40 Under 40: The Best & Brightest

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Congratulations to Georgia Trend’s 40 Under 40 “class of 2007,” an outstanding group of individuals poised to lead our state’s commercial, cultural, academic and governmental institutions into the future.

We seem to say this every year, but once again we received the highest level of participation to date – more than 300 reader nominations for some 200 candidates. Selecting those individuals named in the following pages is never easy for Georgia Trend’s editorial staff, but always rewarding.

Individual profiles were contributed by Ray Glier, Ed Lightsey, Bobby Nesbitt, Patty Rasmussen, Krista Reese, Kenna Simmons, Christy White Simo, Randy Southerland, Shannon Wilder, Matthew Willett and Rick Woodall.

On these pages – photographed by Haigwood Studios in Roswell – are four representatives of the class of 2007: from left, Brian Brodrick, partner, Jackson-Spalding Public Relations and city councilman, Watkinsville; Jovita Moore, anchor/reporter, Channel 2 Action News, Atlanta; William A. Taylor, Jr., founder, Taylor CPA, LLC and W3 Business and Tax Consultants, Inc., Columbus; and Laura Mathis, director of public administration, Middle Georgia Regional Development Center, Macon.

Jovita Moore, 39


Channel 2 Action News


Jovita Moore occupies a prominent place in Atlanta’s collective conscious. Every evening, between 5:30 and 6:00, Moore is on screen in scores of metro area homes, anchoring WSB-TV’s Channel 2 Action News.

Though she grew up in New York, interned with The New York Times and holds a master’s degree from the prestigious Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Moore says she has no desire to return to the Big Apple. “New York City is where I was born and raised and will always be a part of me,” she says. “But I really have no desire to go back there – as a mother of three, I can’t imagine raising my children in the ‘concrete jungle,’ even though my mom did it.”

Instead, she’s focusing on improving her adopted home, in part as a participant in Leadership Atlanta’s class of 2007. “After this past year in Leadership Atlanta I came away feeling the city still has much to achieve to truly be a city ‘too busy to hate,’” she says. “I want to do my part in building bridges, breaking down barriers and making connections across lines that still keep us separate.”

She’s also devoted time to such causes as the Atlanta Association of Black Journalists, the Junior League of Atlanta and the YWCA of Greater Atlanta. “My career puts me in a unique situation as a role model, as a voice with a certain level of authority – and I know that sometimes my actions can influence others. ‘If she can volunteer, so can I’ is what I hope some will say.”

Moore may one day find herself more of a role model than she ever imagined. If her highly visible placement is any indication, it’s likely she’s being groomed to take over as female co-anchor when – or if – local legend Monica Pearson, who co-anchors the evening news with John Pruitt, steps down. “Monica is an icon in Atlanta,” Moore says. “I would be honored to pick up where she leaves off … who wouldn’t?”

Though WSB General Manager Bill Hoffman refers to Moore as “a genuine person and a great journalist,” he isn’t commenting on succession plans just now. “We have her in a fantastic position sitting next to John each night,” he notes.

It didn’t take Moore long to establish herself as a force to be reckoned with – journalistically speaking. That’s not surprising for a reporter who cut her teeth in Fayetteville, Ark., in the early 1990s, covering everything from Bill Clinton to Wal-Mart. After a stop in Memphis, she arrived in Atlanta in 1998 and by 2001 was onstage accepting a medical reporting Emmy for her two-part series “Women and Fibroids.”

The highly personal account – Moore had recently undergone her own bout with fibroids – almost didn’t make it to the airwaves, she says. A manager deemed it non-newsworthy, and wanted to scuttle it. Moore did it all herself – everything from research to logistics – without help from a producer, as is customary on such assignments.

“It was a story that was literally part of me,” she says. “I’d gone through the experience – had been very concerned about it, and learned a lot from it and could tell the story like no one else in my newsroom could at that time. I think that’s what made it a winner – it wasn’t just an everyday story on some medical breakthrough – it was a personal piece that was also informative and inspiring.”

