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Oral-History:In-Ku Kang

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Okay. Well, I don’t have any more questions.
 
Okay. Well, I don’t have any more questions.
  
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[[Category:Bioengineering|Kang]] [[Category:Biomedical equipment|Kang]] [[Category:Business, management & industry|Kang]] [[Category:Industries|Kang]] [[Category:Communications|Kang]] [[Category:Electronic switching systems|Kang]] [[Category:Components, circuits, devices & systems|Kang]] [[Category:Electron devices|Kang]] [[Category:Semiconductor devices|Kang]] [[Category:Culture and society|Kang]] [[Category:International affairs & development|Kang]] [[Category:Engineering profession|Kang]] [[Category:Engineering education|Kang]] [[Category:Computers and information processing|Kang]] [[Category:Software & software engineering|Kang]] [[Category:People and organizations|Kang]] [[Category:Corporations|Kang]] [[Category:Universities|Kang]] [[Category:Power, energy & industry applications|Kang]]

Revision as of 13:52, 13 November 2013

Contents

About In-Ku Kang

In-Ku Kang was born in 1934. After high school, he entered the Korean Naval Academy and graduated in 1955. Afterwards he attended the U.S. Naval Post-Graduate School in Monterey, California from which he earned a Master’s in 1961. He taught at the Korean Naval Academy for a few years before continuing his education in the United States at the University of New Mexico where he earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering in 1967. In the early 1970s, Kang helped to start an electrical engineering department at the Osan Institute of Technology (later Osan University), then he was drafted into the Agency for Defense Development (ADD) in 1973. Kang retired from the Korean Navy in 1979 and left ADD in 1980, beginning his career at GoldStar (now LG). He stayed at LG for fifteen years, during which time he was involved in the PBX switching system, MRI (for which he received the 1984 Presidential Award in Electronic System Development), semiconductors, and LCD development in the early 1990s. Kang retired from LG in 1995 as a LG Electronics Vice President. As of this interview, Kang was president of a junior college sponsored by LG.

In this interview, Kang talks mostly about his career at LG and the Korean electronics industry. He discusses the various projects he was involved in at LG, including becoming Executive Vice President and being in charge of the central lab. He also discusses Korean industry and the ways in which private companies and government activity worked together, particularly in comparison to the Japanese and American models. He also talks about examples such as the VCR where the Korean industry interacted and competed with the Japanese, showing how electronics could develop in Korea through companies such as LG and Samsung. An interest in dual technologies and the idea of a national technological style are also covered.

About the Interview

IN-KU KANG: An Interview Conducted by Andrew Goldstein, IEEE History Center, 27 August 1996

Interview #318 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. and Rutgers, The State university of New Jersey

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, Rutgers - the State University, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

In-Ku Kang, an oral history conducted in 1996 by Andrew Goldstein, IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

Interview: In-Ku Kang

Interviewer: Andrew Goldstein

Date: 27 August 1996

Location: Seoul, Korea

Career Overview

Goldstein:

I’m with Dr. Kang at the Ambassador Hotel in Seoul on August 27. Dr. Kang, thank you for agreeing to meet with me. I want to begin by discussing your birth, early education and career.

Kang:

After high school, I entered into the Naval Academy, the Korean Naval Academy.

Goldstein:

What year did you graduate?

Kang:

I graduated from the Academy in 1955 and then I went to Seoul. Later, I went to the U.S. Naval Post-Graduate School in Monterey, California. I received my master’s degree from there in 1961. That was the beginning of my career.

Goldstein:

What year were you born?

