Kim Jung-ju, Nexon founder and iconoclastic leader, is dead at 54
Kim Jung-ju, gaming pioneer and founder of Nexon, is dead at 54.
He died at the end of February while in Hawaii, according to a statement Thursday from NXC, the largest shareholder of Nexon. No cause was given.
"Please excuse us for not explaining in detail as his family members are devastated," NXC said in a statement released on Tuesday.
"The deceased had been receiving treatment for depression, and we are sad that it seemed to have worsened recently," it read.
He is survived by two daughters and wife Yoo Jung-hyun.
A gaming visionary and among the richest men in Korea, Kim is credited with laying the foundation for country's PC game makers to compete in console games dominated by Japanese companies.
Kim founded Nexon in 1994 while pursuing a doctoral degree in computer science and engineering at KAIST. One of the first major titles released by the company was "The Kingdom of the Winds," debuting in 1996. It is one of the oldest massively multiplayer online role-playing games in the world.
Other franchises including "MapleStory," "Crazy Arcade" and "KartRider" went on to become mega-hits in and outside of Korea.
Known to be unconventional and greatly contrasting chaebol leadership, he made a number of surprising moves, such as listing Nexon in Japan and vowing not to pass the business to his children.
Nexon debuted on Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2011 in a push to attract overseas investors and a large user base, as Japan led the game industry during the early 2000s.
The game publisher managed to quadruple in value since listing, and its market cap ranked at third place among game companies listed on the exchange.
Kim was the fifth wealthiest person in Korea last year, with and estimated net worth of $6.1 billion, according to Bloomberg.
Kim kept a low profile and shied away from taking the chief executive officer role at Nexon. He was Nexon CEO for less than one year from 2005 through 2006.
He was chairman of NXC for more than a decade - from 2006 until July last year.
Kim directed major investment decisions and guided the company in various directions, a testament to his willingness to push beyond his comfort zone.
NXC-controlled NXMH took over Stokke, a Norwegian company known for baby strollers, in 2013. NXC acquired a 65 percent stake in Korean cryptocurrency exchange Korbit for 91.3 billion won in 2017, while NXMH bought Bitstamp, a Europe-based cryptocurrency exchange, last year.
In recent years, he focused on charitable activities. Kim spearheaded the formation of Nexon Foundation in 2018 to support children from low-income backgrounds.
The foundation donated a total of 50 billion won to fund the building of children's rehabilitation hospitals in different locations in Korea.
He is a graduate of Seoul National University with a major in computer engineering. Fellow alumni from Seoul National University and KAIST pack the ranks of Korea's first generation of tech leaders. Among them are Lee Hae-jin, founder of Naver, Kim Taek-jin, founder and CEO of NCSoft and Kakao founder Kim Beom-su.
Kim from NCSoft remembered the deceased on his Facebook.
"My beloved friend has left, leaving me with the intense grief and pain that I never experienced in my life," he noted.
Industry associations and political heavyweights paid tribute to the business leader.
"The deceased had a significant impact on the growth of the game and cultural content business," said the Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry in a statement.
"His creative spirit has inspired many entrepreneurs, and his legacy will live on in Korea's history of economic development," it read.
Lee Kwang-hyung, president at KAIST who taught Kim Jung-ju during his graduate years, remembered him as "a creator."
"He preferred to hand down management to other people to stay focused on creating new things and challenge himself," Lee said.
BY PARK EUN-JEE, KIM KYUNG-JIN [email@example.com]