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Georgia's Power List

100 Most Influential Georgians

 

This 14th edition of Georgia Trend’s 100 Most Influential Georgians includes some familiar names, some new to the list and a few that are retuning after an absence.

The process of developing the list is, for all practical purposes, a yearlong effort, but the editorial staff of the magazine begins deliberation in earnest in the summer months and comes up with the final slate of names in the late fall – subject, of course, to hirings, firings, retirements and the occasional fall from grace.

Individuals on the list – some who are very much in the public eye and some who choose to work behind the scenes – are selected for the power and influence they wield. These are the people who affect the lives and livelihood of all Georgians in one way or another.

Over the years, the number of women on the list has steadily, if slowly, increased, reflecting the realities of leadership in Georgia. The number of minority listees fluctuates, but is generally trending up.

One notable change: Just a few years ago the elected officials on the list, especially at the state level, were overwhelmingly Democratic; now they are mostly Republican.

Profiles were written by Linda M. Erbele, Jerry Grillo, Karen Kennedy, Bobby Nesbitt, Don Sadler, Christy Simo and Ben Young. Simo also assisted in the editing process.

 

Stacey Abrams

Minority Leader

Georgia House of Representatives

Atlanta

Age: 39

House Minority Leader Abrams was first elected in 2006, and she is the first woman and African American to hold her leadership position. A Democrat who represents District 84 in Atlanta, the Yale-educated attorney is known for being a good listener and being open to cooperation and good ideas, wherever they come from. 

 

Dr. Michael F. Adams




President, University of Georgia 




Athens




Age: 63



Despite continuing budget cuts in 2011, UGA found much to celebrate. The new Richard B. Russell Special Collections Libraries Building opened. It will house three special collections libraries in a secure, climate-controlled facility. The university also implemented the First-Year Odyssey program, which places every freshman in a small, seminar-type class with a senior faculty member.

 

Dan Amos

CEO/Chairman

Aflac

Columbus

Age: 60

Demonstrating why Aflac is the only insurance company on Ethisphere’s World’s Most Ethical Companies list for five consecutive years, Amos responded immediately to the devastating tsunami in Japan by going there. He donated 100 million yen for recovery efforts. Aflac topped $67 million in overall contributions to Atlanta’s Aflac Cancer Center and the fight against childhood cancer.

 

Richard Anderson

CEO

Delta Air Lines

Atlanta

Age: 56

In spite of a fuel bill $3 billion higher than the same period last year, Anderson helped guide the world’s largest airline to a profit through three quarters of 2011. Delta won Business Travel News’ Airline of the Year Award (among several honors the company gleaned this year) while navigating a challenging financial environment.

 

Dr. Ricardo Azziz

President, Georgia Health Sciences University

CEO, Georgia Health Sciences Health System 




Augusta




Age: 53 




Azziz, who took the helm at GHSU in 2010, is leading the organization in a strategic 10-year growth plan called Transformation 2020. The goal is to remake GHSU into an integrated, world-class organization delivering excellence in biomedical education, research and clinical service. The next two years will be crucial as GHSU devises strategy and deals with national healthcare reform. 

 

Radcliffe Bailey

Artist

Atlanta

Age: 44

One of the most prominent graduates of Atlanta College of Art, Radcliffe Bailey got the royal treatment at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta when his “Memory As Medicine” was presented as part of the National Black Arts Festival. It was a huge retrospective that never faltered and included a giant room full of piano keys.

 

Joe Bankoff

CEO/President

Woodruff Arts Center

Atlanta

Age: 66

With Bankoff at the helm, several important transitions have been initiated at the arts center, including a partnership with Georgia Tech to provide students a $20 unlimited access pass; a new focus in the annual corporate campaign resulting in 96 percent of the board members donating; and the creation of an 18-person Woodruff Arts Center Governing Board to manage the corporate and fiduciary affairs of the arts center.

 

Craig Barrow III

Founder/Chairman

UGA Press Advisory Council

Savannah

Age: 69

Craig Barrow believes in the book. As founder and chairman of the UGA Press Advisory Council, he supports and guides the University of Georgia Press, the oldest and largest publishing house in the state, which received a Governor’s Award in Humanities in 2008. The mission of the press is to produce publications that advance the intellectual, cultural and environmental heritage of Georgia, the Southeast and the U.S.

 

Mark P. Becker

President

Georgia State University

Atlanta

Age: 53

Under Becker’s leadership, GSU implemented its 10-year strategic plan, with an overall mission of producing both leaders and solutions for the challenges of the 21st century. Becker is active on a number of boards in the state and in the Atlanta area, among them the Central Atlanta Progress executive committee and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.

 

Freddy Bensch

Founder/owner/president

SweetWater Brewing Company

Atlanta

Age: 40

SweetWater’s self-styled Big Kahuna, Bensch is an avid fly-fisherman and outdoorsman who has crafted a community- and conservation-centered corporation that happens to make some of the nation’s most celebrated beers. Now they’ve expanded the brewery and dramatically increased capacity (from 100,000 barrels a year to 500,000). Sweetwater also plans to install Atlanta's largest commercial solar power array to capture the juice they need to make the beer.