Kang:

1934. After I received my master’s degree, I taught at the Naval Academy for a couple of years. Then the Navy started what they called the Advanced Education Program, and that’s why I went back to the United States to get my EE degree at the University of New Mexico. I received my degree in 1967 and then I started teaching again at the Naval Academy. I think it was 1966 or 1967 when Korean industry started using heavy machinery related to the chemical industry. Part of the goal was to produce molecules and transformers, and that sort of thing, for heavy electrical machinery. We received a license from Westinghouse. The company that received the license later became the Koyosung Industry. At that time it had a different name. The President of that company was the ex-CNO of the Grand Navy. For a couple of years, while I was teaching at the Naval Academy, I also did consulting work for the president of that company. In 1970, the British Government co-sponsored, with the Korean Government, efforts to start the university known as the Institute of Technology in Osan. I went there as part of that effort. I was still on active duty, but I took on the additional job of starting a Department of Electrical Engineering at that Osan Institute of Technology, which later became Osan University. The university is now operated by the Hyundai. I stayed there for three years, and then I was drafted by the Agency for Defense Development (ADD). I assume you’ve met Dr. Sol?

Goldstein:

Yes.

Kang:

He was a founder and charter member of the ADD. I was not. I joined in 1973. And then I was involved with the development of a Korean mainframe and I helped develop the ground to missile guidance link. I later became a manager of that project. We made a test firing in 1978. I retired from the Navy in 1979. There was turmoil in the ADD in 1980 and I left there the same year. The instigator of that turmoil is now in prison.

Goldstein:

You are speaking of the assassination of President Park?

Kang:

Yes. I then joined the LG group. I stayed with them for 15 years. For all those years I was in charge of the school, so I moved around quite a bit from place to place, mostly in communications. I ended up in consumer electronics. Every four or five years I moved around, and then whenever I moved I would fool with it a little bit. Last year, in 1995, I retired from LG Electronics as Vice President. All those years I was involved in the R and D. Now, I am president of a junior college, which is sponsored by LG. That is a quick summary of my career.

Military Research and Industry, PBX

Goldstein:

When I was talking with Dr. Sieve today, I became interested in the relationship of military research and industry. I don’t know if I want to say industrial research, but the growth and stability in electrical industry technology. What can you tell me about the relationship between the two? I guess a lot of military research was confidential?

Kang:

Actually, technology-wise, there’s not much exchange between these two areas. I don’t know whether you have interviewed Dr. Oheh as well?

Goldstein:

No, I’ve heard his name.

Kang:

Robert Crosevel was an engineer who worked for the defense side and then moved to the industry side. Dr. Oheh would be important in that area because he worked at the ADD, and then when President Chung came to power he was entrusted by him. Dr. Oheh made the real initiative in adopting a technical exchange. Dr. Sol was responsible for approving the commercialization of projects. They could not be commercialized without passing Dr. Sol’s staff. There were many products submitted unsuccessfully by the department’s sponsor organization, which were never commercialized.

Goldstein:

Are you talking about the PBX switching system?

Kang:

Yes. In the initial stage, I was also involved in that project, when I was director at the R and D lab, which is responsible for the development of the exchange in the LG group. When I heard of that product, I was the first person to detach my engineer group to the Etri to participate in that product.

Goldstein:

I haven’t heard much about this yet. Tell me, in detail, what the LG’s connection to the project was.

Kang:

Well, when they started this PBX product, actually the department itself was started by the Etri. I don’t know if you’ve heard about Etri?

Goldstein:

Yes.

Kang:

To be successful, they believed they needed to get involvement from industry. At that time there were three major suppliers of these machines. Samsung, LG, and Pongyang, which is now gone. It became part of the HangYong. Those were the three suppliers of the machines. I discussed this and persuaded my president that it could be successful. I was involved from the industry side with that product. So we took part in the project and later the other two companies put in their investments. The development was done. The link with this industry was very big. Dr. Oheh led that project and that’s how it evolved and became successful.

Goldstein:

I’m wondering why it was necessary to persuade your boss at LG to get involved. It sounds like a good business opportunity and that they would have jumped at the chance.

Kang:

No.

Goldstein:

Why not?

Kang:

At that time, we were already producing what they called the semi-electronic exchange. It was a joint venture with AT&T, the ESS Number One, so from the business end they were competition. Also, we were not sure whether this would be successful. They didn’t want to put resources into uncertain things.

Goldstein:

Did LG assign engineers on their staff to work at Etri?

Kang:

Yes.

Goldstein:

But there was no financing, there was no money flowing from Etri to LG?

Kang:

No.

Goldstein:

It was just a donation of effort?

