How Losing His Fortune Led Billionaire Robert Hale Toward Even Greater Success

Rob Hale.
Rob Hale. Photo: Getty Images.

When his first company went under, Robert Hale faced the biggest failure of his career, he told the graduates of the University of Massachusetts Boston. But he didn’t let the defeat define him.

Before March of 2000, Robert Hale was the seventh wealthiest man in the world with a $1.4 billion fortune. But in a riches-to-rags twist, he lost it all.

“There’s a good chance I’m the biggest loser you’ve ever met,” Hale told the graduating class of the University of Massachusetts Boston in a commencement address on May 25.

Today, Hale is the president and CEO of Granite Telecommunications, a communications and technology solutions provider based in Quincy, Massachusetts. The 10-time Inc. 5000 honoree serves two-thirds of the Fortune 100 companies and recently surpassed $1.85 billion in annual revenue. But failure, Hale said, played no small part in his story.

He recounted the ups and downs of his career to UMass’s new grads. Shortly after graduating from college, Hale became a telemarketer at the former telecommunications company MCI in Boston. He soon saw an opportunity in aggregation and persuaded his parents to “bet the farm” and invest $400,000 in his new business. He launched Network Plus, a telecom service aggregator, in 1990, and in just a few years, it grew into a $150 million business.

When Goldman Sachs called and told Hale he could become a billionaire with an IPO, he rejoiced. Network Plus went public, and the stock climbed for nine months. But then the banks turned against the company’s business model, and Hale lost his line of credit. The stock plummeted, and the business went bankrupt in 2002.

On February 4, 2002, Hale had to tell his 400 sales employees on a conference call that they didn’t have jobs anymore, and later that afternoon, his family received a death threat. “I have seen failure face-to-face,” Hale told the graduates.

But therein lies the lesson, Hale said, as every one of his career highlights came after this moment. Failure, he added, is a serious motivator. He pointed to greats like Michael Jordan and Steve Jobs who also failed before flourishing: “Don’t let the fear of that define you. Defy it. You’ll be a better leader because of it.”

Hale also extolled the importance of giving back. Hale fell in love with philanthropy after a high school experience raising money for the disability service provider and nonprofit Easterseals. He and his wife, Karen, have earned accolades such as the inaugural Carolyn Lynch Humanitarian Award from the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and the Heritage Key Award from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital for their charitable contributions. In 2022, Granite Telecommunications was recognized as Massachusetts’s most charitable company for the second time for its contribution of $38.9 million.

Hale challenged graduates to help their community today, even in smaller ways. To help them do that, he gave each graduate two envelopes, each with $500: one to keep for themself and one to donate. “If you give a little more than you get, your life will be better because of it,” Hale said. “I promise you.”