A Conversation with Hayne Hipp, Founder of the Liberty Fellowship
March 18, 2010
What is your professional background?
Hayne Hipp: For 26 years, I was CEO of Liberty Corporation, the holding company that managed Liberty Properties (real estate), Liberty Capital Advisors (financial management), Liberty Life Insurance, and Cosmos Broadcasting (that owned WIS-TV). Through my years at Liberty and my participation in programs such as Leadership South Carolina, and chairing the South Carolina State Chamber of Commerce, I was fortunate to have established strong relationships statewide.
What is the genesis of Liberty Fellowship?
Hayne Hipp: The idea for Liberty Fellowship emanated from a conversation I had in 2003 with Wofford College President Bernie Dunlap. We felt strongly that little had changed in South Carolina over the past several decades and that we needed a new approach to leadership in the state. South Carolina was one of the key players in the founding of this great nation and we feel there is no reason why we can't reclaim our leadership role on the national stage. This state is loaded with talented people, but we need to engage leaders in a different way if we are to to resolve our issues.
When you talk about a new approach, what does that mean?
Hayne Hipp: Finding an issue in South Carolina is not a problem. SAT scores, infant mortality, life expectancy, deforestation, adult obesity, domestic violence, infrastructure investment in roads, cigarette tax rate, per capita income, inventor patents – in all of these areas, we are at or near the bottom of the rankings. The challenge is finding the people who are willing to put aside their differences and work together to achieve a common goal. For too long we have operated in silos in South Carolina -- urban vs rural, conservative vs. liberal, male vs. female, black vs white, upstate vs. lowcountry. We need to break down these artificial barriers and find common ground to solve our many issues.
Our vision is to bring together 20 South Carolinians from diverse backgrounds to have serious discussions about the issues facing our state, to establish friends and relationships across the state and most importantly, to collaborate. After the rigorous 2-year program, we envision our Fellows will have a lifelong commitment to working together for the realization of a stronger South Carolina - for everybody.
How long does the program last?
Hayne Hipp: The Liberty Fellowship is an intensive two-year program of Seminars focused on leadership and collaboration. After the Seminars the Fellows begin a life-long engagement with other community leaders through several Forums that focus on South Carolina's significant issues. UpstateBizSC: The program is modeled after the Aspen Institute, is it not? Hayne Hipp: Yes, Liberty Fellowship is a partnership with Wofford College and the Aspen Institute. We have taken many of the facets and philosophies of the Aspen Institute and incorporated them into a program designed specifically for South Carolina. We are the second of 14 programs worldwide now that fall under the auspices of the Aspen Global Leaders Network (AGLN). The Aspen Institute was founded in 1948 to bring together leaders of business and government to debate the great issues of the time. Through a series of seminars based on the writings of great thinkers of the past and present, leaders are encouraged to better understand the human challenges facing their own organizations and their communities. The process fosters personal reflection and transformation so that leaders can go out and make the world a better place.
How is the program different from other leadership programs?
Hayne Hipp: Liberty Fellowship is not a leadership development program. Those who enter the program are already proven leaders, successful in their fields, with a well-established track record of giving back to the local communities they serve. The key differentiator for the program is the diversity of opinions represented in our closed discussions. By working with others from the state, our Fellows learn that what unites us as South Carolinians is much stronger than what divides us. Another key component of the program is that each of our Fellows works in close contact with a mentor from the business community who shares the same passions. Over 70 senior South Carolina leaders have served as direct mentors to our Fellows.
How do you identify leaders for the program?
Hayne Hipp: You have to be nominated to take part in Liberty Fellowship; it is not something that you apply for. Since our inception, we have had over 700 nominations from all corners of South Carolina. With each class consisting of 20 Fellows, we have had a total of 120 graduates of the program. Nominations do not have to come from within our organization or from graduates. The deadline nominations for the next class of Fellows is March 31, so right now is a perfect time for those in the business community to nominate high-potential leaders. Candidates for the program must be residents of South Carolina, age 25-45. Each of the candidates is personally interviewed by Jennie Johnson, our Executive Director. The selections reflect our desire for diversity in gender, race, region, professions and societal views. Each class consists of 16 leaders from business and 4 non-profit leaders.
What is your definition of leadership? Who are your top 5 leaders of all time?
Hayne Hipp: I tend to shy away from definitions of leadership. There are so many great leaders in the world, at all levels of society, that it is pointless to highlight just a few. Whether you are working as CEO of a major corporation or the head of your local neighborhood association, it's all critical leadership involving individuals looking to make an impact. Leadership is often found in unlikely places, and often out of view. Frances Perkins, the first woman appointed to a U.S. Cabinet position and who wrote major parts of the legislation that led to the creation of social security and unemployment insurance, is one of the great behind-the-scenes leaders of the 20th century. Theodore Roosevelt got the credit, but it was Perkins who got the job done. Who showed more leadership? Leadership is like pornography; you know it when you see it. A key element of leadership is the ability to work with people. The decision to expand a plant, buy or sell a division of your company, or relocate is relatively straightforward compared to the task of assembling a team, putting everybody in the right role, and getting everybody to work toward a common goal.
List your Top 5 books on leadership.
Hayne Hipp: I also shy away from recommending leadership books. Whether someone responds to a certain book depends on where they are in their life and what they are looking for. We obviously encourage our Fellows to read, and read a lot, but much also can be gained by simply observing leaders in action.
How big is your operation?
Hayne Hipp: We are very small. Until recently, it has just been just been Jennie Johnson, our Executive Director and Janice Wilkins, Executive Assistant. Jennie was CEO of several subsidiaries of Liberty Corporation so I knew she had both the strategic and tactical skills to help us execute our plan. We recently hired our third employee, Julie Ducworth, who came from Edens & Avant in Columbia, to help us beef up the marketing and public relations of our program.
What is your ownership structure?
Hayne Hipp: We are funded by private foundations, and we receive no government money. We operate as a program under Wofford's umbrella.
Six years in to the program, are there areas of the program that you are looking to improve over the next five years?
Hayne Hipp: We recently underwent an independent evaluation with each of the Liberty Fellows, most of the Mentors, and the Moderators of the Seminars to identify strengths and weaknesses of the program. We were very encouraged by the positive comments, but two specific recommendations came out of the process. First, the Fellows wanted to get to know graduates from other years, not just their class of 20 Second; the Fellows expressed a desire for links to the community beyond their two-year program. With a goal of fostering a commitment of lifelong engagement, our Fellows will join a forum that will fall under one of four strategic areas: Health and Environment, Public Policy, Economic Development, and Education. Each forum will meet several times a year, have its own co-chairs, and be open to not just Fellows, but to anybody who wants to help make South Carolina a better place.
What are some of your hobbies and outside interests?
Hayne Hipp: I have been hiking the Appalachian Trail for the last several years with the goal of finishing its 2,174 miles in my lifetime. My wife and I are both pilots, and we do a fair amount of flying. I also enjoy skiing as well as quail and duck hunting.
What challenges have you had to overcome in setting up this program?
Hayne Hipp: Six years into our program, we have already exceeded our ten year goals, but as with any venture, there have been many challenges. One of the biggest is keeping up with the incredible energy and determination of our Fellows. These extraordinary people have a passion for South Carolina and the courage to break down the silos that keep us from achieving greatness in this state. The Fellows understand that the courage to act -- and overcome challenges -- is one and the same.