A Beautiful Failure

Taylor Stockdale
While on a plane this fall, I was skimming CNN’s Money when I came across a story entitled “Hosain Rahman’s Beautiful Failure.” The headline grabbed me. Earlier that day, I had had a conversation with the Freshman Dean at Harvard about the essential qualities needed to succeed in our nation’s most selective colleges and universities. Resiliency, inner strength and moral courage were three of the top characteristics mentioned. It got me to thinking.

In this age of zealous parenting (I can say this because I am as guilty as anyone), when we give out trophies for just about everything, I wonder if we are teaching our children how to fail and pick themselves back up? Are we teaching students to be resilient and determined? And most importantly, are we inspiring them to have the moral courage to do the right thing when it counts the most?

But the CNN story caught my attention for more than just the headline about failure. As I began to read it, I soon realized that Hosain is a Webb alumnus – someone I knew well back in the early 1990’s and a graduate of the class of 1993.
You can imagine my deep sense of pride as I read about Hosain’s bold move, which saved his highly successful company. If my premise is right – that the true measurement of a school’s success is found in its alumni – then Hosain’s story is yet another testament to Webb.

After graduating from Webb and then Stanford with a degree in mechanical engineering, Hosain went on to start a tech company called Jawbone – a highly successful Silicon Valley company which initially specialized in hi-tech headsets.
While at Webb, I remember Hosain as a tall, lanky affable kid with a wonderful smile, a quick wit and engaging personality. He always lit up the dining hall, the library, the chapel, or the pool deck when he entered. I smiled when he was described in this article by venture capitalist Ben Horowitz as “a relationship person, the sort of social savvy, influential connector described in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point.” But Hosain is so much more than this. At Webb, he was known for his fierce commitment to honor, his strong work ethic, his sharp mind and creative mindset.

As Hosain and his business partner grew Jawbone, they revolutionized the wireless headset industry, and then ventured into other products, including the Jambox and the UP bracelet. The UP bracelet is a game-changer in the area of personal health and health monitoring. It is a hi-tech bracelet and app that monitors your movements, intakes and sleep, and then provides information for making positive changes to your routines to improve your health.

In November of 2011, Hosain and Jawbone released the UP bracelet in time for the Black Friday sales. As the story is told, UP soon came under criticism from its many customers. For some reason, the bracelet was not transmitting the information properly and was shutting down. Hosain and his employees were distraught. Jawbone, still a fairly new company, had only released a few products in its history. And with the online communities buzzing with how poorly the UP Bracelet was functioning, Jawbone was in a dire position. In the heat of the moment, when everything looked grim, Hosain, hunkered down, developed what he called a War Room at his Silicon Valley headquarters, and with his entire company went into crisis mode in an effort to find out what was wrong with the device and fix it as soon as possible.

During these times of despair, Hosain is described as being strong, vigilant, clear minded and focused despite severe sleep deprivation and around-the-clock attention on this high-pressure, critical situation. As CNN outlines, it was in the heat of the battle one night that Hosain decided to write a letter to his customers, investors, and other stakeholders. But it wasn’t the usual defensive letter of faint apology and vague generalizations on the prognosis of the product in the future. Rather, it represented a sharp contrast to anything that had been written up to this time. It was honest, direct, and complete.

Hosain took full responsibility for the mishap, and offered all customers their money back, regardless of whether they returned the product. “We are so committed to this product that we’re offering you the option of using it for free.” What turned out to be a technical problem with the circuits, was a watershed moment for Hosain and for his company. The UP bracelet and Jawbone are absolutely thriving today, but that letter is now cited as having saved the company. The response from the Silicon Valley toward Hosain and Jawbone was one of total respect. At the epicenter of the hi-tech universe, it was an old-fashion, honest, straight forward, well written letter which had the greatest impact of all.

Failure, as we all know, is inevitable. And great leaders fail often. The goal of a great education shouldn’t be about teaching students how to prevent failure. Rather, it should be about how best to respond when failure occurs. Hosain, in the heat of the battle, chose to think boldly and creatively, act with honor and moral courage, and to lead with distinction through the crisis. He saved his company and his employees jobs as a result. The Webb mission in action, again.

