2008 Hall Of Fame: Lasting Influence
Places in Georgia Trend’s Most Influential Georgians Hall of Fame are reserved for individuals whose achievements and accomplishments ensure them a permanent place on any roster of prominent and powerful Georgians.
The 2008 honorees are baseball legend Hank Aaron, former U.S. Senator and retired Ports Authority Chairman Mack Mattingly, retiring Georgia State University President Carl Patton and construction and real estate magnate Herman J. Russell. – Profiles by Jerry Grillo
755 Restaurant Corp.
Last September marked the 50th anniversary of what Hank Aaron considers his greatest moment in baseball, a pennant-clinching home run that lifted the Milwaukee Braves into the World Series.
It’s one brilliant pixel in the dazzling big picture of Aaron’s long baseball career. And whether he was pursuing excellence on the baseball diamond, or in business, Aaron always has been a big picture guy.
“I knew I couldn’t play baseball for 40 or 50 years, so I always had my eyes on the bigger picture,” Aaron told Black Enterprise after being named that magazine’s Auto Dealer of the Year for 2004. “I always believed if I could just get into something and keep it growing, I could do well.”
Last year he sold Hank Aaron Automotive Group, which had revenues of $136.7 million in 2006, but he continues to satisfy an entrepreneurial urge by growing 755 Restaurant Corp., a $19 million business that includes Church’s, Popeye’s and Krispy Kreme franchises, all based in Georgia.
Aaron sits on several corporate and nonprofit boards; started (with wife Billye) his own philanthropic foundation; received numerous civic awards (including the Medal of Freedom); and stays involved in baseball as senior vice president for the Atlanta Braves and a member of their board.
But he’ll always be remembered most for what happened the night of April 8, 1974 in Atlanta, when he hit his 715th career homer to pass Babe Ruth on the all-time list. He calls it his second greatest moment in baseball. Throughout the chase Aaron was dogged by hate mail and death threats, but never lost his cool.
“When I was in a ballpark, I felt there was nothing that could bother me,” Aaron told The Sporting News in 1999. “I felt like I was surrounded by angels and I had God’s hand on my shoulder.”
Former U.S. Senator
Former Assistant Secretary General (NATO)
Former U.S. Ambassador (Seychelles)
Mack Mattingly made Georgia political history as a statesman, but at heart he’s always been a salesman.
“It’s a great way to make a living, and it gave me the experience I needed to learn and do things I never would have imagined when I was growing up, ” says Mattingly, the former IBM marketing executive who in 1980 became the first Republican from Georgia since 1871 to be elected to the U.S. Senate. “The best advice I ever heard in sales was, ‘The sale really begins when the customer says no.’”
For more than a century, Georgia voters had been saying “no” to the GOP, but the stars aligned for Mattingly in 1980. Longtime Democratic Senator Herman Talmadge was reeling in the wake of a financial scandal and Mattingly entered the Senate on a national blue wave – but he was the only Republican to be elected in a state that Ronald Reagan did not carry in that year’s presidential election.
“There was a 20 percent interest rate, inflation was soaring, unemployment was high and people wanted something different,” Mattingly says. “I came out of the private sector, and my reputation as a conservative Republican caught the public’s imagination.”
Mattingly, who first came to Georgia while serving in the Air Force, got involved in Republican politics in 1964, when he chaired the Goldwater for President campaign in the 8th Congressional District. He’s been involved in the political process ever since.
“I don’t know if that ever ends. It’s like getting the flu – you can’t get rid of it,” says Mattingly, who ended his stint as chairman of the Georgia Ports Authority last year, but remains active behind the scenes in an unofficial advisory role. “I don’t think I’ve ever seriously considered retirement.”
Georgia State University
Carl Patton became GSU’s president 16 years ago and began transforming the commuter school into a bustling urban university of 50,000 full- and part-time students. Along the way he helped transform downtown Atlanta.
“We didn’t build walls and fences, we wanted to be part of the neighborhood, and we invited the neighborhood to be part of our master plan,” says Patton, who announced in November that he would retire this June.
Under Patton’s leadership, GSU finished a $500 million master plan (new buildings have sprouted across the campus) and has started a 10-year, $1 billion plan (which includes a new science center and more student housing). Soon, the university will begin its next comprehensive fund-raising campaign.
“You want a president who will be here throughout the campaign, which is likely to take about seven years to complete,” says Patton, an urban planner who led the school’s first capital campaign, which raised more than $127 million. “Add seven years to my age now, and I’m an old guy. This is a good time to make the hand-off.”
Speaking of hand-offs, if the Board of Regents approves the idea, GSU will soon be fielding an NCAA football program, adding to the traditional university aura that Patton has brought to the city. Incoming students bring the highest SAT scores and grade point averages in the school’s history and students are living downtown – the goal is to house 20 percent of the student population by 2015.
“One of the things that matters most to me,” says Patton, who will continue to live downtown and help GSU with fund raising, “is when one of my students holds up her hands, makes quote marks in the air, and says this feels like a ‘real’ university now.”
Herman J. Russell
H.J. Russell & Company
Herman Russell is the epitome of the self-made man. While he was at it, he also helped make Atlanta. Russell’s signature is engraved across the city’s skyline, and in its soul, the result of more than half a century of long days and keen focus.
“I had to prove myself, had to stay focused,” says Russell, who founded a company that has become the largest minority-owned construction and real estate firm in the nation ($317 million in sales in 2006). “I guess what got me through those early days was, once we got the opportunity to do the job, we left the customers with a good taste in their mouths, and our reputation grew.”
The company’s project list is massive and includes headquarters for Georgia-Pacific and Coca-Cola; the Georgia Dome, Philips Arena, Turner Field, 191 Peachtree, the main terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the Georgia World Congress Center, just to name a few.
Along the way, Russell collected friends such as Rev. Martin Luther King and Hank Aaron, became the first African-American member (and later president) of Atlanta’s chamber of commerce, served on the boards of Georgia Power, Wachovia Bank, the Georgia Ports Authority and Central Atlanta Progress. And the city he grew up in grew in ways he could not have imagined.
“Atlanta is like a little Manhattan now,” says Russell, who retired four years ago as CEO of the company (his son Michael holds that post now) but is overseeing what he calls a retirement project, transforming an area near company headquarters, just south of the Georgia Dome.
“Atlanta is not the little city I knew 70 years ago. But if you think we made progress in the past few decades, you wait until the next decade. You won’t be able to recognize it.”