 

Sanford Bishop




U.S. Congressman,
District 2




Albany




Age: 64




Currently in his 10th term as the congressman from Southwest Georgia, Bish-op, a Democrat, serves on the House Appropriations Committee. While funding has been a challenge during the economic recession and period of deficit reduction, Bishop continues to work to bring resources to his district, including the $350-million Martin Army Community Hospital at Fort Benning, which is scheduled to open in 2014.

 

Gary W. Black

Commissioner

Georgia Department of Agriculture

Commerce

Age: 53

From the new immigration law’s consequences on harvest time to a rising number of food scares, Gary Black has had a lot on his plate since taking over from Tommy Irvin in January 2011. He is the first new commissioner of agriculture for Georgia in more than 42 years, overseeing an industry with a $65 billion impact on the state.

 

Frank Blake

Chairman/CEO

The Home Depot

Atlanta

Age: 63

Since becoming Chairman and CEO of The Home Depot in 2007, Blake has focused on investing in associates’ training and revamping the company’s supply chain. And in 2012 the home improvement specialty retailer will be creating jobs – 700 of them at a new national customer service call center in Kennesaw. Blake also serves on the board of the Georgia Aquarium.

 

Arthur Blank

Owner/CEO

Atlanta Falcons, Georgia Force

Chairman, The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation

Atlanta

Age: 69

Turning his famous Home Depot business acumen to making the Atlanta Falcons competitive and successful, Blank is always giving back. The Blank Family Foundation has granted more than $250 million to support early childhood development, education, the arts, parks and greenspace. He was the recipient of the 2011 Freeing Voices, Changing Lives award from the American Institute for Stuttering.

 

Mike Bowers

Attorney

Balch & Bingham LLP

Commerce

Age: 70

Mike Bowers had a herculean task ahead of him. The Atlanta Public School system had been accused of unethical and potentially illegal actions, so then-Gov. Sonny Perdue asked him to start digging. After an exhaustive 10-month review, the former attorney general of Georgia helped uncover one of the largest cheating scandals in the country.

 

Paul Bowers

President/CEO

Georgia Power Company

Atlanta

Age: 55

A part of parent company Southern Company since 1979, Paul Bowers knows the ins and outs of the state’s largest electricity supplier. And that’s a good thing, because he became Georgia Power’s new CEO in January 2011. On his watch, the company is incorporating new forms of renewable energy and building two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro – the first new reactors in the country in decades.

 

John Brock

CEO/Chairman

Coca-Cola Enterprises

Atlanta

Age: 63

Brock has led the largest Coca-Cola bottler in Western Europe to five consecutive years of growth, working from the company’s headquarters in Atlanta, and recently completed his term as chairman of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. He remains active with his alma mater Georgia Tech, chairing the school’s capital campaign and serving on the Georgia Tech Foundation Board.

 

Maj. Gen. Robert B. Brown

Commanding General

U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence

Fort Benning

Age: 54

Six years after the Base Realignment and Closure process directed massive changes at Fort Benning, Brown can say “mission accomplished” to one major part, the troop transfer. The $3.5-billion expansion, a huge boost to the region’s economy, continues with construction through 2016. The expanded center will train about 145,000 soldiers and leaders a year, including 30 percent of all civilians coming into the Army.

 

John Bulloch

State Senator, District 11

Ochlocknee

Age: 64

In addition to his strong support of agriculture during 13 years in the legislature, Bulloch was recognized last year by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce as the Senate Legislator of the Year. He also championed the successful Sunday Sales legislation that gave Georgians the option to vote in their communities on whether alcohol should be sold on Sundays.

 

Charles S. Bullock III

Richard B. Russell Professor of Political Science

University of Georgia

Bishop

Age: 69

Specializing in legislative and Southern politics, Bullock has had many of the state’s legislators, lobbyists, congressional chiefs of staff and even two governors’ press secretaries as students. He helps to inform public discussion, doing hundreds of media interviews and commentaries. His latest book, written with Keith Gaddie, is Key States, High Stakes: Sarah Palin, the Tea Party and the 2010 Elections.

 

Casey Cagle

Lieutenant Governor of Georgia

Chestnut Mountain

Age: 46

Commandingly re-elected to a second term, Cagle has focused on economic development in the state and has continued his efforts on college and career academies, institutions that blend high school and technical college academics to graduate industry certified students ready to work. He launched the Lieutenant Governor’s Healthy Kids Georgia initiative to combat childhood obesity.

 

C. Michael Cassidy

President/CEO

Georgia Research Alliance

Atlanta

Age: 58

As Georgia’s leaders plan for future economic growth, they are banking heavily on the type of activity fostered by the GRA, an alliance of Georgia’s research universities, business community and state government. Cassidy has headed GRA since its founding in 1990, leading the effort to launch new science- and tech-based companies and create thousands of high-wage jobs.

 

Dan Cathy

President/COO

Chick-fil-A, Inc.