Kang:

Yes. In the initial stage that was the case. The firm was owned by the government. They only contributed the manpower. But even they had doubts about the success of the product.

Goldstein:

Was there any issue over the ownership of the technology? It was produced at Etri. They owned the patents or technology that resulted from this cooperation?

Kang:

No. There was not. At least not much of a problem. In those days, the Korean government had a monopoly on the communications market. I think when LG and the other company started to export to foreign countries they had to pay a royalty to Etri.

Goldstein:

Now, I’ve heard a few times this example of the PBX system as a government industry cooperative venture. Was that the first such venture, or had there been earlier examples?

Kang:

I would say that was the first really major success story.

Goldstein:

Would you also say it’s the first major success for a local research, local development program?

Kang:

No, not necessarily. I think the government sponsored the project ideas.

VCR Example

There are many other stories. One example I can name was the development of the VCR. In that development and other areas in the electronics industry, we owe a lot to Japan. They provided us with the parts, and the know-how to manufacture them, of course as part of a license agreement. They did not think that Korean industry was ready for that kind of product.

Goldstein:

To manufacture?

Kang:

Yes. The Japanese enjoyed the profits from the VCR in the early stages. The first trial for the VCR was in 1979 or 1980. It has just been a few years since the Japanese companies started manufacturing the VCR. Naturally, the Japanese companies declined to provide access to Korean industry.

Goldstein:

Like LG perhaps?

Kang:

Yes, LG and Samsung.

Goldstein:

The Korean companies wanted to make them?

Kang:

Yes, they wanted to make them, but they would not provide the license. The two companies started their own development. Of course, we had a product, the Japanese product, but that was really their first try to start to develop the product. PBX was finished in 1984 or 1985.

Goldstein:

Was the episode with the VCR a problem? Did it antagonize the Japanese, or sour the relations between Korean companies and Japanese companies?

Kang:

Well, of course, we made them mad, you know, in the early stage. But there is a game to the competition for technology. Once you know the real strengths of your competitor, then you can always make some deal. That’s how we ended up. Of course, they have a patent, so we have to get a license. So, eventually we got the license. But, we have to prove ourselves. We have to show that we can do it ourselves. That was really the first try.

Goldstein:

Did Samsung and LG do that independently?

Kang:

Yes. Actually, we approached the problem in two different ways.

Goldstein:

That’s interesting. Can you tell me how?

Kang:

Samsung made the early market entry using a mechanical system. At that time at LG, the director of the R and D, who was responsible for the product, was a graduate of a German university from Munich.

Goldstein:

What was his name?

Kang:

His name was Kim Tong Hwan. He took a very analytical approach, and went directly to the attorney as a way of controlling things. We were a little bit late, but it was a very successful program. There is a very funny story on that. I joined LG in 1980. In 1982, they made a trial product of a VCR and they demonstrated it in front of the Chairman. It was a total failure. The reason? They did not protect the circuit, the electrical circuit.

Goldstein:

Was the VCR an economic success for Samsung and LG? Were they able to export them?

Kang:

Yes.

Research Priorities, Electronic Industry Promotion Law

Goldstein:

You said you began at LG in 1980. Can you tell me the sort of things you were doing? You were in charge of research and development?

Kang:

Yes.

Goldstein:

What were the research priorities at that time?

Kang:

I cannot really give you a complete overview because I was only involved in some of the projects. When I joined LG, they were called GST. It was a joint venture company with Siemens, and they had produced for many years a mechanical exchange. When I took charge of that, they had just developed the private electronic exchange. That was one of my major projects. I wanted to finish it and get it into the commercial area. It was a really big headache, because that was actually the time when they first began to write the large scale software.

Goldstein:

You mean the people at LG?

Kang:

Yes.

Goldstein:

So, that was new to them?

Kang:

Yes.

Goldstein:

Up to now, what we’ve been talking about are these landmarks in terms of what equipment was developed and then marketed. I wonder if there are examples of legislative or administrative developments that influenced the shape of the electrical technology here?