Did she know it was a winner, though? “I had a good feeling about it,” she says. – SW

Laura Mathis, 38

Director of Public Administration

Middle Georgia Regional Development Center


Beginning with an undergraduate public administration classroom project nearly 20 years ago, Laura Mathis has not wavered in her determination to examine every facet of government management and its impact on the governed.

“I was always drawn to being part of a team that helps solve problems,” says Mathis, now the director of public administration at the Middle Georgia Regional Develop-ment Center (MGRDC).

In her seven plus years as Wilkinson County manager, Mathis had plenty of problems to solve, such as cleaning up an ugly pollution site she inherited – one that attracted enough government fines to threaten the county’s solvency. She led an effort to clean up the site, negotiate the fines and turn a nasty problem into an economic development asset.

By becoming deeply involved in her community’s economic development, Mathis helped expand Wilkinson County’s tax base. She took the lead in managing a $4 million renovation of the county’s courthouse. She also led the effort to bring more recreation to the area, as highlighted by her pivotal role in the creation of Bell’s Ferry State Park, the first park of its kind built in Georgia in decades.

Since May, Mathis has steered the MGRDC’s economic development efforts for a region that includes 11 counties and 22 cities. She doesn’t seem intimidated by having to work with 33 governments and their elected officials. “Economic development in Georgia is becoming more regional in nature,” she says. “And that is an exciting part of what I do, working with and getting to know the personalities of the different communities.”

Assisting a town with a sewer problem or helping a county at the landfill may seem to be grunge work, but Mathis believes it’s what keeps community life in order. “Things like budget work, personnel policy work, ordinance writing and grant writing are not going to get anybody’s picture on the front page,” she says. “But it is the heart and soul of government.” – EL

William A. Taylor, Jr., 36


Taylor CPA, LLC and W3 Business and Tax Consultants, Inc.


William Taylor grew up in Venice, La. — the tip of the state, where the road ends and most people don’t dream of going to college. But Taylor did go, earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting, thanks to a track and field scholarship to Tulane University.

In 2000, at age 28, after working for Arthur Andersen in Atlanta and Robinson, Grimes & Company, a large accounting firm in Columbus, Taylor struck out on his own, hanging out the shingle for Taylor CPA, LLC, one of the few minority-owned CPA firms in the Columbus area.

“My age, not being black, was the biggest obstacle I had to work through,” he says. “The biggest thing I had to hang on to was my education, my master’s from Tulane, having worked for one of the country’s largest accounting firms, and one of Columbus’ largest firms. I had been an athlete in college; I knew how important it was to carry myself with presence.”

He also knew his business to the extent that, through reputation and word of mouth advertising, his firm grew in 2003 to include a second office, W3 Business and Tax Consultants, Inc., in Atlanta. Taylor, along with associate Warren Lee, who mans the Atlanta office, has 12 employees and at least one paid college intern on hand at any given time. “The Atlanta office focuses more on wealth management,” he says, “while the Columbus office is more pure CPA work.”

An advocate of financial literacy and personal ownership, Taylor practices what he preaches – he owns both his firm’s buildings and encourages clients to follow his lead.

He leads by example in the community as well, personally funding track and field camps for youth, scholarships to attend band programs at Florida A&M, and in 2006 kicking off a unique program for high school juniors called Run Your Own Business for A Year. “I’d wanted to do something like it since college, but Donald Trump beat me to it,” Taylor jokes. Students received a $5,000 stipend and access to the resources of Taylor’s office to learn what it took to run a business.

This year, Taylor and several professional colleagues are funding two college scholarships. The requirement: a 1,200 word essay outlining how poor financial habits hurt an individual, a family and a community. “I want to bring this type of information to everybody,” he says, “Especially the minority community where it’s lacking the most.” – PR

Brian Brodrick, 32


Jackson Spalding, City Council


Brian Brodrick has always understood the importance of beginning with the end in mind.

As an elite distance runner, Brodrick drew strength from this philosophy during countless hours of grueling training that were necessary to compete at a championship level. Today, the former All-American continues to reap the benefits of this mindset – both as a partner with communications firm Jackson Spalding and as a city councilman in his hometown of Watkinsville.