Fayetteville

Age: 58

Continuing in the footsteps of his father Truett Cathy, Dan Cathy has guided the company to become one of the nation’s largest family-owned businesses, with more than 1,560 locations and 2010 sales of more than $3.5 billion. His emphasis on customer service combined with community service has made Chick-fil-A one of the most admired – and successful – fast-food chains in the nation.

 

Saxby Chambliss

U.S. Senator

Moultrie

Age: 68

As vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Chambliss is a leading voice on our nation’s most pressing security issues. As co-founder of the Senate’s Gang of Six, he has worked to find a bipartisan solution to the nation’s debt and deficit; his efforts have won him national recognition. His stands on fiscal responsibility and strong national defense brought him a number of awards and honors in 2011.

 

Chris Clark

President

Georgia Chamber of Commerce

Fayetteville

Age: 42

Under Clark’s leadership, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce created the Georgia Transportation Alliance to study the state’s long-term transportation needs from an economic development perspective and successfully led the initiative to pass Senate Bill 122, creating public-private partnerships to fund certain water-supply and treatment projects. In 2011, he was appointed by Governor Deal to co-chair the Georgia Competitiveness Initiative.

 

David Connell

President/CEO

Cobb County Chamber of Commerce

Marietta

Age: 60

In just over a year at the helm of the seventh largest chamber of commerce in the Southeast, Connell has already helped to bring in thousands of new jobs and associated new investment to Cobb County. Under his leadership, a new vision and business plan have been crafted. He has worked to create a strong relationship with the 13 business associations (representing 6,000 businesses) in the county.

 

Shan Cooper

General Manager

Lockheed Martin

Marietta

Age: 43

Shan Cooper oversees 8,000 employees as well as the design, production and maintenance of a fleet of high-powered aircraft, including the F-22 “joint-strike fighter” and the C-130 Hercules, one of the most popular military aircrafts in the world. She is the first female head of the Marietta plant, which has been a strong presence in the Cobb County community for more than 60 years.

 

Deke Copenhaver

Mayor of Augusta

Augusta

Age: 44

Copenhaver was re-cognized nationally in 2011 as one of 20 change makers in city design by the American Architectural Foundation and invited to participate in a city-design leadership forum in Wash-ington, D.C. Recognized for his work in community redevelopment and creation of new public spaces in Augusta, he was the only elected official to be invited.

 

Chris Cummiskey

Commissioner

Georgia Department of Economic Development

Atlanta

Age: 37

Cummiskey has been a familiar face around the state, traveling on an exhaustive tour to listen to Georgia needs and stump for new economic initiatives. His past experience as state director for Sen. Johnny Isakson and state relations director for the University of Georgia gives him a big network to work with.

 

Melvin Davis

Chairman, Oconee County Commission

President, Association County Commissioners of Georgia

Watkinsville

Age: 71

In November, Oconee County boasted the lowest unemployment rate in the state – an amazing 6.7 percent – thanks in part to Melvin Davis. As the Oconee County Commission Chairman since 2001 and president of the ACCG, Davis works toward the goal of helping his county and 158 others throughout Georgia succeed in a time when budgets are still tight.

 

Scott Davis

Chairman/CEO

United Parcel Service

Alpharetta

Age: 59

As CEO of Atlanta-based UPS since 2007, Davis has guided the world’s largest package delivery company successfully through the recession as it has made significant growth in international operations and improvements in its logistics network. A strong advocate for increased global trade and export growth, he is a member of the President’s Export Council.

 

Nathan Deal




Governor of Georgia




Gainesville



Age: 69




In his first year as governor, Deal tackled the thorny issue of immigration reform, signing into law a controversial bill that is currently under judicial review. In addition he has had to contend with severe state budget problems, one of which resulted in the restructuring of the lottery-funded HOPE and Pre-K education programs to save them from bankruptcy.

 

Margaret DeFrancisco

President/CEO

Georgia Lottery Corporation

Atlanta

Age: 62

Georgia Lottery sales went down by one percent but still exceeded $3.5 billion for the fourth straight year in FY 2011. Those sales are more important than ever. Legislation passed last year changed the rules for HOPE Scholarships (which is funded through the lottery). Previously tied to tuition increases, HOPE funding is now tied to lottery revenue.

 

Alan Essig

Executive Director

Georgia Budget and Policy Institute

Decatur

Age: 52

As head of the independent, nonpartisan institute, Essig leads the effort to help lawmakers – and all Georgians – make sense of the state’s tax and budget policies and find ways to make improvements. He’s an advocate of solutions that further a more transparent, fair and modern tax system that benefits Georgians.

 

Sue Everhart

Chairman

Georgia Republican Party

Marietta

Age: 66

Everhart was first elected chairman of the Georgia Republican Party in 2007, the first woman to hold the post. After leading Republicans to a sweep of all of Georgia’s statewide constitutional offices in the 2010 election, Everhart had to win her own race last year to remain chairman. She won easily, defeating Gov. Nathan Deal’s hand-picked choice.

