Skip to main content


Howard Charney speaking at 2018 law commencement

Howard Charney speaking at 2018 law commencement

Take the Right Risks

Howard S. Charney MBA ‘73, J.D. ‘77, urged the Santa Clara Law Class of 2018 to weigh risks but take them on.

When faced with a risky opportunity, “balance the magnitude of the upside against the severity of the downside,” and be willing to take the risk, former Cisco senior vice president Howard S. Charney MBA ‘73, J.D. ‘77,  urged the Class of 2018 of Santa Clara University School of Law.

Charney, who co-founded 3Com and Grand Junction Networks, spoke at the commencement ceremony Saturday morning, May 19, in the University’s Mission Gardens. He spoke just months after the opening of the new law school bearing the Charney name, the Howard S. and Alida S. Charney Hall of Law, built with a foundational $10 million donation from the Charneys. 

“There are many things in our lives that are simply unknown, and unknowable,” he said, quoting from a former colleague.

He recalled several key turning points in his career when he had to assess "the calculus of risk"—leaving engineering to go into antitrust law at Memorex; going into and then leaving intellectual property law; and deciding to join his former fraternity brother from MIT, Robert Metcalf, in founding the ethernet-creation company 3Com. In each case, he said, he determined that no matter how dire the downside, he would have choices. So he took the risks. And in the case of 3Com—which became a $3 billion company—"the risk paid off, handsomely," he said. “What I had exchanged was my legal career for money. And lots of it,” he said to laughter from the audience.

“The sun is rising on your careers,” he said to the graduates. Whether serving the poor, opening a solo practice, working for a large firm, or joining a startup, “you will have to make choices just like I did,” he said. "If the downside risk is zero or low, and the upside is great, what do you do? You take the risk."

Over his career, he has overseen the development and expansion of key technologies that have helped build the global Internet as it exists today. He helped grow Cisco’s two-tier distribution business to more than $2.4 billion and helped turn fast ethernet and low-cost switching into fundamental, global Internet technologies.

Taking risks “is what my life has been about,” said Charney, who received an honorary doctor of law degree at the event. 

A licensed patent attorney, Charney has served as a board member for several technology companies and is a trustee for Santa Clara University. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and an MBA and J.D. from Santa Clara University. His son, Tristan, is a 2006 MBA alumnus from Santa Clara.

Of the 216  graduates, 67 graduates received certificates in various areas of high-tech law; another 19 received certificates in public-interest and social-justice law; eight specialized in international law and 10 in privacy law.

Prior to the ceremony numerous outstanding graduates received awards, including:

  • Natalie Parpos was the Mabie Outstanding Graduate Award based on academic performance, scholarly activities, leadership and service roles at the law school and in the community
  • Jonathan “Jojo” Choi received the Dean's Leadership Award for exemplifying the school’s motto of “lawyers who lead” and serving other students, the school, and community
  • Maya Younes received the John B. Bates, Jr. Dispute Resolution Award, established in 2017 and given in recognition of the student’s coursework, publications, performance, and service related to the field of dispute resolution.




Howard S. Charney MBA '73 J.D. '77, addressing the Class of 2018 of Santa Clara University School of Law. Photo by Adam Hays.