Seoul National professor steps down after 40 years

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Seoul National professor steps down after 40 years

Professor Kwak Soo-il, 65, of Seoul National University’s business department, gave a farewell lecture on the past, present and future of Korea’s economy, business and management, at the school on Thursday.
“For the past 50 years, I always told my family ‘I am going to school’ when I was going to work every morning. I don’t know what to say starting tomorrow,” Mr. Kwak said.
Mr. Kwak graduated from Kyunggi High School and Seoul National University and earned a masters of business administration degree at Columbia University in New York. At 25, he started teaching at his alma mater. It was a time when the concepts of business administration, educational programs and teaching materials were not well established. He was tough on grading exams and reports and thus called “salt” (there is an expression in Korean that grades are salty, which means a teacher is a tough-grader). His management science class was referred to by students as the life-or-death management class.
Mr. Kwak’s father owned a company called Nambang Mulsan, one of the 10 largest exporters in Korea in the 1960s, and many people expected him to take over the company. Some chief executive officers he taught at the university’s executive MBA program tried to persuade him to do so, but he chose to remain in academia.
He said he had taught more than 10,000 students and over 1,000 of them became chief executive officers.
“It is a good time to retire because now a number of Korean companies are making world-class products and they are among the leading companies in the world,” Mr. Kwak said. “Recently ideologies that stress equality and standardization are spreading in Korea. I don’t understand why the Korean Teachers & Education Workers’ Union is rejecting evaluation and equal sharing.”
More than 150 students and professors attended the lecture. Speaking of the Internet community site Cyworld and portals like Daum and Google, Mr. Kwak said, “The network industry will lead the next 10 years as it seeks endless self-reformation and overcomes the limits of space. It is your job to pioneer the new world with enormous changes occurring in front of you.”
Among the former students who attended the lecture were Kim Tae-gou, a former Daewoo Motor chairman; Park Oh-soo, the chairman of the Korean Academic Society of Business Administration and Song Byung-nak, former Seoul National University vice president.
Mr. Kwak said it was time to turn to nurturing trees from nurturing students. He has been planting and taking care of zelkova and white birch trees on a mountain in Yeoju, where the tombs of his ancestors are located. “When these trees grow, they can benefit the world in 10 years to 20 years, just like the students I taught,” he said.
Mr. Kwak said he is going to create a foundation for adolescents to support their cultural activities.


by Kwon Keung-young
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