Driving for the Gates of success

18th September 1998 at 01:00
Lee Sang-hyup is the sort of entrepreneur his country needs. Just 19 years old, he is president of his own computer software company and could soon become South Korea's youngest millionnaire. Since setting up Hite Media a year ago, he has launched a bestselling multimedia program and signed a deal with Samsung, the electronics company, to sell his latest product, Cocktail 98, around the world.

If it achieves its sales target - 2 million copies by the end of next year - Sang-hyup could one day challenge Microsoft's Bill Gates as one of the biggest players in the rapidly expanding multimedia market.

Yet it could have been a very different story. His parents once took away his computer, so concerned were they about the effect of this near-addiction on his schoolwork. He got it back after winning a place in high school, but he has increasingly questioned the relevance of Korea's school curriculum to his own career.

Sang-hyup is a perfect example of why education reformers in Korea have been pressing for change. Despite his exceptional talent for creating computer programs, he only got a place at university as a result of winning a national computer competition. "Other than computers, I'm not much good at anything!" he says wrily.

Although his mother, Lee Hyun-joo, insists he is really bright, she said he would have struggled if his precocious computer skills had not come to national attention. "If he had not been any good at computers, he would probably have gone to a two-year (vocational) university rather than a four-year (academic) one," she explained. "Ever since he was in middle school, he did not want to go to school at all. Instead of spending his time learning maths or social studies, he was always in front of his computer."

The reforms in education, outlined in the article above, should eventually make it easier for people like Sang-hyup to flourish at school, encouraging them to develop their special skills at university level. As it is, he has decided for the moment to defer his offer of a university place. He is too busy working seven days a week developing his own company.

Cocktail 97, his first software program, sold more than 30,000 copies in Korea last year and has proved particularly popular with teachers and university lecturers. Its successor has just gone on sale in the United Kingdom.

Jeremy Sutcliffe.

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