The story of the founding of the Hart Leadership Program (HLP) involves four key figures: Milledge “Mitch” Hart III, Linda Wertheimer Hart, Joel Fleishman, and Bruce Payne.

HLP was launched in 1986 by Mitch Hart, a Duke trustee (1983-1991) and member of the Board of Visitors of the Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy. A Dallas businessman, Hart was—and remains—committed to introducing young adults to ethical leadership through a learning process that combines intellectual study, personal reflection, and practical, hands-on experience.

Joel Fleishman was instrumental in coordinating a major gift to create the Hart Leadership Program. Fleishman was director of the Capital Campaign for Arts and Sciences at Duke at the time, and had previously served as director of the Institute of Policy Sciences and Public Affairs in early 1980s. Mitch’s son, Milledge Hart IV ‘87, was a public policy major at the time and had taken Professor Bruce Payne’s ethics course. Mitch Hart believed that ethics ought to be at the center of leadership education. This was a novel idea at the time, as most other colleges and universities did not add an ethics component to the curriculum until years, and in some cases decades, later. Hart also admired Terry Sanford’s belief that the Institute should not just prepare students for a rapidly changing world, but should also challenge them to set ambitious goals and to achieve them.