-hatred and have realized Ahn’s individual attraction. Moreover, according to his analysis, the reason why people in their twenties like Ahn enthusiastically is because he has an image of listening, sympathy, consolation and encouragement. People could see these in TV talk shows like ‘Mu-rep-park-do-sa’ and ‘Chung-chun Contest’. However, Chun Young-gi concluded, “The interesting point is that many people admire Ahn just as a respectful role model for a leader but not as a politician.” He also added, “Since people have not seen Ahn’s political activity, Ahn is remains a mystery. Hence, people only imagine his ideal politics. However, people have to remember that an ideal dream is very different from reality.”

In spite of the fact that Ahn is receiving lots of love and support socially, when it comes to his political participation, there are diverse voices. Up to now, people distrust the existing politics. It is true that Ahn is admired as a true leader who is wanted at this time. The question remains, “Will Ahn be able to be the leader we all want him to be?”

Jeon You-na, Kim Ji-yeon  jeonuna@dongguk.edu / tj703@dongguk.edu

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