Forget the status quo or the popular trend. To be at the vanguard of a rapidly changing global workplace, today’s professionals increasingly need to exhibit broad conceptual abilities, as well as technical skills. They lawyers, filmmakers or designers, but they are also innovators, disruptors and entrepreneurs. That takes drive, leadership, and passion. And in the emerging paradigm of the 21st century professional workplace, Webb alumni are showing the way.
Take Gray Holland ’82, innovator. With over two decades of design experience, Holland is constantly asking, how can something that did not exist before be brought into reality. Holland has worked on design for everything from software to aircraft interiors to sunglasses.
Interested in the automotive industry after graduating from Webb, Holland enrolled in a joint engineering program at Occidental College and Columbia University. However his real interest was design, not engineering and he eventually transferred to Art Center College of Design. Fresh out of college, Holland became an automotive designer with GM where his engineering background came in handy as he worked on the EV-1 electric car. At this early stage in his career, Holland challenged the process by using 3D design technology to streamline the design process, giving an individual designer the tools to complete the work that had required a team of a half dozen designers before. “In 1992 such ideas were played with, but not really considered seriously. In six months, I had produced a huge percentage of the EV-1’s interior dashboard. This was rewriting the rules for a designer, and a huge challenge to the status quo. And at GM it was really political suicide, but for me this was pure freedom. I knew how I was going to spend the rest of my life.”
Capitalizing on this “digital design practice” concept, he founded his own company Alchemy and later moved to Amsterdam to start a new firm, UX-FLO, affiliated with his San Francisco-based firm, Alchemy Labs.
Holland is quick to credit Webb for giving him the attitude and confidence to make those moves. “The school instilled in me the idea that I could make anything happen if I just worked hard enough,” he says. “Looking back, each of these steps was an impossible dream… but that is the power of belief: it tends to make the impossible possible.”
Design trends are less interesting to Holland. “Movements, Memes and Paradigm Shifts are what capture my attention. For example, iPads are a trend; Multi-Touch interfaces are a Movement. Being on Facebook is a trend; capitalizing on social networking is a Meme. Sustainability is a trend; what changes when we run low on fossil fuels is a Paradigm Shift. Trends are too hard to predict, and you don’t know how long they will last. But movements, memes, and paradigm shifts can be seen from far off. You have to be willing to look deeper – to not get caught up in the trend. Design is not about creating a cool looking thing, it is a process for addressing real needs while creating solutions that transform the ordinary into something special.”
These ideas form the crux of Holland’s past and current work, and it’s what has pushed him to change the status quo. Holland’s company, UX-FLO, is based in Amsterdam, where he currently is working for a client Maxon, which makes 3D animation software called Cinema 4D.
Even within design, Holland points out that a multifaceted background is more important than ever for career success – specifically, software programming skills and design talent. “This type of multidisciplinary person is incredibly valuable to corporations, because so few of them exist,” he points out. It’s those people – people who can bring diverse skills, abilities and interests to their careers – who are redefining the paradigm for career and personal success. It’s a new paradigm, but it’s based on an old concept: the concept of the well-rounded individual, a concept that The Webb Schools has been instilling in its students since 1922.
“We are always trying to push the boundaries, while paradoxically maintaining a sense of balance. We believe that present and future paradigms are a balance of appropriate crafting of progressive ideas, and sometimes that means maintaining conservative traditions. We really just try to pay attention to what will hold real value – this is the key. If we can do this, we will create timeless value in the marketplace, and this type of design will never go out of style.”
Spanning decades, Holland’s career blends entrepreneurship, innovation and disruption. That’s not atypical in creative, artistic fields, but today the same fluidity that has characterized the creative fields is as likely to characterize careers in finance, law, film and hospitality.
Hosain Rahman ’93 made national and international news last summer. First, it was reported that Jawbone, the maker of cutting-edge headsets, speakers, and other mobile device accessories won a new round of funding, some $70 million from JP Morgan Asset Management—this after raising $49 million the previous March.
Second, Rahman speaking at the TedGlobal conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, announced his company’s first "non-audio device" called UP. The device is meant to measure "sleep patterns, eating habits and activity to help people become healthier." UP is described as "wearable, hip and waterproof." The new device is described as a "bold departure" from Jawbone’s core mobile accessory business—even bolder than the company’s launch last fall of its wireless Jambox audio system.
