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From Power Punch to Power Lunch: Leland Hardy ’84

By Emily Wells Altomare
April 12, 2012
Appeared in the
Spring 2012 issue of IUP Magazine as “Smarts beyond Sports”

The Pennsylvania state heavyweight champ in 1983, Leland Hardy pulls no punches now as a successful business entrepreneur.

Leland Hardy addressed a crowd in Eberly Auditorium in November while visiting campus for the college’s Entrepreneur in Residence program.

Leland Hardy addressed a crowd in Eberly Auditorium in November while visiting campus for the college’s Entrepreneur in Residence program.

In 1984, his senior year at IUP, Leland Hardy made a deal with himself. He would try out for the Olympic boxing team, and, if he made it, he would pursue a career as a professional athlete. If not, he would recommit to academics.

Hardy lost his qualifying match. But, he’s quick to point out Mike Tyson lost his, too.

Hardy didn’t give up on sports. Instead, he incorporated athletics into the rest of his schooling and his career, which has spanned roles including sports agent, stockbroker, marketer, translator, and international business advisor. A 1993 recipient of IUP’s Distinguished Alumni Award, he discussed his experiences and dished out career advice during two events in the fall—a campus visit as part of the Eberly College of Business and Information Technology’s Entrepreneur in Residence program and an alumni panel presentation in New York—at which he encouraged students to take advantage of opportunities on campus.

Though Hardy admits he didn’t apply himself at Philadelphia’s Central High School, he came to IUP for “total immersion” in his studies. While earning a bachelor’s degree in Marketing, he participated in two influential IUP offerings.

The first was the Program of Scholars, founded in the early 1970s by faculty member Crawford Johnson. Through the program, which targeted mainly African-Americans, high-achieving students like Hardy served as role models for their more underprepared classmates. They also visited high schools across the state to encourage students to attend college.

Another was the Critical Languages Program, which paired students with native speakers of a foreign language on campus. Hardy studied Japanese and Chinese. He had discovered a knack for learning languages in high school, where he took up French and won a national Spanish competition.

IUP is also where Hardy was introduced to boxing. He took part in a Golden Gloves exhibition on a whim and won his match. After training with Johnny Kostas ’49, who ran the Indiana County Boxing Club, Hardy went on to win the Pennsylvania State Heavyweight Championship, which qualified him for the Olympic trials.

Instead of heading to Los Angeles for the 1984 games, Hardy enrolled in the Joseph H. Lauder Institute of Management and International Studies at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The program involves 24 months straight of course work to earn an MBA and a second master’s degree. It requires fluency in a foreign language and, in Hardy’s case, involved studying at the Beijing Foreign Languages Institute. Hardy was in the program’s first graduating class.

As he began working in finance, he continued to box, earning him the moniker “the fighting stockbroker.” Boxing Scene magazine named his 1989 victory over Ike Padilla in Madison Square Garden one of the top 20 matches of the decade.

In the mid-1980s, Hardy learned on television that Muhammad Ali was planning a “goodwill mission” to China and “exhausted every effort” to become the boxing legend’s interpreter. “Ali was my favorite athlete of all time,” he said. “Still is.”

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Ali vs Leland, Howard Bingham /Courtesy of Leland Hardy

While serving as Muhammad Ali’s interpreter during a trip to China in the 1980s, Leland Hardy, right, suited up against the boxing legend in Beijing.
Photo: Howard Bingham, Courtesy of Leland Hardy

His admiration for Ali, combined with his fluency in the language and passion for China (his cuffs are embroidered with Chinese characters for “lee lan,” the equivalent of his name), created a perfect opportunity. “There could be no better fit,” he said.

With the help of boxing columnist Elmer Smith, Hardy was able to meet Ali at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., where he proved himself by arranging visas for the entourage. Since the trip, the two have stayed in touch. Hardy accompanied Ali to the funeral of another boxing champion, Joe Frazier, in November.

Included among the sports icons Hardy has worked with are tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams. Their father, Richard Williams, saw Hardy as a sports agent in an ESPN interview when the girls were just six and seven years old. Impressed by Hardy’s commitment to academics in combination with his sports and business acumen, Williams hired Hardy as the family’s business advisor, a role he held for about 15 years while the sisters rose to the top ranks of women’s tennis.

Also based on his experience in sports and finance, Hardy began to nurture a concept to help prevent athletes from being taken advantage of by managers and agents. He can rattle off names of several pros who ended up broke from bad business deals despite lucrative contracts. Athletes need help saving for their retirement or a potential career-ending injury, he said.

Hardy launched BICEPS, the Business Institute for Continuing Education in Professional Sports, at the Wharton School in 2002. He developed a curriculum that focused on the fundamentals: reading financial statements, investing in real estate and the stock market, the principles of accounting, saving for retirement, and “understanding yourself as a brand.”

He would also like to start an entrepreneurial institute to help athletes launch businesses. “It’s all about entrepreneurship through sports,” he said.

But BICEPS isn’t Hardy’s sole focus these days. Another is Very Pretty Skin, a line of cosmeceuticals he developed with his wife of 20 years, plastic and reconstructive surgeon Rosetta Garries.

He is also interested in “harnessing the mobile world” through the development of applications for smartphones, tablets, and other devices. Hardy owns what is considered one of the Internet’s most valuable domain names, www.newyork.com. He is the original registrant, having purchased the URL in 1994, and has refused to sell despite reported multimillion-dollar offers. It is one of more than a thousand domain names, on a variety of topics, Hardy owns. In fact, he would like to develop websites with IUP students as a way to help them gain real-world experience.

As for Hardy’s education—it’s something he continues to use in everyday life.

While doing a follow-up phone interview from his car, Hardy was asked by a postman, who happened to be Chinese, to back up and give him room to unload his truck.

“Listen to this,” Hardy said over the phone. He lowered his window and addressed the man—in Chinese. There was a stunned pause, followed by an explosion of laughter. “You speak Chinese!” the man exclaimed.

After they chatted in Chinese, Hardy came back on the phone. “That’s a real world example of education right there,” he said. “That man’s perception of a black man might be different now.”

Emily Wells Altomare ’04 is a freelance writer and graphic designer.

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