Jeong Kim was born in Seoul, South Korea. His parents divorced when he was very young and he was raised by his father and stepmother. At age 14, he immigrated with his family to the United States. He entered school in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, speaking almost no English. Although a good student, he quarreled with his father and left home at age 16. He worked the night shift at a convenience store to support himself while he finished school, and won a scholarship to study electrical engineering at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Kim earned his bachelor's degree in only three years. While still a student, he became excited by the possibilities of the computer revolution and began to work for a start-up company called Digitus. Kim quickly became a partner in the company and believed he was well on his way to making his first million in the computer business when, upon graduation, he left the company to join the U.S. Navy. He believed it was time to repay his adopted country for the opportunities it had already given him.
Unable to obtain financing for his own start-up, Kim applied his naval background and worked as a contract engineer for AlliedSignal Inc. at the Naval Research Laboratory. At the same time, he earned a Ph.D. in reliability engineering from the University of Maryland. His degree, which he completed in only two years, was the first doctorate to be awarded by the university in that discipline. At the Naval Research Laboratory, Kim became aware of the asynchronous transfer technology used to link different modes of electronic communication. He saw the need to bridge the gap between the integrated technology of the future and the many differing systems in use today. The military, for one, had a need to link its divergent systems of voice, video and electronic data transmission, especially from remote areas without existing communications infrastructure.
In 1998, Jeong Kim reached an agreement to sell Yurie Systems to Lucent Technologies for over $1 billion. At age 37, Kim personally earned more than half a billion dollars from the deal. Kim, who had been accustomed to working 120-hour weeks when he was building his company, could not imagine retiring at this stage of his career, and went to work for Lucent running multiple divisions simultaneously.
Kim remained at Lucent until 2001, when he joined the faculty of the University of Maryland as Professor of Practice in Reliability Engineering, with a joint appointment in the departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Materials and Nuclear Engineering. The university has named the Engineering and Applied Sciences building in his honor. While teaching, Dr. Kim assembled a group of investors to purchase Cibernet, a provider of cellular billing exchange services. Kim became the new chairman of Cibernet, and oversaw the development and introduction of One1Clear, an integrated and automated end-to-end clearing and settlement service. In 2005, he left Cibernet and returned to Lucent (now known as Alcatel-Lucent) as Executive Vice President of the parent company and President of its storied Bell Labs division, a position he held for the following eight years.
Today, Jeong Kim makes his home with his wife and children in Potomac, Maryland. The University of Maryland has named Jeong Kim to its Innovation Hall of Fame. In 2014, the government of France awarded him with membership in the Legion of Honor for his services to global technology.