Kang:

I’m not familiar with that area. A lot of that was done in 1967 or 1968 with the help of Dr. Kim Won Teng. Have you heard of him? He was a professor at the Korean University. Under his influence they developed the law, which was called the electronic industry promotion law, or something like that.

Goldstein:

I haven’t heard about that. So that was a measure under President Park, in the late 1960s?

Kang:

Yes.

Goldstein:

What did the law stipulate?

Kang:

It provided promotion activities and provided some tax incentives to the industry. They established, I cannot remember the exact name, but it’s something like the Electronic Industry Promotion Association. Dr. Kim was the President or Chairman of that association for many years, until around 1980.

Goldstein:

Was the electronics industry given special attention? Was there anything like it for some of the other industries, like shipbuilding?

Kang:

I think there are only two industries given this sort of attention; the machinery industry and the electronics industry. Those associations were established by law. There are many other similar associations, but in those two cases the government was an interested party.

MRI, Semiconductors

Goldstein:

All right, to return to the chronological story, you had started to talk about some of the research that you oversaw at LG. I don’t know if you have more to say about that, or if you can tell me about your moving to the consumer electronics division? The thing that I’m hoping is that you will be able to tell me about specific research projects.

Kang:

I received an award for my work in the development of the MRI in Korea. You know about the MRI?

Goldstein:

Magnetic resonance imaging?

Kang:

In KIST there’s an internationally, well-known scholar in this area, Dr. Cho. We agreed to develop the MRI and commercialize it. We installed the MRI at the Seoul National University Hospital. It was successful in that we were able to use the technology. But commercially it was a failure. It could not break even.

Goldstein:

You were trying to sell it through LG?

Kang:

LG developed it. Commercially it was a failure.

Goldstein:

Do you know why it failed in the marketplace?

Kang:

One is market size. Another may have been our inexperience in medical equipment sales. It is very complicated. But anyway, very recently the engineers who were involved in that development got together and started MRI designing again. It’s now part of a company called Medicine.

Goldstein:

For your work on the MRI, you received the 1984 Presidential Award in Electronic System Development. You were director of R and D for semiconductors and semiconductors is one of the great success stories of Korean electrical technology. Can you account for that? Why has Korean industry been so successful in semiconductors?

Kang:

The real success story in that area comes from Samsung. In that area LG was a follower. I was involved in the semiconductor project, in a very critical era of the Korean semiconductor industry. When Samsung first made the 64-K, clinically it was a success, commercially it was a failure. But later, because of this Korean and Japanese, American-Japanese semiconductor agreement, the 256 model made good money. But, that came later. In the period 1986-1987 Samsung had a very difficult time in the semiconductor area. What they did was to merge the Samsung semiconductor business with the Technics company. In this way, they were able to use Technics profits to continue their work. But even with that, it was still not a very good situation. But, the semiconductor business is like riding a bicycle: you have to keep peddling. They are very strained for resources. I think Samsung persuaded the Blue House to sponsor the semiconductor department project so they could continue development. At that time, I was in charge of the GoldStar Semiconductor company. The government allocated some funds for both companies.

Goldstein:

You mean some money to Samsung, some to LG?

Kang:

Yes. And each had to exchange information.

Goldstein:

So there was no proprietary research there?

Kang:

Yes. I was involved in that product at an early stage. Then later I moved onto another project. So the forming of the product was initiated in 1986 or 1987.

At that time we figured that maybe we did it too late. We were supposed to finish the semiconductor product in 1988. We started it in 1986, and it should have been finished by 1988 or 1989. We felt that was too late. At that time the four year cycle was in common use. Somehow the creation of the product was prolonged for many years. But eventually the Korean semiconductor industry became kind of a success story.

Goldstein:

On the strength of the 4 meg DRAM?

Kang:

Yes. It peaked in 1994 or thereabouts.

Goldstein:

So that research project was sponsored by Etri and conducted by different companies, was it very highly coordinated? Did the research labs receive their assignments from Etri?

Kang:

Well, as I said, I was involved in the development of that product only in its early stages. After a year, I moved on. The man who is now the assistant administrator for most of the science technology was in charge of that product for many years. His name is Professor Kim Yong Lock. Have you met?

