The Phil Hardin Foundation
To Improve the Education of Mississippians

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HISTORY AND LEGACY OF THE FOUNDATION


     In the 1930s, Mr. Phil Hardin bought a bankrupt bakery business in Meridian, Mississippi.  A remarkable entrepreneur with a genius for marketing, Mr. Hardin built the Hardin Bakeries Corporation into a highly successful business operation with production plants for bread and buns in Meridian, Jackson, and Tupelo and a sweet goods plant in Columbus.  Dedicated to his business, Mr. Hardin also had a strong sense for the importance of the Bakeries Corporations to be a good corporate citizen and responsible member of those communities.
     One day early in 1964, Mr. Hardin went into Tom Ward’s office in Meridian.  Mr. Ward was a long-time friend, business associate, and tax attorney.  Mr. Hardin was chewing on his cigar a little more than usual that day.  In his hand was a copy of the Wall Street Journal.  On the front page was a two-column story about the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation, the estate and tax benefits it provided, and, especially, the good works it did.  Mr. Hardin looked Tom in the eye and said, Tom, can you get me one of those foundations?
     Tom could and did.
     Later in 1964 Mr. Hardin chose the board of directors for the Foundation and, in true Mississippi fashion, asked his accountant, his physician, his banker, his lawyer, and three business associates to serve on the board.  These were all friends, but they were more than that:  They were people in whom Mr. Hardin had confidence, people of competence who would be good stewards of the Foundation’s assets and purposes.

Philip B. Hardin
    -    October 30, 1891-October 13, 1972

 

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Building Philanthropic Capital, Creating Philanthropic Opportunity

 

     Through his professional bakery career, Mr. Phil Hardin sought out new ideas, innovative practices, and good people.  He traveled the state of Mississippi, understanding his markets and the people, communities, and culture of the places his corporations served.  He devised entrepreneurial strategies to serve that market.  When WTOK-TV first came on the air in 1953 as Mississippi’s second television station, he sponsored a country music program featuring Danny and the Dudes playing “The Hardin’s Bread Boogie”—right here in the hometown of Jimmie Rodgers, the father of country music.  And he understood that markets are not static:  He had the Bakeries around the state provide elementary school tours, giving each student who came a miniature loaf of Hardin’s Bread and nurturing the next generation of bread eaters—and bread winners. 
     He and his management team not only renewed the Bakeries’ marketing strategies but also kept up with national sources of supplies, production technologies, and other trends and effective practices in the bakery business.  Mr. Hardin and his associates developed a network of stable and credible national suppliers including Anheuser-Busch of St. Louis.  The beer industry produces yeast to brew beer—and markets yeast to bakeries as leavening needed for bread.  Mr. Hardin often visited St. Louis, knew the Busch family, met Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals, and listened to the Cardinal radio broadcasts on WMOX with Harry Carey.
     Through such visits and contacts Mr. Hardin and his management team (that over the years included Biggie Pell, David White, and Walter Smith) also kept abreast of bread production technologies.  In the 1970s, as a result of visits and careful study and analysis, the management team decided to close the older production plants around the state and create a state-of-the-art production and distribution center in Meridian. 
     In planning for the new center, the management team realized that the new technology would require a trained workforce, reinforcing Mr. Hardin’s and his colleagues’ understanding that education was key to Mississippi’s future. 
The management team also realized that the new technology would require new markets for the Bakeries’ products. The new center’s expanded production capacity would far exceed existing demand. This management team therefore carefully developed a strategy for new markets while also planning construction of the new center.  Their solution was hamburger buns.  As Bakeries’ board member Sy Rosenbaum put it at that time in the 1970s, “There is a world of money in hamburger buns.”  Consequently, with a handshake, the Hardin’s Bakeries Corporations became the supplier in the mid-south of hamburger buns for McDonald’s.
     For Mr. Hardin, business entrepreneurship went hand-in-hand with good corporate citizenship.  When the devastating floods in northeast Mississippi occurred in the 1940s, Mr. Hardin immediately dispatched Walter Smith to see to it that all route drivers found every road that could be found to get to every rural crossroads grocery store in the area, delivering the bread and offering it for days at no cost since so many of the region’s residents were flooded out of their homes.
That sense of corporate citizenship and individual philanthropy was ultimately expressed upon his death in 1972:  Mr. Hardin’s estate literally left virtually all of his dough to the philanthropic foundation that bore his name and which he had established in 1964 to work for the improvement of the education of Mississippians. Since its inception, The Phil Hardin Foundation has provided more than $38.8 million in grants and loans to further Mr. Hardin’s charitable intent: To improve the education of Mississippians.
     It is our obligation and responsibility as directors and staff of the Phil Hardin Foundation to carry on the legacy of Mr. Hardin’s entrepreneurial spirit and philanthropy as a work-in-progress to benefit succeeding generations of Mississippians and Mississippi communities.  We’ll continue to seek out new ideas, innovative and effective practices, and good people in and out of Mississippi.  We want to be accessible and open in our grantmaking and other work.  We want to be adventuresome and nimble, willing to develop “initiative philanthropy” and to risk failure.  We want to persevere, and as friends, to constantly urge ourselves to “keep the faith.”  We’ll be focused and hold ourselves accountable for our grantmaking, attempting to be good stewards of the philanthropic resources Mr. Hardin has provided.
But the key issue, again, is the people who receive our grants.  We could have all the money in the world and it wouldn’t make any difference if it weren’t for dedicated civic entrepreneurs bringing new perspectives and new ideas to projects in their school communities and the many other remarkable people who design and implement the grant proposals that come to the Phil Hardin Foundation.