 

Tom Fanning

Southern Company

President/CEO

Atlanta

Age: 54

As head of Southern Company since 2010, Tom Fanning handled the historic January snowstorm and concerns from citizens about nuclear energy with an even hand. He supports advancing the national energy policy and finding alternatives to foreign oil, including nuclear, coal and renewable options. He has been with Southern Company for 29 years.

 

Bill Floyd

Mayor of Decatur

Decatur

Age: 65

On the outskirts of Atlanta, Decatur has made a name for itself, and Bill Floyd has had a lot to do with it. Mayor since 1998, he has helped transform the area into a welcoming, vibrant downtown full of hip restaurants and stores. The city is committed to sustainability, and for its efforts, the Atlanta Regional Commission has named Decatur a Gold level certified community.

 

Curtis Foltz

Executive Director

Georgia Ports Authority

Savannah

Age: 51

Foltz oversees one of Georgia’s greatest economic assets and is working to make it even bigger. The Port of Savannah has been ranked as the nation’s fastest-growing container port, and Foltz hopes to keep it that way as he helps lead efforts to deepen the port in preparation for the larger ships that will come as a result of the expansion of the Panama Canal, slated for completion in 2014.

 

Jerry Gonzalez

Executive Director

Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO)

Atlanta

Age: 40

When HB 87 went into effect this past summer, GALEO was one of the most outspoken opponents. The organization, which advocates for Latino rights and encourages involvement in the legislative process, will grow increasingly important as Georgia’s Latino population continues to climb. Gonzalez is also the founder and past president of the Georgia Hispanic Network nonprofit.

 

Todd Groce

President/CEO

Georgia Historical Society

Savannah

Age: 50

Groce oversees the oldest continuously operated historical society in the South. The organization manages Georgia’s historical marker program and partners with school districts and university faculty to educate the public on the state’s past. It also is a major research center, with more than 4 million manuscripts, 100,000 photographs and 30,000 architectural drawings. The society has revived the prestigious Georgia Trustees to honor outstanding Georgia leaders.

 

Becca Hardin

Executive Vice President

The Valley Partnership

Columbus

Age: 46

The Valley Partnership represents six cities and seven counties that are seeing unprecedented growth with the moving of the Army Armor School to Fort Benning and the expansion of the highly successful Kia Plant in West Point. Since 2000, the partnership has created more than 22,000 jobs and generated $3.4 billion through new projects and expansions. Hardin is also executive vice president of economic development for the Columbus Chamber.

 

P. Russell Hardin

President

Robert W. Woodruff Foundation

Atlanta

Age: 54

Hardin manages a family of seven charitable funds. In addition to the Woodruff Foundation, he oversees the Joseph B. Whitehead, Lettie Pate White-head, and Lettie Pate Evans foundations and associated charities. They support a variety of interests, including education, health, human welfare, economic development and the arts. The foundations, which have assets in excess of $6 billion, distributed $256 million to charities in 2010.

 

Henry “Hank” Huckaby

Chancellor

Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

Athens

Age: 70

Huckaby’s more than 40 years in public service is being put to good use as he leads the state’s university system amid budget cuts and rising tuition hikes. Diplomatic skills honed and contacts established as an official with several state agencies and colleges and his experience as a state legislator will be put to good use as the regents consider a controversial campus consolidation plan.

 

Carol W. Hunstein

Chief Justice

Supreme Court of Georgia

Decatur

Age: 67

Appointed to the Supreme Court in November 1992 by then-Gov. Zell Miller, Hunstein is the second woman in history to serve as a permanent member of the court. Since assuming the chief justice post in 2009, she has won praise for her skill in guiding the court system during challenges brought on by the state’s budget cuts.

Donna W. Hyland 




President/CEO 




Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta 




Sandy Springs




Age: 51




Children’s launched Strong4Life in 2011, a campaign designed to give families easy steps to combat childhood obesity and improve the health of Georgia’s kids. Georgia is No. 2 in this health-crisis category, with a 40 percent obesity rate. This crisis means that this is the first generation expected to live shorter lives than their parents, says Hyland.

 

Johnny Isakson




U.S. Senator




Marietta 




Age: 67

Lately, Isakson has dealt with a couple of issues close to his heart. He introduced the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act, which passed unanimously, to provide better security to Peace Corps volunteers, following the murder of Georgia resident Puzey while serving in Africa. He also introduced legislation requiring unspent Senate office funds be used to pay down the debt or reduce the deficit.

 

Ronald Jackson




Commissioner




Technical College System of Georgia



Atlanta




Age: 64

The TCSG faced two major challenges this year, both of which contributed to a drop in enrollment for the first time in years: Changes to the HOPE scholarship increased the amount of money students must pay to attend technical college, and the schools transitioned from quarters to semesters to align with both K-12 and the state university system calendars. 

 

Reynold Jennings

President/CEO

WellStar Health System

Kennesaw

Age: 65

President and CEO since August 2011, Reynold Jennings oversees 11,000 employees, five hospitals and numerous clinics. This year, the health system will continue to expand, with a new $125-million hospital in Paulding County and a tower with 108 single-occupancy rooms under construction at its Kennesaw hospital, which recently was designated a Level II trauma center. Jennings is a life fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives.

