Hayne Hipp '58
Hayne Hipp '58 on his home state, leadership, and handing over the reins.
"Why do some people get out there and make things happen?" Hayne Hipp wonders aloud. "There are a lot of really great people out there who run companies and do great things, but at the end of the day, they go home. That's fine, but that's not a Liberty Fellow." Not is that Hayne.
In 2003, with decades as CEO of the Liberty Corporation — an insurance and broadcasting holding company — behind him, Hayne could have chosen to sit back and rest on his laurels. Instead, he part- nered with his wife Anna Kate, friend and then-president of Wofford College Bernie Dunlap, and Jennie Johnson (who had run strategic planning and acquisitions for the Liberty Corporation), to found Liberty Fellowship. Liberty Fellowship (libertyfellowshipsc.org) is an initiative that brings South Carolina’s most promising leaders together and empowers them to realize their full potential. The idea for Liberty Fellowship struck Hayne while attending an executive seminar at the renowned Aspen Institute in Colorado. There, he learned about the programs that comprise the Aspen Global Leadership Network (AGLN), each of which is designed to encourage dialogue and action to address the world’s most pressing social and economic challenges. Hayne hails from South Carolina and cares deeply about his home state, or his “community,” as he refers to it. After two years of conversations with Anna Kate, Bernie, Jennie, and others, Liberty Fellowship — the only state-based AGLN program
was born.Hayne recalls hitting the road in the early years with Bernie and Jennie (who had become Liberty Fellowship’s first Executive Director) to spread word about the program throughout the state, all the while “not knowing what we were talking about.” Hayne recalls how, a month before the nomination period for the first class of Fellows was to close, they had received 20 nominations. He figured they might end up with 30 nominees that first year. Jennie guessed 50. Four weeks later, the nomination period closed with 227 Fellow nominees.
“They were the best of the best,” says Hayne. “They were the people running the law firms, the heads of the banks, the business leaders, the political players. Whatwe realized then, and it keeps getting confirmed year after year, is that there are a lot of very smart and very bright people who care deeply about South Carolina — about who we are, where we’re going, and how we’re going to get there — and they were looking for a platform. And we — either through brilliant insight and leadership or, and this is more likely, inadvertently or by accident — created that platform for them.”
Now in year 13, Liberty Fellowship continues to bring 20 Fellows together each year; they are all proven leaders, all South Carolina residents between the ages of 30 and 45. Each class is configured based on a "mosaic," with the highest priority given to maximizing diversity of experience and thought within the class. They participate in five seminars over the course of 18 months, bolstered by readings from Socrates and Aristotle to contemporary speeches, novels, and films. All seminars are designed to prompt discussion around fundamental questions of leadership and service: What does it mean to live well? How do you make decisions when faced with two seemingly imperfect choices? How do you find the courage to speak and act when it's uncomfortable and unpopular to do so?
“When you bring them together for the first seminar, few of them agree, and that’s what’s so fascinating,” Hayne notes. “You have a white, right-wing, male real-estate developer and you have a black, left-wing, female physician. And they both care about what’s going on in South Carolina. And they have different ideas and different approaches.”
Hayne explains that there is almost always doubt when they first encounter one another. Why is this person here? What do they have to offer? Hayne loves watching those barriers come down over the course of the program, and witnessing the “red- light conversations” that the Fellows learn to respectfully and
productively navigate. “By the fourth seminar, the Fellows have become friends, and they finally understand or respect each others’ perspectives. And then it’s ‘Here’s where you are. Here’s where I am. Let’s figure out whether we can meet in the middle, or where the collaboration is. How do we take each of our strengths to address the issues that hold South Carolina back? How can we work together to build a just society?’”
That question — How can we work together to build a just society? — rose to the forefront in the aftermath of the tragic shooting that claimed nine lives at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June 2015. While the fight to remove the confederate flag from South Carolina’s statehouse grounds had been raging since its installation in 1961, the shooting of nine African-Americans at the hands of a white gunman led to a renewed sense of urgency within the community.
If you had asked Hayne a couple of years ago if he would live to see the flag come down, he would have probably said no. And certainly not for lack of want or trying. But 54 years after it rose to the top of the statehouse, the flag was finally removed from the statehouse grounds, thanks in part to a group of more than 80 Liberty Fellows who banded together and worked with state government to take action. Fellow and businessman Mikee Johnson rallied the Fellows to demand change, and Fellow and state senator Vincent Sheheen sponsored the legislation that brought the flag removal debate to the Senate floor.
Hayne and the Fellows are quick to note that the groundwork for the flag’s removal had been laid by countless people over several decades. They are quick to acknowledge the ills of a system in which too often you have to be connected to powerful people in order to effect change. They also want to be clear about the fact that the flag’s removal does not absolve South Carolina of the racial divisions that have and still do plague the state and our country. Still, the flag’s removal serves as a strong symbol of the power of collaboration, and the power of Liberty Fellowship. “When you look at the Liberty Fellows, you see that they don’t know they can’t get it done.
They don’t have all that baggage from beating their heads against the wall and not getting anywhere,” Hayne reflected. “They just get it done.”
For Hayne,the flag’s removal — and the panel that four of the participating Fellows delivered at the Aspen Action Forum just three weeks later — “was a very emotional moment. I think in that moment, the Fellows realized that they can have an impact. When an issue comes up — and we don’t want it to be another Charleston — but when an issue comes up in South
Carolina, we can come together and make something happen.”
Hayne believes that fellows by and large leave the program determined to “never stand on the sidelines again.” They’re intent on moving South Carolina forward, and now — with Hayne and Anna Kate’s blessing — it’s their time to move Liberty Fellowship forward, too. Hayne and Anna Kate are in the process of handing the program management over to the Fellows, who have established a transition team, drawn up new bylaws, and drafted a plan for Liberty Fellowship’s long-term financial sustainability. “If you look at people who start organizations, most of them have a really hard time let- ting go,” says Hayne. “Then, when they do let go, they don’t have anyone to whom they can let go.” Hayne is determined that Liberty Fellowship outlive his and Anna Kate’s roles as founders and funders. “We told them, we’re letting go, and they said, get out of the way, we’re fine! If we successfully pull this off — if the Fellows successfully pull this off — it’s going to be astonishing.” There’s little doubt that Hayne believes they will, and less doubt still that there’s nothing that would make him more proud.