Boston Celtics Co-Owner Says Risk is the Key to Success

KENNESAW, Ga. (May 2, 2019) — While Rob Hale is one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the country – he runs a telecommunications firm with $1.5 billion in annual revenue – he has also experienced his fair share of failures, like losing nearly the same amount in a high-profile 2002 bankruptcy.

However, he says these failures are what ultimately taught him how to be successful.

Speaking to students in the Michael J. Coles College of Business as part of the Tetley Distinguished Leader Lecture Series, Hale encouraged an auditorium of aspiring entrepreneurs to take risks while they are young and always to learn from their mistakes; two lessons that have shaped Hale’s own life.

Rob Hale with KSU Student

Hale is the co-founder and CEO of Granite Telecommunications, which provides voice and data services to two-thirds of Fortune 500 businesses. He also owns a real estate business, a private equity firm, and the Boston Cannons professional lacrosse team, and is co-owner of the Boston Celtics NBA franchise. Ernst and Young previously named Hale its Entrepreneur of the Year.

In early 2002, things looked very different for Hale. The telecom company he started in 1991 at 23-years-old went bankrupt when the technology industry bubble burst, resulting in the loss of 400 jobs and a personal loss for Hale of more than $1 billion.

“The Boston Globe used to run stories when I was hot calling me ‘the boy billionaire,” he said. “When my business started to go down, they started calling me ‘the busted boy billionaire….I don’t think there are too many more bad things that could happen to a business person that didn’t happen to me.”

Despite the pain of losing his company and letting his staff go, Hale said this experience taught him the importance of not letting failure prevent him from taking risks.

“The great things that I get to do now were enabled by risk-taking,” he said. “If I hadn’t taken risks when I was your age, failed, and learned that I could handle the negativity that comes from it, I don’t think I would have been able to handle the significant adverse negativity that I faced in 2002.”

Just two months after the bankruptcy, Hale and his father started Granite Telecom, which has since grown into a key player in the industry.

Rob Hale Tetley Series

Hale shared with the students how a last-minute job change early in his career set him on the path to success. After college, he secured a coveted position with Proctor and Gamble purchasing retail space at grocery stores. The job was the first step on a track that could have put him in the P&G corporate office.

Unfortunately, he found the work unsatisfying. Hale has always considered himself a salesman, and wanted a position that allowed him to sell to a wider variety of customers. He left P&G and took a job as a telemarketer for MCI (a company eventually absorbed into Verizon), which was his entry into the telecom industry.

Hale wanted students to take two lessons away from that story. The first being that they should never settle on a career that they are not passionate about.

“Had I listened to what people near and dear to me said, I don’t know if I would be here talking to you today,” Hale said. “I took a job where you work in real sales immediately, and I loved every moment of it.”

Second, he hopes his story highlights the importance of taking risks while you are young.

“At your age, those things are lifer-altering,” he said. “It’s like Armageddon. But, I learned I can accept defeat and everything that comes with it. And if I crave the positive, then I will take chances.”

Rob Hale Teltey Series

Made possible by a generous donation from former Tetley, Inc. CEO Hank McInerney, the Tetley Series brings prominent business and community leaders to Kennesaw State University to engage with students. Other speakers this academic year include Debbie Pike, former Chief Marketing Officer for Arby’s, and Michael Coles, co-founder of the Great American Cookie Company.

Hale’s participation in the Tetley Series is the latest collaboration between his organization and Coles College. Granite Telecom is a frequent supporter of the College’s Center for Professional Selling, including hosting classroom presentations, providing internship and employee shadowing opportunities, and sponsoring the center’s National Collegiate Sales Competition.

“The most successful salespeople are the ones who try to make a meaningful difference in the lives of their customers and those around them,” said Dr. Terry Lowe, Co-Director of the CPS. “Rob epitomizes this by the differences he makes not only in the lives of his customers and employees, but in the lives of many people across this great country.”

In addition to being a successful entrepreneur, Hale is also a passionate philanthropist. Last year, he and his wife donated $115 million to fight cancer, build research facilities, and fund scholarships. In 2018, The Boston Business Journal named Granite the second-most philanthropic business in Boston.  

Hale concluded his presentation by inspiring the students to choose the careers and lives that they want, not the ones that are easy.

“Take chances,” he said. “If you fail, all you’re going to do is learn. Second, follow your heart because the energy, enthusiasm and vigor that you bring with you will make you successful.”

-Patrick Harbin

Photos by Rosa Zavala-Castillo