 

Jan Jones

Speaker Pro-Tempore

Georgia House of Representatives

Milton

Age: 54

As the first woman to hold the position of speaker pro-tem in the Georgia House, Jones takes a conservative approach to government that focuses on keeping taxes low, cutting spending, reforming the state’s school systems and enhancing job growth. She believes that creating jobs through a strong business environment beats stimulus checks or government programs in helping move Georgians toward prosperity.

 

Dr. Samantha B. Joye

Professor

University of Georgia

Athens

Age: 46

It’s been almost two years since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf, and Dr. Samantha Joye continues to investigate its impact on the surrounding water and seafloor, attracting media coverage and scrutiny to the aftereffects. A professor at UGA’s Department of Marine Science who is trained in microbiology, molecular biology and geochemistry, she is passionate about conservation and sustainability.

 

Vernon Keenan 




Director 




Georgia Bureau of Investigation




Cherokee County




Age: 61







As chief administrator of the GBI, Keenan oversees more than 800 employees in three divisions (Georgia Crime Information Center, Investigative Division and the State Crime Laboratory) with a combined budget of $75 million in state and federal funding. An ardent advocate of Georgia’s Open Records Act, Keenan was given the 2011 Weltner Freedom of Information Award by the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.

 

Brian Kemp




Georgia Secretary of State




Athens




Age: 48




In 2011, Kemp formed the Elections Advisory Council, a statewide board charged with reviewing the election code and rules and making recommendations to improve election laws and procedures, while saving money and increasing efficiency. In an effort to save money in his own agency, Kemp has implemented e-government solutions and reduced the department’s workforce.

 

Muhtar Kent




Chairman/CEO


The Coca-Cola Company




Atlanta




Age: 59




If it feels like Coke has been around forever, it almost has. 2011 marked the 125th anniversary of the Coca-Cola brand. Kent and Coca-Cola are using the landmark not as a time of reflection, but as an opportunity to look to the next century. Coca-Cola’s 2020 Vision lays out a plan to double the company’s global business by 2020.

 

Ross King

Executive Director

Association County Commissioners of Georgia

Fayetteville

Age: 53

After more than 20 years working with the ACCG, King assumed the leadership of this public policy development and advocacy outfit in 2010. He takes a high-energy approach to providing county officials with the tools needed to lead their communities effectively and believes that strategic planning and a commitment to collaboration are the keys to success. 

 

Jack Kingston




U.S. Congressman, District 1 




Savannah 




Age: 56

In 2011, Kingston added to his responsibilities in Congress, which already included membership on the Defense Subcommittee, by assuming the chair of the Appropriations Committee’s Agriculture Subcommittee and joining the Appropriations Committee’s Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Subcommittee. He maintains a close relationship with Georgia’s farmers and has been one of their strongest allies in Washington. 

 

Chuck Leavell

Musician, Tree Farmer, Author, Entrepreneur

Bullard

Age: 59

Leavell is one of the most sought-after keyboard players in the world – a Rolling Stone, a former Allman Brother, an award-winning solo artist and now a collaborator with John Mayer. He is also a Georgia Music Hall of Famer, two-time Georgia Tree Farmer of the Year and co-founder of The Mother Nature Network, one of the busiest environmental-focused websites on the planet.

 

Tad Leithead

Chairman

Atlanta Regional Commission

Atlanta

Age: 56

As chairman of the ARC, Leithead provided a leadership role in crafting the final list of more than $6 billion worth of regional transportation projects included in the Transport-ation Investment Act. In addition, the ARC is also working on the regional Transportation Improvement Plan and Plan 2040, an 18-county regional outline for development and transportation needs.

 

Craig Lesser

Managing Partner

Pendleton Consulting

Sandy Springs

Age: 60

Lesser has been Georgia’s point man in growing international commerce. He chairs the boards of both the World Trade Center of Atlanta and the World Chamber of Commerce. The former commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, Lesser also serves on the Board of Directors for Georgia Public Broadcasting.

 

Rep. John Lewis

U.S. Congressman, District 5

Atlanta

Age: 71

Lewis’ name has been synonymous with the Civil Rights Movement ever since he began participating in the Freedom Rides in 1961. By 1963, he was recognized as one of the Big Six leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, and at just 23 years old, he was a keynote speaker at the historic march on Washington. He continues working tirelessly to protect human rights and secure civil liberties.

 

Dennis Lockhart

President/CEO

Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta

Atlanta

Age: 64

Global financial turmoil has highlighted the critical role played by the Federal Reserve Bank in helping steer our nation’s economy. As the leader of the Atlanta branch, Lockhart is responsible for monetary policy, bank supervision and regulation, and payment services. He also serves on the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), which makes key decisions about interest rates and the nation’s money supply.

 

Randy Merritt

President

Shaw Industries, Inc.

Dalton

Age: 58

Merritt, named president of Shaw Industries in 2006, has helped guide the flooring giant through some of the most difficult economic times the industry has seen. He’s used the period during the downturn to update technology and invest in improvements in processes to ensure the company will remain a major driver of the Northwest Georgia economy.

