The Institute of Political Leadership emerged in 1987 from the deliberations of a group of leading North Carolinians who were concerned about the lack of integrity found in our political system. These leaders joined together to begin a program to improve the quality of political and governmental leadership in state and local government.
Simply stated, the purpose of this unique leadership program is to produce better qualified, ethical, accessible, and more representative public leaders in North Carolina's state and local governments. The Institute is a multi-partisan non-profit organization which provides leadership development of people who have been identified as having the potential to become future public leaders. No other program offers such a comprehensive curriculum in strategic political leadership development. IOPL chooses 20 participants for each of two annual Fellows classes, one annual Collegiate Political Leadership Program, one annual Women in Office Program, and multiple Women on Board Programs and Chamber of Commerce Candidate Academies on the basis of leadership potential and commitment without regard to age, race, sex, ideology or party affiliation.
Also instrumental in the IOPL's development and subsequent success was the late H. Smith Richardson of Wilmington, retired CEO of Vicks Chemical Corporation. Mr. Richardson, an original Board member, provided six years of valuable advice, guidance, and financial support to the Institute prior to retiring from the Board in January, 1994. Lanty Smith, CEO of Precision Fabrics Group in Greensboro, followed Mr. Friday as Board Chairman in 1990 and Janice H. Faulkner, retired Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Transportation, assumed the chairmanship in 1993. Thad Beyle, Professor of Political Science at UNC-CH served until 1997 and Dr. Michael C. Blackwell, President of the Baptist Children's Homes of N.C., became chairman in November 1997 and turned over this honor to Mack Pearsall in 2004. He is the owner of Pearsall Operating Company of Ashville. Jim Melvin, former Mayor of Greensboro, served as Chairman through 2013, and Henry Frye, the former Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, took over in 2013.
In 2013, the Institute of Political Leadership merged with the North Carolina Center for Women in Public Service. Through this merger, IOPL added the Women in Office and Women on Board Programs and three Board members: Easter Maynard, Nelle Hotchkiss, and Jessica Aylor. With the graduation of the Fall 2013 Class, IOPL (and the North Carolina Center for Women in Public Service) have over 1,500 graduates representing more than 75 North Carolina counties. Graduates of the Institute of Political Leadership serve at every level of state and local government including Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, State Treasurer Janet Cowell, and NC Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin as well as Supreme Court Justices Mark Martin and Barbara Jackson. Many others are city council members, county commissioners, school board members, judges, clerks of court, registers of deeds, sheriffs, or hold other elected offices. Numerous other IOPL graduates serve on appointed boards and commissions on both the state and local levels and several use their IOPL experience regularly while working on political campaigns.
Although the Institute was the first of its type in the nation, similar institutes are now operating in Michigan, Massachusetts, Virginia, Ecuador and all of the provinces of South Africa.