Few people can match Phil Hardwick’s resume when it comes to diversity. Over his career, Hardwick has been a clerk, soldier, law enforcement officer, investigator, real estate consultant, author/columnist, community and economic developer and educator/trainer.
On Sept. 1, Hardwick will begin yet another chapter in his eclectic career after stepping down as coordinator of capacity development at the John C. Stennis Institute of Government. Officially, it is a retirement, but Hardwick refuses to call it that.
“I’m transitioning, not retiring,” Hardwick said. “There are still a lot of things I want to do.”
He light-heartedly writes off the twists and turns of his career, saying, “Obviously, I can’t hold a job.” But, the truth is that Hardwick’s career is an example of hard work and a little serendipity.
“I heard someone say one time that if you want a better job, do the job you have now better. I’ve never forgotten that,” Hardwick remembered.
Hardwick’s journey began in his hometown of Jackson, raised by a single mother who worked split shifts as a waitress to provide for her two children and still managed to save enough to buy a house. Hardwick’s dream was to become an FBI agent, so after graduating from Central High School he hired on at the local FBI office as a clerk in 1966 while attending Millsaps College at night. (He would go on to eventually earn an MBA from Millsaps.)
Still looking for more “action,” in 1968 Hardwick joined the Army at the height of the crisis in Southeast Asia.
“I thought I was going to Vietnam. I was going to win the war all by myself,” Hardwick said with a smile.
However, Hardwick ended up being assigned to the White House as part of the security team, and spent several years riding on Army One, the Presidential helicopter also known as Marine One. He would eventually rise to sergeant and command a security unit.
After his enlistment, Hardwick served with the Fairfax County Police Department in Virginia with no plans to return to Mississippi, but the first of many serendipitous events occurred. While home during Christmas, Hardwick learned from an old FBI acquaintance that the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office was looking for a chief investigator. Jumping at the chance, Hardwick would remain for three years before being named chief investigator and deputy director of the then-new Enforcement Section of the Mississippi Real Estate Commission.
The work with the Commission changed Hardwick’s focus from law enforcement to real estate and education. While still at the Commission, he started teaching courses at the Real Estate Institute, and after leaving the Commission in 1985 he established his own real estate consulting firm.
His work as a consultant won him an appointment as the city of Jackson’s chief economic developer, and he made a name for himself in his new field when Jackson was chosen as the site for the proposed Defense Finance and Accounting Center. A change in the Secretary of Defense post nixed the deal, but Hardwick started fielding inquiries for his services from economic development organizations, including one in Tennessee.
It looked as if Mississippi would lose Hardwick again when fortune intervened. Hardwick was having lunch with Matt Holleman, who was then president and CEO of Mississippi Valley Gas (now Atmos Energy), when Hardwick’s pager went off. Seeing a Tennessee number, Hardwick said, “Well, this must be my call.”
When Holleman found out Hardwick was about to leave the state, he asked Hardwick if he would consider coming to work for him. Not wanting to relocate, Hardwick accepted, and spent the next 11 years as vice president of community and economic development.
“I count my work at Mississippi Valley Gas as the most rewarding of my career,” Hardwick said. “Matt believed in hiring the right people then letting them do their job.”
After “retiring” from Mississippi Valley Gas, Hardwick came on board with the Stennis Institute, serving primarily as a training and strategic planning facilitator working with public sector leaders. His last day there will be Aug. 31.
Hardwick isn’t sure what he might do next. He plans on continuing to teach at Millsaps. The author of nearly a dozen books, Hardwick also said he might write a novel or two, and he has committed to continue to write his longstanding column for the Mississippi Business Journal.
He also looks forward to spending more time with his wife, Carol, former head of the Mississippi Economic Development Council, his two children and two grandchildren.
“It’s kind of funny. I started out wanting to be James Bond, and I ended up being a family man,” Hardwick said with a laugh. “Over my career, every time I’ve planned something I end up doing something else. So, who knows? But, I am not retiring.”