Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

All hail, Rob Hale: 10 business lessons from the most philanthropic CEO in Massachusetts

Rob Hale and his company Granite Telecommunications made nearly $300 million in charitable donations over the past few years. See how Hale and his team exemplify the belief that businesses can be the greatest platform for change.

Rob Hale is co-founder and president of Granite Telecommunications, a communications company headquartered in Quincy, Massachusetts. Founded in 2002, Granite now has annual revenues exceeding $1.5 billion and employs more than 2,500 teammates. Granite provides voice and data communications products and services to over two-thirds of Fortune 100, including 18 of the top 20 retailers in the United States. Granite was recognized in 2019 as the most philanthropic company in Massachusetts after donating $25M to community organizations. Hale owns FoxRock Properties, a Boston-based real estate firm with over 4 million square feet of commercial space.Hale founded Copley Equity Partners, a private equity firm that invests in small and middle market businesses with significant growth prospects.

Hale is an owner and director of the Boston Celtics of the National Basketball Association and the owner of the Boston Cannons of Major League Lacrosse.

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David Ortiz (Big Papi) and Granite CEO Rob Hale raise awareness and funds for Boston Children's Hospital during Granite's Annual "Saving by Shaving" event.

Rob Hale has been repeatedly recognized by Boston Business Journal's Power 50, which salutes the 50 most powerful people in Boston. Hale has also received the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award and has been saluted as one of the 25 most influential people in American telecom multiple times. I consider Granite to be a  Salesforce Trailblazer, based on their expansive use of CRM. Hale was awarded the Boston Red Sox Jimmy Fund Award for his long-time commitment to the lifesaving mission of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund.

Rob Hale and his wife Karen were honored by the Breast Cancer Research Foundation with the Inaugural Carolyn Lynch Humanitarian Award. Rob and Karen Hale were also honored by Brigham and Women's Hospital with the Heritage Key Award. Additionally, Partners Healthcare saluted the Hale's with the Jack Connors Philanthropic Leadership Award. For 2019, The Chronicle of Philanthropy listed the Hales as one of the top 15 most generous Philanthropists in America. Based on my estimates, Rob and Karen Hale have donated over $280 million dollars in the past 5 years.

I recently had a fireside chat with Rob Hale about a wide variety of topics, including the health crisis, economic crisis, race crisis, the importance of diversity and inclusion, giving and life and leadership lessons from one of the most successful business leaders in all of New England. Here are the 10 lessons that I learned from my conversation with Rob Hale. 

Building a championship team

On July 26 in Maryland, The Boston Cannons defeated the Denver Outlaws to win the 2020 Major League Lacrosse Championship. The win marked the first championship won by a Boston area sports team since the New England Patriots Super Bowl victory in February of 2019. This is the second time in franchise history and the first time since 2011 that the Boston Cannons have won the Major League Lacrosse Championship. The Cannons join the Patriots and Red Sox as the only other pro team in Boston to win multiple championships in the past decade. This was Head Coach Sean Quirk's first MLL Championship. Bryce Wasserman was named the 2020 MLL League MVP following the game. How do you build a championship team and culture of winning? 

Lesson 1: Stay humble and kind. Rob Hale's response to my introduction of him was a clear example of his humility and kindness. No matter how educated, talented or rich you are, how you treat people ultimately tells all. I have watched Hale engage with his employees, business partners and the community. He is always accessible, genuinely interested and respectful of all. Hale talked about being lucky to have built successful companies. 

Lesson 2: Hire the best people and get out of their way. Hale talked about recruiting Ian Frenette, President of the Boston Cannons, as the first and perhaps the important piece of building a championship team. Hale said that he provides some guiding principles to his leaders and then trusts them to make key decisions. Hale is a leader of 6,000 employees across his portfolio of companies. Trust and the right talent at the right places is at the core of Hale's management philosophy. 

