ALAMEDA -- Corwin Hardham, the CEO and co-founder of Makani Power, died unexpectedly at work for unknown reasons on Oct. 23, and his life was celebrated by approximately 500 people Saturday at the former Alameda Naval Air Station control tower, where laboratory and office work for the airborne wind turbine company is based.
After earning a doctorate from Stanford University in mechanical engineering and working on research and development projects at Squid Labs in Emeryville, Hardham founded Makani in 2006 with Don Montague and Saul Griffith with the aim of harnessing untapped wind resources. Makani, which raised more than $20 million in the past few years, obtained its initial funding from Google and other financial support from the U.S. Energy Department.
A native of Oregon, Hardham took to sports easily and competed in national windsurfing championships for five consecutive years. He also excelled at snowboarding, kitesurfing, ocean surfing and cycling, as well as dance, which he studied and practiced throughout his life.
Hardham, according to an online dedication, "learned to be broad-minded and adaptable at an early age, accompanying his parents John Hardham and Joan Chase on extensive world and national travels. As an adult he remained intensely dedicated to his work and to his friends, while ready to embrace new people and ideas."
Many speakers at Saturday's memorial explained how complex Hardham was: driven and competitive, but also generous, humble, caring and giving. Several colleagues noted that did not separate his business and personal life, which led so many Bay Area residents -- such as his partner Gia Schneider, CEO of Alameda-based Natal Energy -- to "love and respect him."
For instance, they said, Hardham always was ready to make and share a meal, give of his many talents, and even buy his friends sports equipment to get them more involved in his passions.
"It is not every day that you meet an engineer with that much flair. He had such an offbeat nature," said Kenny Jensen, who worked with Hardham at Makani. "He was a perfectionist to a fault and also playful and unprofessional at times. He'd commute to work across the Bay by windsurfing or paddle boarding ... And he was such a fair and humble boss that he'd clean the shop floor. He always wanted to whole team to get credit for projects. For me and others, he made Makani more of a home than a workplace."
Many friends and colleagues pledged to keep Hardham's dreams for the company alive.
"I hope that Makani will continue," said family friend Douglas Mahone, an energy-efficiency consultant in Sacramento who attended the memorial. "Employees here, with Ph.D.s, do things like ride their bikes to work and grow vegetables. It's so unusual. The community should be proud of what's its incubating."
Griffith, who spoke at Hardham's memorial, wrote in an online eulogy: "Corwin is among the great engineers of his generation, leading in a time when the world needs great engineers to find solutions to our pressing challenges.
"Corwin, you will be sadly missed as a 21st Century pioneer, and I'm proud to call you not just a friend, but one of my heroes. I wish for a world with more people like you, and a world where we make heroes of people like you. The world would be better. It would be the type of world that you imagined was possible, a beautiful one."
Donations can be made in Hardham's name to San Francisco Baykeeper.