Goldstein:

I don’t think so. I don’t know the business arrangement that was finally reached in the manufacturing of the 4 meg DRAMs. Did LG and Samsung each get a portion of the manufacturing business?

Kang:

The manufacturing was not in competition. They developed the technology and they shared the technology.

Goldstein:

Okay.

Kang:

Through the development of that technology we trained a lot of engineers. Part of the government money went to the University.

Goldstein:

Was that part of the goal of the development program?

Kang:

Yes.

Goldstein:

Can you tell me about how the decision was made, I guess at Etri, to work on this particular project? I mean, was it a strategic decision to focus on this?

Kang:

As I said, Samsung really persuaded the Blue House to spend the funds on that. Etri received the order to manage that product.

Executive Vice President: LCD and Chaos Theory

Goldstein:

Okay. So the next stage of your career has you as Executive Vice President at GoldStar. Can you tell me what your responsibilities were in that position?

Kang:

Well actually as the Executive Vice President I was in charge of GoldStar’s central lab. I was responsible for the products we would be developing in three to five years. I think one of my major accomplishments was to plant the seed for LCD, liquid crystal displays development. I started a small group to develop the LCD in 1990 or 1991. I thought it was time to really make an effort to develop the LCD, so I spun it off. Of course, it’s not making money yet, but it’s become a major thing. Korea is number two in the whole world after Japan. Nobody tried to make LCD. But we did. Actually, Samsung played a big role in that. Their capacity is still a little bit larger than ours. They are now a player in the LCD market. The other thing of interest is that while I was in that lab, one of the young engineers came up with a very bright idea. Do you know about the Chaos Theory?

Goldstein:

Yes, with regard to non-linear systems.

Kang:

We applied part of that theory to analyze and then to imitate the activity of a clothes washer. LG is now the trademark of the clothes washer. In 1994, there was an international conference on Chaos Theory, and Dr. [Lotfi] Zadeh came. And he was very much impressed by the application of the Chaos Theory to the washer.

Korean Industry

Goldstein:

The way you have described it, it sounds like the success of the electrical industries in Korea is due to a combination of steps taken by private companies in a free enterprise system, and government-stimulated research. Does that seem accurate to you?

Kang:

In many ways, yes. If you ask me the proportion, I’ll say 70% private enterprise, 30% government activity and government research efforts.

Goldstein:

Let me ask you this. You were talking about the development project for LCD flat panel displays. Do you believe that the development effort for a project like that - that the business decision to undertake a project like that - is the same for LG, for a company in Korea, as it would be for a company in Japan or the United States, which is more developed? Does the environment make it a different business decision?

Kang:

I think it’s a little bit different in terms of how far you look into the future. In that sense, I would say that Japan is longest. We are in the middle. America is very practical, some would say shortsighted.

Goldstein:

And Japan has a very long-term perspective?

Kang:

Yes, very far sighted. I think Korea is sort of in the middle.

Goldstein:

What is that middle position for Korea due to? Does it have to do with the developing status of the country? Or just the disposition of the engineers?

Kang:

I think you cannot really pinpoint one reason. There are many reasons. One is the resources. The Korean companies are also a bit more patient than the American companies. In Korea, if the CEO is trusted by his owner then they will be there for a very long time. In essence, they do not really have to be very keen about their progress. That’s one reason why we are not like the United States. In Japan, a major company does not have a lot of owners. The shareholder, in one sense, and the bank are the owners. So for that reason, they can think longer.

Goldstein:

They don’t have to worry about that short-term result. The thing I’m driving at is that there are certain conditions in Korea that are connected with it being a developing country. In the 1970s, there was a negative balance of trade and there was a labor surplus and not a labor shortage. Perhaps the labor forces are not so well trained. I wonder what effect those factors have on the industry, perhaps in connection with its competitiveness abroad, but just also in general?

Kang:

I think we gradually moved our industry structure to a more advanced stage. In the 1960s we were very far behind. At that time the labor for our industries was created. We started in textiles. We were very far behind, but we had room to move up as time went by. At this moment we are at a critical point, we don’t have as much room to move up. Our industrial labor force is considered very good. So, technology-wise, skill-wise we don’t have much room to move up now. That’s a big problem.

