The Future is Bright at Heartland

Published July 23, 2019

As interim president of The Heartland Institute, I expect this essay leading off The Heartlander will be the first and only “president’s essay” written by me and with my face next to the text. I am quite honored to write these words in this important moment for the institute, and I’m grateful that Heartland’s board of directors entrusted me, your director of communications since 2010, to lead Heartland in this time of transition.

The story of how I (and Heartland) got to this moment is a story about Heartland’s strength as an organization, which it enjoys thanks to a corporate culture that rewards loyalty, encourages excellence, demands respect, and insists that all achievements and struggles be shared.


Knowing What You Don’t Know

I first came to Heartland in 2008 as managing editor of InfoTech & Telecom News—a now defunct publication that would be quite relevant these days. Sadly, Heartland could not sustain funding for that project. (If you think InfoTech & Telecom News should be back in circulation, we’re always looking for funding to get it back into production!) 

In the summer of 2010, Joe Bast rewarded my work and dedication to Heartland’s mission—and my 16 years in journalism, including some high-level work in Washington, DC—by asking me to be director of communications. I was thrilled to take the position, but I had no idea then just how much I’d learn working for several years side-by-side with Joe.

I thought I was a solid free-market thinker before coming to Chicago to work as Heartland’s communications director, but Joe taught me that I didn’t know as much as I needed to know. Joe introduced me to the deeper practical and philosophical writings of Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises, Thomas Sowell, and so many others. I tried to introduce Joe to sports, but his brain is reserved for more important matters: libertarian philosophy, economics, and his family. 


‘Never Lie’ 

The most vital thing Joe Bast taught me about Heartland’s corporate culture, the foundation of everything we do around here, is this: “Never lie.” Following that rule requires the courage to admit when you screw up. It requires the humility to know that you’re right without damaging the egos of others. And most of all, it requires a level of trust among everyone in the organization—from interns to the president—that always telling the truth is never the wrong thing, for you or the organization.

We have that good advice posted all over our headquarters in Arlington Heights, Illinois. In fact, Anthony Watts, Heartland’s new senior fellow for environment, was so impressed to see that up on the wall during his first visit to Heartland that he took a picture of it and shared it on social media. Anthony told me how rare such a rule is for any organization. Maybe it is. That only makes me appreciate more how special and liberating it is to work at The Heartland Institute.

Here’s another thing we’ve come to learn, this time only recently, at Heartland: Founding President Joseph Bast is irreplaceable. Over the past decade, Joe and I watched as Heartland’s peers in the free-market think tank world transitioned from their founding leader to … well, someone who couldn’t measure up. Joe and I talked often about the struggles they endured, and we hoped to learn from their mistakes, to handle it better when it was our time.


‘Replacing the Irreplaceable’

Alas, Heartland learned that finding a man with all the tools Joe brought to the table in 1984 and developed over three decades is virtually impossible. Where do you find someone who has the intellectual heft to establish and maintain a consistent and distinctive ideological identity, manage a diverse and dispersed staff of 40, and grow an organization’s operating budget from about $15,000 to more than $6 million a year?

The answer is: You don’t. So, Heartland has another plan.

Soon, we will have a new president in place whose main job will include maintaining our recent levels of annual revenues, managing and growing the Development Department and our financial resources, and serving as a respected public spokesperson for the principles Heartland has advanced for all these years.

The good news for the new president is that Heartland has in place all the supporting staff he will need to succeed—yet another legacy of Joe Bast.

Kevin Fitzgerald, who worked as a senior manager at Heartland for years and knows how and why our internal culture and structure work so well, is our new CEO. His job is to make sure the senior management team and the president are working closely together to achieve all the goals you support.

Wanda Davis is Heartland’s new executive vice president. She makes sure all departments are working together and getting their jobs done on time. She keeps the department heads accountable for their work and offers support and solutions when we run into challenges. There really is no better person for that task in this organization than Wanda, and we’re lucky she has taken on that vital management responsibility.

Latreece Reed will serve as vice president of administration, and in so doing she will continue filling the role she has played for nearly two decades: being the glue that keeps Heartland together. The new president will soon learn just how important it is that Latreece is here each day to make sure every staffer is respected, motivated, and accountable to his or her peers.

David Hoyt is Heartland’s new executive director of development. He will work directly with the new president to create and execute a long-term fundraising plan, to ensure the organization’s financial health and growth. We are excited about the fresh perspective he brings to the table after working successfully for years with free-market nonprofits across the country.

Gwendalyn Carver, formerly the director of development, is now Heartland’s director of marketing, a position we’ve had unfilled for far too long. Heartland has been in desperate need of a marketing director who has strong organizational skills and drive—qualities that perfectly describe what Gwen has provided to our organization for years.

We are also close to hiring a new director of government relations, and we’re very excited about the experience this individual will bring to our team. I expect the hiring to occur almost close enough to the deadline for this essay to announce it to you, but not quite. I’m happy to leave that task to our next president, who we expect to be in place by the time you read these words.

I’m also happy to leave the president’s essay in future editions of this quarterly publication to our next president. He will have a lot of exciting news to report, and his vision for the future of Heartland will no doubt be compelling reading.

There are great days ahead for Heartland, and I’m excited to be a part of it. We all hope you are, too.