In the last issue of Webb, I made a plea not to use rankings to determine the quality of a school or a college. Rather, the best measurement of success is to look at the end product – the alumni. And by that I don’t mean the wealth of the alumni, but the lives they choose to lead and the decisions they make when times are tough. The alumni of a school or college tell the real story.

As you read this issue of Webb, I hope you enjoy the many stories and examples of this extraordinary education in action today, and the many alumni who embody our values so well. The story on genetics highlights the importance of developing both creative thinking and moral courage in an increasingly complicated world. Our feature on women’s colleges underscores the effectiveness and importance of our unique two-schools-on-one campus framework for honoring the formative differences of boys and girls in meaningful ways. And the remarkable photo essay on the chapel that reminds us all of our spiritual core as a school community as we all work hard so that our students will have the fortitude to meet failure head on and do their school proud.

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Alumni News

List of 4 news stories.

  • L to R: Rachael Schiffris ’11, Katherine Kilmer ’10, Ed Ratinoff ’83, Sarah Sun ’10, Ariel Fan ’10

    Networking Essentials with Webb Alumni

    Michael Simonelli
    On January 12, 2019 five accomplished alumni returned to campus for our first ever Networking Essentials with Webb Alumni session. The panel of speakers represented several industries including law, real estate, green energy and marketing. Eager students spent their Saturday afternoon with our incredible alumni learning about the vital skills needed to effectively network and succeed in the increasingly complex job market. Each panelist spoke about a different aspect of networking and gave a brief background of their journey after Webb.
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    Young Alumni Return to Webb

    During the first week back from winter break, students and parents had a chance to hear from young alumni about their experiences at college including managing academics and being away from home, maintaining a healthy mind and body, as well as a panel on college athletics.
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  • Marcelo Leonardi '94 Receives Distinguished Coaching Award

    USA Water Polo has announced Marcelo Leonardi '94 as the Midwest Zone recipient of the Sandy Nitta Distinguished Coaching Award. Leonardi is the Head Coach of the women's water polo team at the University of Michigan.
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  • Holiday Events in Los Angeles & San Francisco

    We enjoyed seeing alumni, parents and friends at the holiday events in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
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Webb News

List of 4 news stories.

  • Fall/Winter 2019

    “The process of finding the right college is more often than not riddled with anxiety for both students and their families. It is paradoxically both increasingly complex and more streamlined than ever. Technology allows students to simply add multiple colleges to the Common Application with a few clicks. And yet the convenience doesn’t reflect the intricate web of criteria that factor into applying to one college over another.”
    So opens the feature to our recent issue of WEBB Magazine. Reported and written by Christopher Michno, the piece delves into the myths and truths intertwined in the college admission process. He also offers up a series of personal success stories from recent Webb alumni now thriving at Stanford, Columbia, UC Berkeley and beyond. Part two follows young alumni who chose colleges related to their avocations—like art, business, engineering and others. The feature photography is done by Elisa Ferrari and focuses on the beautiful and varied architecture of the Claremont Colleges.
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  • Winter Dance Performance

    The Winter Dance Show 2019 UN / covered - is an exploration in what it means to cover and uncover - in music, dance, costuming, and text. Featuring choreography by dance coach and Webb faculty member Michael Szanyi and senior dance students, the show highlights self-expression through movement. How do we make something known? How do we bring that to light? By uncovering dance, the show asks audience members to explore how the study of movement informs their human experience.
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  • The Art & Science of Decision Making

    It is no accident, I believe, that at this very moment there is a riveting tale in The New Yorker  about the art and science of decision making. Or, at least, not an accident that I found it and read it. Here at Webb, at this time of year, there is no shortage of students and families making some of the most important decisions (they believe) of their lives--from admission to and enrollment at Webb, to college admission for our seniors. Joshua Rothman rights beautifully about it here, bringing in examples from Darwin, Tolstoy, the modern parent and more. Read it in The New Yorker.
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  • Dr. Farke & Alf Museum in The Washington Post

    Augustyn Family Curator and Director of Research & Collections Andrew Farke is quoted today in The Washington Post on the impact of the federal government shutdown on fieldwork planning for paleontologists. Beyond the impact on visitor centers at such places as Dinosaur National Monument and the Petrified Forest National Park, research and fieldwork on federal lands has been dramatically affected, too. Read more in The Washington Post.
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Sports Blog

List of 4 news stories.

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