Hayne Hipp began his career with the Liberty Corporation in 1969 and became chief executive in 1979. Liberty Corp. owned insurance companies and television stations and invested in media, real estate and technology ventures. After the publicly traded company was sold to Raycom Media in 2006, Hipp became a private investor.
While he had a successful and fulfilling “first career,” he found another outlet for his boundless energy when he cofounded the Liberty Fellowship in 2003. The idea for the Liberty Fellowship, a partnership with the Aspen Institute and Wofford College, was to bring together young leaders who are moving South Carolina forward. An incubator for leadership, the program has had 230 participants since its first class in 2004, with 20 highly motivated new graduates each year.
Liberty Fellows are now touching every life in the state, Hipp said, with graduates including legislators, doctors, lawyers, nonprofit directors, teachers and other leaders, all bound by a desire for progress and a willingness to work together to make it happen.
“That’s what is so exciting about the Liberty Fellowship,” Hipp said. “They don’t know they can’t do it. That’s why they’re going to do it.”
What keeps you up at night?
I wouldn’t begin to share that.
What is your most underutilized asset?
The brain. There is such capacity there, and I don’t think we take full advantage of it, especially in today’s world, where you don’t intellectually strain to get superficial satisfaction.
What project are you most excited about?
The Liberty Fellowship, and in particular how we just reorganized the whole program. The reorganization centered around input from a multi-class reunion we had. We had 160 Liberty Fellows say, “This is where we want to go; this is what we want to do.” Now we are transitioning the Liberty Fellowship over to the Liberty Fellows, because they are saying, “It’s time for us to run it,” and I think that’s right.
What changes do they want to make?
They are close with people in their classes, but they aren’t seeing them. And they don’t know the people in other classes. We want to build up what they call collective strategic impact, or a collaborative network, so they can see and talk with each other in casual settings or Socratic closed sessions.
What’s the biggest topic of concern for your organization?
My biggest concern is the overall direction of society. How we’re beginning to segmentize ourselves, how we’re operating in silos. We go to church, to dinner with people who are exactly like us, philosophically as well as physically. Once you begin to narrow your world, your mind begins to narrow.
What was a game-changing moment in your career?
I was lucky enough to have a long career, so I have a dozen different game-changers. They weren’t centered on a new product, or a new technology, or a great marketing idea; they were centered on people. Every success at Liberty Corp. was centered around when people would come in and they would say, “Why don’t we try this?” I remember when we came out with universal life, when we started Liberty Insurance Services – they came out of people’s ideas.
Where do you see yourself in five or 10 years?
I hope I am able to see myself breathe; I’d be delighted with that. I’ll be working on the Liberty Fellowship if they’ll have me. Anna Kate and I are hanging out with people who are an average age of 31, with very diverse backgrounds, from across the state. To be a part of that is very fortunate.
What do you still have to learn?
There is always a lot to learn. I guess I am more into living in the moment than I was in the past, and I’m learning from people as opposed to learning from books, though I still think that’s valuable.
How do you motivate people?
Sometimes I wonder if I’m motivating or not. Sometimes I think I’m just pontificating, and they’re being very nice to listen.
What inspired you to start the Liberty Fellowship?
Being around my parents, who were always givers. I’m lucky to have a lot of friends who are givers. I had some exposure to the Aspen Institute and the Socratic roundtable discussions and seminars. Anna Kate and I and Jennie Johnson, our executive director, said, “Why don’t we see if we can do that in South Carolina?” Once again, nobody said, “You can’t do that.”
Was it immediately successful?
Thirty days before nominations closed, we had 20 nominations for 20 slots. I thought we were going to have to take some weak players. Thirty days later, on March 31, 2004, we had 215 nominations. We had no idea there were that many smart, bright people around the state, from very different backgrounds. All they were looking for was a platform to get together and have a discussion, and all the Liberty Fellowship did was create that platform, give it structure, and then get out of the way.
What is your idea of work-life balance?
I always loved being at work. People who know me well … know I have spent a lot of time on the life side. I’ve had a very full life work-wise, and a very full life life-wise.
Is there a time when you were sure you would fail?
I would say three or four times on the business side I spent a night or a week or a month thinking, “Are we going to be able to pull this off, or have we stepped in a hole?” And luckily, because of the people I happened to be associated with, we might have stepped in the hole, but we did pull it off and we did come out fine, and our shareholders came out very fine, and I think we are all proud of that.
Is there a common assumption people make about you?
I am a right-time, right-place person, and I was very lucky. I was born in the South when the South was getting ready to take off. I came from a very stable home. We had an ownership position in a publicly traded company, so I was able to get a job. So I look back and my challenge was not to take advantage or get through, but to make something happen. My challenge was not to blow, mess up, destroy or be ignorant of the very unusual advantages that I’ve had.
How is your life today compared to where you thought it would be 10, 20 or 30 years ago?
When you are younger, you’re thinking out 30, 40 years. You’re thinking about where your kids will go to school, how am I going to get my mortgage paid off? Am I going to be able to work up the ladder from clerk to senior vice president or head of the department? When you reach my age, you aren’t thinking about [those things]. You’re thinking about the moment, and you concentrate much more on living in the moment, making sure the contribution you give is given right now.
How has battling cancer affected your outlook? [Hipp was diagnosed last year with cancer and is now in remission.]
I was one of the lucky few. I found it by a fluke. I did chemo every two weeks for two hours, and you see people in there for eight hours. They’ve lost their hair, or they’re in a ball, and you think, “I’m feeling sorry for myself about my cancer, but what are they going through? I can’t waste my time feeling sorry for myself.”
I loved the planning part, the equipment, the packing, the maps. I must have hiked with 40 different people, including friends and Liberty Fellows. There were a lot of memorable moments.
What will help the Liberty Fellowship last?
The Liberty Fellows, and their commitment to South Carolina, and their relationship with each other. They’re going to do it. Now they range in age from 31 to 57. We’ve got two congressmen, a senator, people in the White House. You’ve got businesspeople, nonprofits, a lot from the medical field. I was astonished coming out of that meeting, how they stood up and said, “We’re ready to take over.” The first reaction is, “Wait a minute!” Your second reaction is, “Wow, that’s really cool. That’s great.”
Have you seen specific changes taking place because of people’s participation in the Liberty Fellowship?
I’ve got hundreds of stories like that. We have letter after letter saying, “If I hadn’t participated, I would not be doing what I’m doing.” We had an outside consultant do a review, and she interviewed all of the Liberty Fellows. She got quotes like, “I realize I can’t stand on the sidelines anymore.” “I now know what I thought I couldn’t do, I can do.” Those things just make you tear up and say, “Wow, this is cool.”