Rahman made CNN Money and Fortune Magazine’s Ones to Watch list this past January.
Crescent Diamond '95 is the producer of The Heretics, a documentary tracing the New York feminist art collective that produced Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics. Director Joan Braderman, who joined the art collective in 1971 as an aspiring filmmaker, charts the group's challenges in terms of gender and power and its history as a microcosm of the feminist movement at that time. The documentary reconnects with the other 28 group members, including writer/critic Lucy Lippard, architect Susanna Torre, filmmaker Su Friedrich, and artists Ida Applebroog, Mary Miss, Miriam Schapiro, and Cecilia Vicuña. The Heretics premiered at the MOMA in New York in October of 2009 and has subsequently shown at film festivals around the world. It was nominated as a 2011 "Notable Video for Adults" by the American Library Association, and it was part of the Getty Museum's Doin’ It In Public: Feminism & Art at the Woman's Building exhibition. The Heretics made its national television debut in March 2012.
Diamond, an entrepreneur, too, has grown accustomed to spending time on the business aspects of the industry, especially the eternal quest for funding, as well as spending time behind the camera. “It’s always a balancing act,” she says, between the creative impulse and business practicalities. “The path, particularly for documentary filmmakers, is coming up with an idea and seeing if there’s a market for it.”
Diamond’s work focuses on the margins of America’s consciousness, people who aren’t typically represented in the media, an interest she traces back to her time at Webb. Diamond came to Webb her junior year, drawn by the school’s theater program and theater director Michael Cain [CQ], who “transformed and adapted plays in odd ways,” Diamond recalls. “It was inspiring.”
Perhaps even more inspiring was the high school exchange program she participated in during her senior year. The exchange program sent her to a Navajo Nation high school in Window Rock, Ariz. “It was a very eye-opening experience for me,” Diamond says. “It was life-changing.”
The program introduced Diamond to the existence of another country within the United States; a marginalized society most people never see. It also gave her the experience of seeing her surroundings from the minority perspective: she was the only white person on campus. And it gave her an introduction to documentary filmmaking: she captured her experience on video, interviewing and recording tribal elders and healers for a project she completed at Webb.
After graduating, Diamond attended Hampshire College in Massachusetts, where her fellow alumni include acclaimed documentary filmmaker Ken Burns. “It was a really great school for me because it’s a very innovative school,” Diamond says. It’s also where she developed a close friendship with professor and filmmaker Joan Braderman. After Diamond graduated and moved to San Francisco, Braderman invited her to produce The Heretics (2009), a documentary examining The Heresies Collective, a feminist art group active from the 1970s to the 1990s. “Usually women feel left out of art history,” Diamond notes. The Heretics focuses on women working in the arts, and on “how fun and exciting it was to be doing things that challenged the status quo.”
By the end of filming The Heretics, Diamond realized she wanted to follow Braderman into teaching, as well as practicing, the art of filmmaking; she’s currently completing her Cinema M.F.A. at San Francisco State University and teaching in the university’s film program. Teachers “change students’ perceptions of the world,” says Diamond.
She’s also continuing to turn the camera’s eye on marginalized populations: her thesis film, Performing Girl, examines the life and career of D’Lo, a transgender Sri Lankan-American writer, director and artist who uses performance as a survival strategy.
Entrepreneurialism is a defining characteristic of the emerging professional workplace. In some fields, that’s a new paradigm. In others, the entrepreneurial use of capital is well established, even though the capital involved isn’t money.
Take Alix Rosenthal ’91. She’s built a successful career as an attorney, and she’s an entrepreneur, too, but she’s working with political capital. An innovator and a disruptor, she’s working to reshape the landscape of Democratic politics in San Francisco. The San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee is dominated by an old boys’ network, she says, and she wants to bring in the women.
Running for re-election to the committee, she has put together an all-woman slate, All Shades of Blue. “There is a very serious divide between progressives and moderates” in the party, she says, which makes it difficult to build a slate that’s based, not on ideology, but on gender. “It is our tendency to argue with each other.”
Nevertheless, Rosenthal sees real value in the prospect of greater female representation on the 24-member committee. “Women simply do get along better than men do,” she explains. “We don’t fight as much as men do.”