 

Timothy Mescon

President

Columbus State University

Columbus

Age: 57

While continuing to prioritize Colum-bus and the Valley, CSU has expanded its reach under Mescon’s watch – the majority of its most recent freshman class comes from Metro Atlanta. With an enrollment of 8,300, CSU has raised its standards, added its first doctoral program (Education in Curriculum and Leadership), and is responsible for pumping about $227 million into the local economy.

 

Louis E. Miller

General Manager

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

Atlanta

Age: 65

Miller has been running full speed since taking over as manager of the world’s busiest airport in September 2010. He’s now seeing two big projects nearing completion, with the new Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal opening this spring and the awarding of contracts for the airport’s food and beverage concessions. Next top priority on his to-do list: increasing the airport’s cargo business.

 

Jeff Mullis




State Senator, District 53




Chickamauga




Age: 52




Mullis made his name in the last legislative session as an advocate of tough illegal immigration legislation. Now chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, Mullis was named co-chair of the Transit Governance Task Force, which will draft Metro Atlanta transit legislation for the 2012 legislative session. In addition, Mullis, a Republican, is leading the legislative TSPLOST (transportation special local option sales tax) effort.

 

Charlotte Nash

Chairman

Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners

Dacula

Age: 58

Following the abrupt resignation of the previous commission chairman, Gwinnett County needed a chief executive who could hit the ground running. They found one: Gwinnett native Nash, who worked in county government for 27 years, including nine years as county administrator. It’ll take all her skills to solve the county’s financial challenges while rebuilding public trust.

 

Sam Olens




Attorney General




State of Georgia




Marietta




Age: 54




Olens, an advocate of open government, has spent a good part of his first year in office working to raise the profile of Georgia’s sunshine laws. His office received about 400 open government complaints in 2011, nearly double the number in 2010, showing that Georgia citizens are more aware of sunshine laws and are paying attention to state government.

 

Larry O’Neal

State Representative

House Majority Leader

Bonaire

Age: 62

A powerful friend of business under the Gold Dome, this former accountant and current tax lawyer begins his 11th year as a legislator, representing House District 146 (Warner Robins). O’Neal, who serves on the Ap-propriations Committee, Ethics Com-mittee, and Ways and Means Commit-tee, among others, is known for trying to build relationships across the aisle.

 

Dan Papp 




President 




Kennesaw State University 




Marietta 




Age: 64




Despite the economic challenges of the last few years, which have adversely affected fund raising, Kennesaw State University successfully concluded its five-year, $75-million comprehensive capital campaign in 2011, a full year ahead of schedule. These new funds will be vital in maintaining quality education for KSU’s growing student body, which in 2011 hit 24,100.

 

G. P. “Bud” Peterson




President




Georgia Institute of Technology




Atlanta 




Age: 59




Maintaining educational and research excellence in a world-class institution is a challenge. Enter Georgia Tech’s 25-year strategic plan, “Designing the Future.” The 10 institute-wide initiatives of this plan include preparing students for global leadership and creating the X-College, which will allow students to customize degrees and receive non-traditional certifications.

 

Alec Poitevint




Chairman/President

Southeastern Minerals Inc.

Bainbridge

Age: 64

As chairman of the GOP’s Committee on Arrangements, Poitevint will head up the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa this August. The former chairman of the Georgia GOP also chairs the board of the Georgia Ports Authority and serves on the boards of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and Georgia Agribusiness Council.

 

Tom Price 




U.S. Congressman, District 6 




Roswell




Age: 57

Price served four terms in the state Senate and was the first Republican Senate Majority Leader in the history of Georgia before being elected to Congress in 2004. He has gained a reputation as the go-to Republican on issues of healthcare policy and has been a fierce opponent of government waste. Before politics, Price worked in private practice as an orthopedic surgeon.

 

David Ralston

Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives

Blue Ridge

Age: 57

Ralston faced several challenges when he took over as Speaker from a predecessor who resigned in disgrace. At the top of the list were the economy and high unemployment in Georgia. During the 2011 session he made fostering an economic environment that creates jobs his top priority – and will continue that priority into the 2012 session. In addition, his House passed the controversial HB 87, one of the nation’s toughest immigration laws.

 

Kasim Reed

Mayor of Atlanta

Atlanta

Age: 42

Despite the city’s major financial challenges, Reed has made headway getting the city on a more solid footing. He’s made progress in solving the city’s pension crisis, increased city reserves, helped resolve a major public schools mess and even found time to establish a good relationship with the Republican-controlled state government and promote the upcoming transportation tax referendum. He’s a staunch advocate of deepening the Savannah port.

 

A.J. Robinson 




President

Central Atlanta Progress




Atlanta 




Age: 56

From his vantage point, Robinson believes it’s vital that the penny sales tax to support transportation projects in the 10-county Atlanta region be passed when it’s voted on this July. The Atlanta region attracts about half as many newcomers as it used to, he notes. Since assuming his post in 2003, Robinson has worked to preserve and strengthen the economic vitality of downtown Atlanta.

