In 1979, when Daniel L. Rosensweig ’83 arrived at Hobart and William Smith Colleges he had no idea what he wanted to do in life. He enrolled in classes he found interesting, took full advantage of the interdisciplinary nature of the Colleges exploring several disciplines, and ultimately majored in political science. Today, Rosensweig serves as chief executive officer and chair of Chegg.com, an online textbook rental company, and has a resume that lists former positions as chief executive officer and president of both Yahoo! and Guitar Hero, and more.
Rosensweig returned to campus on Tuesday night as a guest of the President’s Forum Series to share his insight as a leader within these rapidly evolving technology companies.
“When Dan Rosensweig graduated in 1983, the Internet did not exist — evidence of how our economy is constantly changing,” said President Mark D. Gearan, introducing Rosensweig to the crowd that filled the Geneva Room of the Warren Hunting Smith Library. “This is a testament to the importance of a liberal arts education; it is preparing students for opportunities that might not yet exist.”
What does one do with a liberal arts education? The opportunities, Rosensweig said, are unlimited at HWS, where students are taught to lead lives of consequence and make their actions matter. “In life, everything you do has some effect – an effect on society, your community, your family or friends,” Rosensweig remarked. “You are part of this global community, and you need to give back and think about the consequences. At HWS, there exists the concept of greater good– that making a contribution is important. ‘Doing good’ gives you greater confidence to do anything.”
Rosensweig’s company, Chegg, takes this notion seriously. For every order the online textbook rental company receives, they plant a tree. In addition, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Chegg donated a portion of that day’s profit to the MLK Foundation, handing the foundation a check for nearly $20,000.
In the business of the Internet, consequences can be seen readily. For every action, there is a reaction, and it is on this principle that the popular – and profitable – social networks rely. Facebook and Twitter require the presence of millions of users and the participation of the global community. “We live in a global world, a connected world,” said Rosensweig. “Facebook is great; it has an extremely visible network effect. The more people that join, the more content is added, the more there is to do.”
However, this phenomenon of creating change through mere participation is not exclusive to social networks. Rosensweig sees this system as a microcosm for life itself. “If you choose not to participate in life, it will have the same effect,” said Rosensweig. “You can’t make a change if you don’t get in the game.”
Rosensweig discussed other prominent leaders of technology companies such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and eBay CEO John Donahoe who he said are distinguished by their ambition and vision.
“They stopped worrying about whether or not they had an MBA or what school they went to; they went all in,” explained Rosensweig. “They said, ‘I have a vision. I am creating something that hasn’t been created yet – you can’t understand.'”
In fact, while the social networking site was still in its infancy, Rosensweig – then CEO of Yahoo! – tried to convince Zuckerberg to sell Facebook to Yahoo! for $1 billion. However, the deal eventually fell through. “It didn’t work out because Mark didn’t want it to work out,” said Rosensweig. “It wasn’t about the money for Mark; it was about what Facebook could do. There are revolutions in the world that are happening right now in some part because of his creation.”
Although the world is constantly changing – and Rosensweig himself is evidence of that – the entrepreneur showed great confidence in the future generations emerging from the Colleges. “You have choices to make – and all of you have already made the phenomenal choice to come to this school,” said Rosensweig. “Here you learn how to understand and fix problems; you will have the tools to fix any problem. Hobart and William Smith also give you the confidence to recognize you may not always have the right answers, but you can always ask the right questions.”
Rosensweig encouraged students to consider decisions that are right for them, to strive for their dreams and never to settle for mediocrity. Even a journey that ends in failure is one worth taking if it allows one to follow true passion. “Everyone is motivated by a different thing,” Rosensweig explained. “There is one thing that is true of all of the people I know who are successful – they are not afraid to fail.”
“There isn’t anyone in this room who can’t create Yahoo! or Facebook,” Rosensweig concluded. “You just have to recognize that you have the chance to change the world.”
For more information on Rosensweig, visit http://www2.hws.edu/article-id-14050