Rosenthal traces her interest in politics to her parents and her time at Webb. “I have always loved public service,” she says, a love her parents instilled her in. Add to that a love of people and problem solving, and politics is inevitable.
Webb, she says, “gave me my start. It gave me leadership opportunities.” On her first day as a freshmen at the Vivian Webb School she met every member of her class, and was elected class president that week. “It was invigorating,” she recalls, adding that being at a girls’ school helped give her the confidence to run. “Webb gave me a taste of what it’s like to hold leadership roles.”
Webb also gave her some strong role models, particularly history instructors Dave Fawcett – “he would not stand for mediocrity” – and Margaret Lofgren, who was an example to Vivian Webb students that “it’s a good thing to be strong and assertive as a girl.”
After graduating from Webb Rosenthal attended Northwestern University – where she was, perhaps predictably, the student body president – before working for California Senator Barbara Boxer in Washington, D.C., and earning her law degree from the University of Virginia and moving back to California, where she worked for the San Francisco Elections Commission and the Oakland city attorney’s office.
Rosenthal now has her own legal practice, focusing on campaign election law. Her blending of legal and political careers exemplify the workplace trend that blurs distinctions between profession and personal passions. Further erasing that distinction, Rosenthal sits on the boards of directors for the Black Rock Arts Foundation, which promotes civic engagement by placing interactive public art projects around the world, and the California Music and Culture Association, a nightlife trade group. All of which makes her, not only a political entrepreneur, innovator and disruptor, but a power player.
Jeff Hyman ’89, CEO of Idle Games made history in March 2012, with the launch of his company’s category-killing social media “god game” IDLE WORSHIP.
Going way beyond Farmville and similar fare, IDLE WORSHIP is poised to set a new standard, both artistically and technically in the gaming space by allowing players to play friends and strangers at the same time, in real time on Facebook, the PC, and mobile devices.
IDLE WORSHIP is so unique it required the filing of 5 new patents on behalf of the company.
Francisco Salanga, Video Game Culture Editor at the San Francisco Examiner had this to say in praise of the new game:
“Sure, Idle Games' upcoming Idle Worship picks up on the already explored theme of player-as-god. The key difference, however, is that it's not trying to be anything like the recent From Dust or the more dated Black & White. Also, they seem to be treading new ground in the social gaming space given the player-as-god concept has not been tried to any avail with social channels built in. Indeed, Idle Worship can be seen as innovative as they take a new look at what it means to be a social game.
If money is power, Geoff Fite ’86 is a power player, too: he’s the executive director and chief operating officer of financial analysis and risk management firm Moody’s Analytics. The company provides banks, insurance companies, non-banking financial institutions, asset managers and corporations with the data and tools to perform risk assessments.
“It’s a global business in that we have customers in over 50 countries and 2,000 staff” in a dozen cities around the globe, Fite says. Out of those dozen cities, though, Fite chooses to run the company from Singapore. “Part of the reason I live in Asia is that this is a region where we derive most of our growth,” he says. Also, I find that living in Asia is more upbeat and has more positive energy as far as business is concerned.”
As COO, he needs that energy. On any given day, he may be involved in setting the company’s profit and revenue expectations, reviewing business strategy, overseeing the design and construction of financial software, and finalizing business opportunities with new clients, not to mention managing the firm’s global staff.
Fite’s position as COO may seem traditional, but he charted his own course to it, starting with his time at Webb, which gave him “an appreciation and ability to work with people from many different countries and cultures.” From there, he embarked on an academic career both entrepreneurial and innovative. After majoring in political science at the University of California, San Diego, with additional coursework in computer science and math, Fite studied Chinese in Taiwan, an experience that convinced him to pursue an interest in Asian culture. He continued his studies at Columbia University, where he earned a master’s degree in East Asian languages and cultures, again with additional coursework, this time in economics and business.
This gave Fite a broad set of skills, ranging from Chinese language fluency to computer programming, all of which he put to use working for financial consulting firms and dabbling in Internet business applications. A background in both finance and technology was fortuitous. “Technology has become ubiquitous,” Fite says. “Early in my career it was seen as a tool, and there were ‘business people’ and ‘technology people.’ That’s sometimes still the case, but the best business people are very technologically savvy.”