 

Chip Rogers

Majority Leader, Georgia Senate

Woodstock

Age: 43

Rogers has never been one to shy away from controversial issues or hard work, and that’s why his senate colleagues selected him as their majority leader. He’s been a leader in the push for tougher immigration laws and state spending limits and led the efforts to pass one of the nation’s toughest dog-fighting laws.

 

Joe Rogers Jr.

Chairman/CEO

Waffle House

Norcross

Age: 66

Rogers likes to keep a low profile, but since opening in Avondale Estates back in 1955, Waffle House restaurants have grown to more than 1,500 nationwide: a ubiquitous yellow landmark dotting the South with a promise of 24-hour breakfast served by friendly people. Waffle House is also one of the top four corporations tapped by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for disaster response.

 

Sylvia Russell




AT&T President – Georgia

Atlanta




Age: 55




AT&T launched LTE mobile broadband technology to bring faster speeds and better and expanded coverage to the area. While the expansion added many new jobs, it comes with challenges, including an 8,000 percent increase in network traffic and the infrastructure necessary to meet the demands of users who insist on speed and reliability.

 

Beverly A. Scott




General Manager/CEO




MARTA




Atlanta




Age: 60




Scott’s work has led to national recognition with a presidential appointment to the National Infrastructure Advisory Council, which provides the President with advice on the security of our country’s infrastructure. Closer to home, Scott is working with elected leaders across the Atlanta region to achieve consensus on transportation solutions.

 

Beheruz N. Sethna




President/Professor of Business Administration




University of West Georgia




Carrollton




Age: 63




Sethna, in his 18th year as UWG president, broadened his reach far beyond West Georgia. He concluded a term as chairman of the Atlanta Regional Council for Higher Education, traveled to Israel with a delegation of United States university presidents and received the Community Builder Award at the USA India Business Summit.

 

Michael E. Shapiro




Director




High Museum of Art




Atlanta




Age: 60




Shapiro continues bringing major art exhibitions to the High in a partnership with the Museum of Modern Art that started in 2009 and continues through 2013. “Picasso to Warhol: Fourteen Modern Masters,” opened with more than 100 works of art created by iconic 20th-century artists including Matisse, Jasper Johns and Joan Miró. 

 

Lynn Smith




Georgia House of Representatives

District 70




Newnan




Age: 66




If you enjoy spending time in Georgia’s great outdoors, Smith is one of the people you can thank for a new state park, Chattahoochee Bend, which opened in July. Last year Smith, chair of the Natural Resources and Environment Committee, shepherded public-private water projects legislation through the house and on to the governor’s office where it was signed into law.

 

Thomas A. Smith




President/CEO




Oglethorpe Power Corporation



Johns Creek




Age: 56




Oglethorpe Power learned in 2011 that what happens on the other side of the world can have a significant impact at home, when the nuclear disaster in Japan placed the whole nuclear power industry, which includes Oglethorpe, under greater scrutiny. That didn’t slow down an expansion of holdings in 2011, with the acquisition of the Murray Energy Facility near Dalton.

 

John Somerhalder

CEO, AGL Resources

Atlanta

Age: 55

Energy will remain a front-burner issue for Georgia as the state strives to cope with the ongoing challenges of growth. As the CEO of Atlanta-based AGL Resources, which operates six natural gas distribution systems and two natural gas storage facilities, John Somerhalder will be one of the leaders of this charge. Somerhalder is also committed to community service, having worked as a project leader for Habitat for Humanity homes built by company volunteers.

 

Kessel D. Stelling Jr.

President/CEO

Synovus




Columbus




Age: 54

In 2009, Stelling was tapped to lead one of the largest financial services companies in the Southeast. Synovus is the parent corporation of 30 community banks in five southeastern states. Before that, he was chief executive of Synovus’ Atlanta regional market. Since taking the helm, Stelling has helped Synovus navigate what he called during a speech at the University of Georgia Terry College of Business “the most challenging times I’ve seen in more than 30 years in the banking industry.”

 

Jimmy Tallent




President/CEO

United Community Bank




Hiawassee




Age: 59

Tallent has overseen the phenomenal growth of United Community Bank from a small community bank with just $42 million in assets in 1984 to a $7.2-billion bank holding company today. Hit hard when the real estate bubble burst, today’s United Community Bank has 27 banks with over 100 branches serving communities in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee.

 

Ben Tarbutton III

Assistant Vice President

Sandersville Railroad

Sandersville

Age: 39

When he isn’t helping run the family business, Tarbutton chairs the Board of Regents, the 18-member governing body for the University System of Georgia, at a time when continued budget reductions are forcing universities to cut jobs, increase tuition and fees, and consider campus mergers and consolidations. He also serves on the board of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and is president of Leadership Georgia.

 

Beverly Daniel Tatum

President

Spelman College

Atlanta

Age: 57

Tatum presides over the No. 1 ranked historically black college/university in the nation (U.S. News & World Report rankings). A 130-year-old private women’s college, Spelman has a student enrollment of almost 2,200 from 41 states and 16 countries and a healthy endowment of more than $295 million, and it consistently ranks among the top liberal arts colleges in the nation.

