Billionaire dished out $2.5 million to 2,500 college graduates—and then told them to give half of it away

May 26, 2023, 1:21 PM UTC
Happy graduates hugging
Tech tycoon Robert Hale is instilling the importance of giving in the next generation of leaders.
Camille Tokerud—Getty Images

Once you’ve reached the top of your game, a big part of leadership becomes about giving back to those on their way up—whether that’s your time, energy, or lessons learned.

It’s a lesson that telecommunications tycoon Robert Hale is trying to instill in the next generation of leaders.

The billionaire surprised students of the UMass Boston undergraduate class of 2023 with $1,000 each on their graduation day—but the generous gesture wasn’t empty.

As thousands of students lined up to receive their gift,  Hale, the cofounder and CEO of Granite Telecommunications handed out two envelopes with the cash evenly split.

One $500 envelope was labeled “gift” and the other “give.”

“The first $500 is for you,” Hale explained, according to NBC Boston. “It’s a celebration of all you have done to be here today. You’re leaders. Celebrate.”

He then entrusted students with gifting the second $500 envelope away to “somebody else or another organization who could use it more than you” to experience the “joy of giving.”

With a cohort of 2,500 students graduating that day, the gifts amassed to $2.5 million—a relatively small dent in Hale’s estimated $5 billion fortune—but whether the recipients actually donate half the money is left up to them.

The philanthropic billionaire

Hale founded Granite in 2002, less than six months after his previous company, Network Plus, filed for bankruptcy.

Fast-forward to today: Granite is experiencing high levels of success (it generated $1.6 billion in sales alone in 2021, per Forbes), and with a 70% stake in the business, so is Hale. 

He’s been sharing that success with those less fortunate for some time now.

In 2019, the Chronicle of Philanthropy listed Hale as one of the top 15 most generous philanthropists in America, with reports claiming that he has donated over $280 million toward cancer research, educational institutions, and other charitable causes.

Plus, this isn’t the first time he’s turned his philanthropic efforts to students.

In May 2022, Hale gifted $1,000 each to 150 graduates at the Roxbury Community College in Boston, per NBC Boston; the year prior, he gave $1,000 to 490 graduates of Quincy College in Quincy, Mass. 

On both occasions, the gift came with the same ask to donate half of the cash.

The gift of giving

While it is not uncommon for billionaires to make substantial donations to colleges and universities, often resulting in the naming of buildings or departments in their honor, donating cash directly with a set of instructions for students is rare.

It’s unclear what inspired Hale to do so, but he pointed to the need for good as humanity faces numerous challenges, including artificial intelligence displacing jobs; economic turbulence; and war in Ukraine.

“These trying times have heightened the need for sharing, caring, and giving,” Hale said in his most recent announcement speech. “Our community and our world need you; it needs us more than ever to be compassionate.” 

“If you give a little more than you get your life will be better because of it, I promise you,” he added.

Subscribe to Well Adjusted, our newsletter full of simple strategies to work smarter and live better, from the Fortune Well team. Sign up today.

Read More

Great ResignationCompensationReturn to WorkCareersLaborSuccess Stories