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Personnel File - November 2008: Internet Technology / Electronics

Christopher Hartnett
CEO, Global Online India Inc.

Christopher Hartnett doesn’t take a thing for granted. In 2001, doctors said he might die after a bout with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis left his intestinal tract severely damaged. So the former stockbroker oversaw the merger of three Internet-based companies he had started — USA Global Link Inc., Global Online Inc. and Global Online India Inc. — and spent the next three years in and out of hospitals undergoing surgery.

He recovered, returned to the business world and is more active than ever. He chairs the board of Global Online India, the Boone-based result of the merger. He also owns three gemstone companies and, with his wife, an oil company. Hartnett, 55, attributes his success to luck and an unorthodox education. Among his degrees is a master’s in business from Maharishi International University’s School of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, and one of his doctorates is in Vedic science, popularized by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. (That’s the Maharishi, mentor to The Beatles.) Studying meditation and Hinduism has given Hartnett a different approach that combines common sense — the most successful companies tap into people’s creativity, he says — with a reverence for tenets some people might find, well, odd. For example, he believes the biggest block to success is arrogance. “If someone makes a couple hundred million dollars, they start to think they’re special. That money is actually a gift. But they interpret it as something that makes them better than other people. And the moment they believe that, the learning stops, the achievement stops, the fulfillment stops.”

Mumbo-jumbo? Maybe. But it’s hard to dismiss someone who has enjoyed Hartnett’s success. After getting a bachelor’s in business in 1975 from Loyola Marymount University, he put himself through graduate school by working in construction, as a UPS driver and in other jobs. In 1979, while still a student, he persuaded investors to put up $5 million for a gemstone-investment company. When he graduated in 1986, he became a broker on the Chicago Stock Exchange. He sold his seat four years later to focus on his gem company. During a business trip to Hong Kong in 1991, he came across the technology that would make him a telecommunications entrepreneur. A fellow traveler told him about devices that could route phone calls through the Internet, saving on the tolls charged by phone companies. He bought the technology and set up USA Global Link, which became the world’s largest provider of discount telecommunications services, with offices in 160 countries. In 1993 he created Global Online, an Internet service provider. When he launched Global Online India to focus on e-commerce in 2000, it raised $780 million on the first day its stock was offered to the public.

Hartnett and his family have lived around the world, spending six years in The Netherlands to be closer to the Maharishi. But after Hartnett recovered from his health scares, the family settled in a home on Heavenly Mountain, a development started by followers of the Maharishi, near Boone. He and his wife run the Maharishi Global Development Fund, which tackles poverty in developing countries. “When I wake up and think of, for example, the 60,000 students in India who are going to school through our program and how an education is going to change their lives and their family’s lives, that gets me excited.”