Lesson 3: Do not fear failure. Hale has had real failures throughout his career. The best teacher is your last mistake. Hale was radically transparent in our conversations regarding his past failures. Hale talked about his prior company growing to $150 million in annual revenues from 1990-1998. Hale took the company public and at one point Forbes named Hale as the 7th wealthiest person in the world under the age of 40. By 2002, his company went into bankruptcy. Hale talked about being at the bottom. "Rather fail with honor than succeed through fraud," said Hale. Hale learned from his mistakes. Hale bounced back because he has no fear of failure. Hale believes that if you don't make mistakes, it means you are not pushing hard enough. 

Lesson 4: Think long-term when defining a roadmap to success. Hale advises his leaders to think about developing a long-term strategy. Hale and his businesses think about what will help their companies in 2-3 years. Decisions regarding business choices have a long-term outlook. 

Lesson 5: Always maintain your integrity. Hale talked about facing decisions regarding accounting practices with respect to financial decisions and accounting. Hale shared a specific story regarding an example of how --  based on advice from his CFO and consultants -- he choose to do the right thing. Hale and his teammates made a decision not to take shortcuts for short-term benefits, instead do the right thing for the long-term benefits. The path to  success is not a straight line. The only universal currency you have is your reputation. 

The importance of philanthropy

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Rob and Karen Hale are the most generous philanthropists in New England. 

 If there is one thing that Hale loves more than winning championships it's giving back to the community. Just last month, Granite Telecommunication was named by the Boston Business Journal (BBJ) as one of the most charitable contributors in Massachusetts for the 12th straight year. The official ranking will be announced on September 10.  

In 2019, a record 105 companies qualified as a top charitable contributor by giving at least $100,000 each in contributions to Massachusetts-based charities and social-service nonprofits. Granite contributed more than $24 million to charitable organizations in Massachusetts, including $6.5 million to fund cancer research from the company's annual Saving by Shaving event, when local leaders (Governor Charlie Baker), celebrities and pro athletes (David Ortiz and Tom Brady) as well as Granite executives and teammates shave their heads to raise money and awareness. At Granite, philanthropy is not just an annual event. Each week Granite teammates donate on average $5,000 for Granite Gives Back to give to local charities. In 2018, Rob and Karen Hale donated $100 million to two Boston hospitals. I asked Hale why philanthropy is a core value for his companies and teammates.

Lesson 6: To whom much is given, much is expected. Hale and Granite started with great teammates and significant blessings, according to Hale. Hale was very emotional talking about giving. Hale deeply cares about giving to others. He recognizes that there are so many people in America that lack the opportunities that he has had. Hale wants others to have better access to education. The Hale family have donated tens of millions of donations to scholarships, aimed at improving the ability for under-served populations to have access to education. 

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Rob Hale, Tom Brady (former New England Patriots quarterback) and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and 2,500 Granite teammates, family members and friends shave their head to benefit Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. 

The importance of diversity and inclusion

Granite Telecommunications was recognized by Forbes as one of the country's Best Employers for Diversity in 2019. This prestigious list ranks 500 employers across the U.S. that have created measurable initiatives to ensure a diverse workforce and senior leadership team. 

This is the third time in the past year that Forbes has recognized Granite for its exceptional workplace environment. Granite was also named by Forbes as Best Employers for New Grads and America's Best Midsize Employers lists. You have donated to $25 million to Deerfield Academy and $20M to Connecticut College (largest gift in the colleges history) to improve their diversity and inclusion programs. 

 I asked Hale: Why is diversity and inclusion important to you?

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Rob Hale, one of the Boston Celtics owners, meets with young fans to encourage and educate them on the importance of inclusion, diversity and teamwork. 

Lesson 7: Talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not. Hale talked about the importance of providing opportunities to further expand and celebrate inclusion and diversity. Granite teammates volunteered 11,000 hours to support their communities. The best teammates are the ones that care more about others. The act of giving makes Granite a better company. Granite is recruiting the best talent in Massachusetts because of their reputation of caring and giving. I have witnessed Hale ask other local business executives to give more to their communities. Hale actively participates in being a mentor and sponsor who champions equality across his companies and communities. 