 

Barbara Brown Taylor

Author

Butman Professor of Religion, Piedmont College

Clarkesville

Age: 60

Taylor has been called one of the 12 “most effective” preachers in the English-speaking world (Baylor University) and is ranked among the top 10 most influential living preachers (Southern Baptist Convention). Now a full-time professor, she is the author of 12 books, including The New York Times bestseller, An Altar in the World.

 

T. Rogers Wade

Chairman of the Board of Trustees

Georgia Public Policy Foundation

Sandy Springs

Age: 70

Long active in Georgia’s business and political community, Wade is often called upon to share his knowledge of how Georgia works, or should work, in business and politics. He put his expertise to use as head of the transition team for Gov. Nathan Deal and is now serving on the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority planning for the redevelopment of the former military installation.

 

James Wagner

President

Emory University

Atlanta

Age: 58

Wagner’s background and experience before joining Emory in 2003 included a term as interim president of Case Western Reserve University and tenure on the faculty of The Johns Hopkins University, where he earned his Ph.D. In its highly regarded annual rankings, U.S. News & World Report included Emory among the top 25 universities in the country in 2011 for the 20th consecutive year.

 

Paula Wallace

President/Co-founder

Savannah College of Art and Design

Savannah

Age: 63

Under Wallace’s leadership, SCAD has grown to become the largest comprehensive art and design college in the country. More than 10,000 students currently attend classes either online via SCAD eLearning or at one of four different SCAD campuses in Savannah, Atlanta, Lacoste (France) and Hong Kong. SCAD was recently named one of America’s 25 Hottest Colleges and one of America’s Best Colleges for Entre-preneurs.

 

Joel Wernick

President/CEO

Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital

Albany

Age: 57

Wernick has been a leader in providing for the healthcare needs of Southwest Georgia for more than 20 years. He has guided the century-old hospital during a period of historic growth, improving facilities and expanding services throughout the region. He has been active in local civic affairs, including serving as chair of the Southwest Georgia Alliance for Progress.

 

Bob White

Executive Director

Henry County Development Authority

McDonough

Age: 62

The 2011 chairman of the Georgia Economic Develop-ers Association has been running the Henry County Devel-opment Authority since 1995. During that time, White has been directly involved with the recruitment or expansion of more than 60 industries (including Amazon.com, Georgia Power, SunTrust Service Corp., Toys “R” Us and Whirlpool) and $1 billion in capital investment in Henry County.

 

Philip A. Wilheit Sr.

President

Wilheit Packaging and Marketing Images

Gainesville

Age: 67

Wilheit has been a tireless volunteer in public service on the local and state level for much of his adult life. He has served his Gainesville/Hall County community on countless boards, including the development authority (more than 30 years as chairman). His appointment to the Board for Regents is just the latest of numerous state posts he has held.

 

Roger Williams

Georgia House of Representatives, District 4

Dalton

Age: 78

In his long career in the House, Williams has been a strong advocate for economic policies that promote growth. Chairman of the Reg-ulated Industries Committee, Williams last year was a leader of the drive to allow local votes on Sunday alcohol sales. This year, he says, a top priority will be removing sales taxes on energy used in manufacturing.

 

Sam A. Williams 




President 




Metro Atlanta Chamber 




Atlanta 




Age: 66

Williams is in his 15th year at the helm of MAC after serving as president of Central Atlanta Progress. Throughout his tenure as president, he has kept the organization focused on the big issues that matter most to the business community: creating jobs and boosting the region’s quality of life by finding solutions to such challenges as transportation, education and the environment.

 

Tommie Williams

President Pro Tem

Georgia Senate

Lyons

Age: 57

First elected to the Senate in 1998, Wil-liams is known as a proponent of pro-family legislation and an opponent of anything increasing the tax burden. He has steadily climbed the Senate’s power ladder and is now at the top as senate president pro tem, chairman of the Senate Committee on Assignments and vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

 

Robert E. Wilson

Attorney/Partner

Wilson, Morton & Downs

Decatur

Age: 64

The former three-term DeKalb County district attorney works in the areas of general litigation, education and municipal law. He’s also worked with every Georgia governor since Joe Frank Harris, including four special investigations. The most recent one, undertaken with former Attorney General Mike Bowers, uncovered widespread cheating on standardized tests in the Atlanta and Dougherty County school systems.

 

Sally Quillian Yates

U.S. Attorney, Northern District of Georgia

Atlanta

Age: 51

Since becoming the federal government’s top law enforcement official in Atlanta in March 2010, Yates has distinguished herself as an effective leader and tough prosecutor, successfully handling everything from public corruption to bank fraud, drug cartels and terrorism. She is the first woman to serve as United States Attorney in the Northern District of Georgia.

 

Bill Young

Chairman

University of Georgia Foundation

Atlanta

Age: 55

Young, a partner in beverage distributor General Wholesale Company, was instrumental in unifying the Arch Foun-dation with the UGA Foundation in 2011. This new version of the organization manages more than $700 million in donor funds – each year the foundation provides more than $25 million to support UGA’s academic mission. 

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