“Made Me Who I Am”

For Howard Charney MBA ’73, J.D. ’77,  law school made the difference.

“Made Me Who I Am”
Charney Hall looks sharp at dusk. It’s opening brought in luminaries from SCU Law’s past—and future. / Photo by Keith Sutter

Howard Charney MBA ’73, J.D. ’77 studied quantum physics, differential equations, and engineering, but he calls law school “the most intellectually challenging education I undertook.” His belief that a knowledge of law—and how it underpins business and deal-making—was a key reason he and his wife, Alida, gave $10 million to build Santa Clara Law’s new home.

Howard Charney is a former Cisco senior vice president who co-founded 3Com and Grand Junction Networks. He delivered the commencement address to the School of Law on May 19 in the University’s Mission Gardens. 

He initially had no intention of going to law school. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering at MIT. At Santa Clara, he took a required class as an MBA student: Business and the Law. He learned how law is the backdrop and the arbiter of boundaries for major interactions in life. “This is fascinating,” he decided. Understanding law “makes you more competent, and more facile, including in deals and arrangements, and that’s what life’s about.” 

In his advice to law grads, Howard Charney spoke about “taking the right risks” and 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 3Com.

In each case, Charney determined that no matter the downside, he would have choices. So he took risks.

Drawing of Howard Charney
Howard Charney/Illustration by Kyle Hilton

That audience included 216 graduates, with 67 graduate certificates in various areas of high-tech law; another 19 certificates in public interest and social justice law; eight in international law; and ten in privacy law.

When Howard Charney committed to helping build the Howard S. and Alida S. Charney Hall of Law, which opened in March and celebrated its grand opening in October, he said, “Attending Santa Clara Law was really pivotal to making me who I am.” Added Alida: “It is important to the Charney family that Santa Clara University continues to provide future generations with the best education possible.”

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