Candidly fighting racism

In June, Granite joined the fight against racial injustice among its ranks and within its communities with the launch of Granite CANDID (Community Awareness Networking Diversity Informational Development), a new initiative that promises open and honest conversation, education and action to promote diversity. 

Hale said that he feels a deep sense of sorrow and anger about the stark reminders of the racism and brutality that continue to be pervasive throughout our country. Hale also said, "Despite the progress we've made, there's still plenty of work to be done," so he announced the formation of Granite CANDID. I asked Hale about the program. 

Lesson 8: Your actions must speak louder than your words. Hale and his teammates choose to proactively address the nation's race crisis. Hale said that he learned in the past couple of months that he and his company needed to do even better as it relates to providing more emotional support for their teammates. Several Granite employees approached Hale and asked him to be even more proactive with respect to become better people, focused on equality, opportunity, community and diversity. 

Lesson 9: Maintain a beginner's mindset - because you can always do better.  Hale said even though his company has received numerous awards for being the best company to work for, he recognized that there was room to do even better. Hale advised us to be aware of blind spots. He also noted that we must get better, together. This is not about the CEO defining an edict, but rather a grassroots effort of improving the company's culture. Hale believes the best ideas must win, not just the best titles. I have visited and collaborated with the Granite senior executives: All of them are deeply committed to working closely with Granite employees at every level. In fact Hale himself sits in a cubical, not corner CEO office, so that he can be as accessible as possible to his teammates. 

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Rob Hale and Granite teammates work hard to build a culture of inclusion, diversity and equality. In response to the race crisis in 2020, Granite launched the CANDID program. 

Granite CANDID is led by a steering committee made up of Granite teammates focused on four areas: Community Programs, Educational Programs, Equality Programs and Developmental Programs. The programs are backed by Granite's commitment to resources, funding for initiatives and willingness to make and/or evangelize change based on the group's recommendations.   

"We encourage other companies to have the hard conversations about racial injustice with their teams and to take the next step, invest in programs that will change the hearts, minds and actions of people inside their companies and communities."

— Rob Hale   

Early, rapid COVID-19 Response

In March, Granite quickly announced the release of a rapid-response Remote Redundancy solution to assist America's businesses and government agencies in quickly enabling "work from home" functionality for their employees in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. The solutions included rapid overnight shipping, easy self-installation, and low monthly pricing to help companies protect their employees as well as their bottom lines. 

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Rob Hale and Granite Telecommunications quickly mobilized in March of 2020 to help their government and enterprise customers deliver robust work from home solutions. 

Granite Telecom and Salesforce have two common beliefs. We believe values create value. We also believe that business can be the greatest platform for change. 2020 has been unlike any other year in our lifetime. I believe we may have seen five years worth of digital and cultural transformation in the past five months alone. From working from home, to adoption of digital collaboration tools and digital commerce, 2020 will be the year that redefined and in many ways changed our future forever. I asked Hale about what the coronavirus pandemic had taught him with respect to business, leadership, technology, giving back and the future of work and business?

Lesson 10: Values create value. Granite immediately developed solutions to help their customers create the capabilities to support working from home. Granite measures their success based on the success of their customers. Granite is intensely focused on Net Promoter Score and Customer Satisfaction survey scores. Granite also immediately guided their own employees to work from home during the pandemic. Working from home can work. Hale said that he was pleasantly surprised that his teammates could work effectively from home. 

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Granite Telecommunications and Rob Hale, were joined by Tom Brady, with a donation towards cancer research 

Granite may be a small enterprise in Massachusetts, but it has the biggest heart in all of New England. Rob Hale is the most generous CEO with whom I've had the pleasure of collaborating. He is also the most humble and accessible CEO that I know. Granite continues to be a Salesforce Trailblazer, digitally transforming every line of business with the mission of truly earning the future business and partnerships of their stakeholders - employees, customers, partners and most importantly their communities. 

I highly encourage you to watch the passionate and emotional conversation that I had with Rob Hale. Hale is the most generous CEO in Massachusetts and all of his companies and teammates at Granite, FoxRock Properties and Copley Equity Partners exemplify the belief that businesses can be the greatest platform for change.