Not just those individuals but the financial sector itself must be innovative and disruptive, Fite argues. “Irrespective of the public recoil that rightly occurred as a result of the financial crisis, financial products are the engine of everything. You simply can't support the world population … without the use of finance. As the world grows and the basic problems of supporting people become more complex, financial services will grow as well. There will undoubtedly be bumps along the way but I don’t see a viable alternative to the capital markets as the principal fuel for human activity.”
Fite adds his own specialization is in a period of intense innovation. “The revolution in financial risk management is akin to the changes that occurred in healthcare between the Civil War and today. We’ve learned a bunch and there is still a tremendous amount of change to come.”
Jon Congdon’81s company has been among the fastest growing in the United States since it was founded in 1998. Congdon is the co-founder and president of Beachbody, LLC, the company which owns Beachbody, Breakthrough in Beauty, and the wildly popular P90X plan. In recent years, the mega-brand P90X has become a household name, and sold millions of units. Beachbody is now a multichannel marketer, with innovative mobile, print, online and radio programs and products.
Congdon’s company now has hundreds of employees and annual revenues of over $400 million. Congdon says he was always entrepreneurial. After graduating from UCLA with a degree in political science, he found himself at Proctor and Gamble which he described as a “little too big and corporate for me.” Though he liked the company, he left after a year to try his hand at a number of occupations – he was a parking valet in Beverly Hills, he traveled to Guatemala to learn Spanish, and eventually, he returned to the states and became a school teacher. After three years teaching, he left to help run a division of Guthy-Renker, one of the world's largest direct response television companies.
At Guthy-Renker, he met Carl Daikeler, and the two men launched a national computer dating service and built a revenue sharing network of more than 100 radio stations to promote the concept. That unit was later sold to a unit of Cendant, a global leader in consumer and business services. The pair then decided to start their own company.
“We determine a need and try to fill that need,” said Congdon of their progress. In 2005, Congdon and Daikeler were finalists for Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year awards.
Twenty years ago, Neil Goldman ’00 might have been a hotelier. In today’s workplace, he’s a hotelier, an Internet business pro and a social activist. For each room booked and paid for through Hotels for Hope, the Internet-based hotel room brokerage he founded, the brokerage donates $1 to a portfolio of charities. That contribution is matched by the hotel, for a total of $2 per room. Hotels for Hope brokers large blocks of rooms for corporations, conventions and other organizations, so the per-room donation adds up: the brokerage has donated roughly $80,000 in the last two years. Goldman’s goal is to donate $1 million by 2015.
Hotels benefit from the business Goldman gives them, the organizations that book rooms through Hotels for Hope benefit from discounted room rates, and everyone benefits from the charitable donation. For Goldman, it’s a personal benefit: his motivation is to benefit children in need. “I grew up with a good family who gave me opportunities, and I want to give back,” he explains.
Hotels for Hope’s clients can enjoy the same personal satisfaction, but Goldman is the first to admit that they also can publicize the charitable donation to burnish their corporate image. Goldman is a capitalist, but he, like many 21st century entrepreneurs, are disproving the old notion that capitalism and philanthropy can’t coexist.
“We shift our buying habits based on social responsibility,” Goldman says of his Generation X and Y cohorts. Given otherwise equal choices, consumers will choose the product or brand that exhibits better corporate responsibility. Hotels for Hope gives its clients the chance to do just that.
To launch the venture, Goldman drew on years of experience in the hotel industry. After graduating from Penn State’s Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management Program, he worked at Four Seasons hotels in Philadelphia and San Diego, before founding other hotel brokerages. But, he says, “Webb prepared me better than anyone else.” He singles out math instructor Brian Caldwell, whom he says taught him to examine problems analytically, a skill he applies to Hotels for Hope every day. “I think every good entrepreneur should be making a daily decision about taking the company to where it could be purchased,” he says. “That’s about running the company well, every day.”
Holland, Diamond, Rosenthal, Fite, and Goldman are just some of the examples of the innovators, disruptors, and entrepreneurs in our alumni community. They represent well the values of Webb’s educational program. As Head of Schools, Taylor Stockdale has said, “Integrity. Moral courage. Unbounded thinking. Empathy. Our founder, Thompson Webb believed these values would inspire good to do great things. He understood these values would breed enterprise, leadership and uncommon achievement. And h was right! We are fully committed to these ideals today as Thompson Webb was in 1922.”