Goldstein:

I was going to ask what you would do about it, but I don’t want to get into that.

Kang:

If I do have a solution, I will send it in. I know the problem, but honestly I don’t know the solution. Many of our industries are attempting to move to less developed countries. That’s one way. That’s an easy way. But, for Korea it’s not really a good way. It’s an easy way for industry. LG is doing it. They have established quite a few factories in China. I just read in today’s newspaper that they just finished the TV manufacturing plant in China.

Goldstein:

One of the other things I was wondering about is a feature of the electrical industry in Korea. It’s dominated by several very large firms, and there are not too many small firms. I wonder what effect that has on the shape of the industry and the economy in general? You know, in the 1950s, the Chairman of General Motors [Charles Wilson] was famous for saying was, “What’s good for General Motors is good for America.” Does the same situation exist in Korea?

Kang:

In some sense, yes.

Goldstein:

The implication is that General Motors has a strong voice in shaping policy.

Kang:

Yes. On the other hand, it’s not the whole truth. The Korean government has many restrictions on industry. The other thing is I think there’s still room for small industry. Anyway, Korean industry is not geared for the domestic market. You cannot survive in the domestic market alone. Small or big, there’s no way of surviving without exports. If the small industry is well run and smart there’s still room for growth. Even in the electronics area it is always changing. There’s always opportunity.

Dual Technologies, Technological Style

Goldstein:

Do you think there’s some fact or milestone in the growth of electrical technologies here that deserves special attention that we could talk about?

Kang:

Well, one of the things I am interested in are so-called dual technologies. These are technologies that have both civilian and military applications.

Goldstein:

I haven’t heard that term before. What are some examples of dual technology?

Kang:

There are many shapes to dual technology. The weakness of Korean industry is we don’t have much fundamental or basic technology. As I said, we have relied on the Japanese for the critical part. It is similar in the military area, but in that case we rely heavily on the United States. But now we are trying to develop our own basic technology. We need to do this both in the military and civilian areas. It is difficult to separate military and civilian research. An example is plastics engineering. For that sort of thing we must work together economically to obtain the technology. Up to now we have tried to do it separately. Because of my background I see this as very important.

Goldstein:

One other thing did occur to me, and this is the last question. Historians of technology have become interested in what they call technological style. The idea is that you can find national styles in design. I wonder if you believe that that applies to the case of Korea. Is there such a thing as a national style here?

Kang:

Maybe.

Goldstein:

And what would its characteristics be?

Kang:

Our industry developed upside down. We started actually as a set maker. We just imported everything from Japan, and then we just assembled it and then exported it to the nation. We were a source of cheap labor. That’s how we started our industry. Of course, there is some profit to be made from the local market even if very small. So many academics complain about this kind of industry structure. We are still at a very low level. So that style or that way of doing things is very characteristic. Many governments in developing countries are copying that strategy. The academics disapprove of it because they are not involved. They have only contributed to it in supplying the young engineers. That’s their only contribution. It’s not like the United States or Japan.

Goldstein:

Were the theoretical work of academics results in technology?

Kang:

Yes. Their theoretical work does not lead to technology or the development of an industry. It is always, in effect, upside down.

Goldstein:

I didn’t realize that. It sounds like there’s some tension between academic engineers and the engineers in the industry. Is that a big problem?

Kang:

Well, as I said, it’s upside down. It is only in the last few years that industry has financially supported the universities. They can afford it now. That is sort of backwards. The only thing is that now the electronic industry area is sort of a known, established area. So we recently started funding research, so the role of professors in the academy has increased. But not in all areas. It isn’t true in the material science area. Korean industry is not that mature. We are not at that stage. We are still in the early stages of licensing and copying. It is the same with the chemical industry. It depends on which industry you are talking to. Each will give you a different answer. In the electronics area we started that way and have now advanced to the point where we are developing our own technologies. As I said, upside down.

Goldstein:

Okay. Well, I don’t have any more questions.