“It’s building that base and working hard at it every day without expecting immediate gratification,” Brodrick says, noting the similarities between running and his career. “In a lot of things in life, I think that’s the secret to success.”

Brodrick was still logging miles at Berry College in Rome when he first caught the eye of Jackson Spalding co-founder Glen Jackson during the Atlanta Area Council of Boy Scouts’ “Peach of An Athlete” statewide awards banquet. At the time, the college senior had his sights set on a career in journalism. Jackson saw something else, however, telling Brodrick’s parents, “If your son’s ever interested in PR, have him call me.”

That chance meeting planted the seeds for a fruitful career. Starting as an intern in 1997, Brodrick spent five years working in Midtown Atlanta before making the decision with his wife, Susan, to return home to Watkinsville. Recognizing an opportunity, Jackson Spalding’s leaders tapped Brodrick to head the firm’s first satellite office – a one-man operation in Athens. Since opening in 2003, the outpost has grown to nine employees and annual revenues of $650,000.

The expanded perspective provided by the Athens office has helped cement Jackson Spalding as one of the fastest-growing communications firms in the Southeast. At the same time, returning to northeast Georgia gave Brodrick the opportunity to indulge another passion. Through previous work with Post Properties and the Urban Land Institute, the father of two developed a strong belief in the idea of “quality growth.” As a city councilman, he is working to promote this development philosophy in Watkinsville and elsewhere around the state.

“Almost every community in Georgia over the next 15 or 20 years is going to have to deal with [this kind of growth], I’m convinced – the state’s just too wonderful a place,” Brodrick says. “So if it’s coming, why not take the time to manage it correctly?”

Spoken like a man who knows where he’s going. – RW

Gena Abraham, 38

State Property Officer of Georgia


As georgia’s first female State Property Officer, Gena Abraham has a lot on her plate. She oversees the Georgia Building Authority, Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission Construction Division, and the State Properties Commis-sion, reporting directly to Gov. Sonny Perdue.

In the past year alone, she has saved the government more than $21 million by selling surplus property and more than $9.5 million by consolidating leases.

“That’s the really low-hanging fruit. We think there’s a tremendous opportunity in selling surplus property and continuing to consolidate our leases,” she says.

She also created a database of all state facilities, land and leases across Georgia, winning a National Inno-vation Award from the National Association of State Facility Admin-istrators in the process.

“I love what I do,” she says. “We get to do some pretty neat things, and not many people have that opportunity. I’m just very lucky.” – CWS

Brad Alexander, 33

Chief of Staff Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle


It wasn’t exactly a David vs. Goliath battle, but Casey Cagle’s campaign for lieutenant governor was definitely considered an uphill run.

The reason: His main GOP primary opponent was Ralph Reed, the high-profile religious conservative considered a sure winner by many.

But Reed had baggage (ties to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal), and Cagle had Brad Alexander running what turned out to be a very savvy campaign.

Alexander is well-grounded on the ins and outs of Georgia politics. He began his career on the staff of former 7th District Congressman Bob Barr and later founded his own public affairs consulting firm, attracting such well-known clients as U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson and Cagle, then a state senator eyeing higher office.

Cagle won the primary handily, waltzed through the general election and brought Alexander with him as his chief of staff. Political observers say they still make a good team. – BN

Demming Bass, 34

Vice President

Marketing & Public Policy Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce


Friends and associates de-scribe Demming Bass as a man who not only has good ideas, but also the skills to pull together the people and organizations to make those ideas work.

For example, Bass was instrumental in creating “Partnership Gwin-nett: A Shared Vision for the Future,” the county’s first comprehensive initiative to create a long-term community and economic development strategy. The program has the ambitious goal of creating 65,000 new jobs.

He also has been a key figure in a number of initiatives that have helped the chamber to grow in size (sixth largest in the Southeast) and prestige (recently honored as one of the nation’s top three large chambers).

Bass credits the chamber’s success to “the people in Gwinnett. There’s definitely a can-do attitude here.” Obviously, the same can be said for him. – BN

Leonard Bevill, 39

CEO, Macon Occupational Medicine (MOM)


Since 1991, Leonard Bevill has helped businesses with work-related health issues such as on-the-job injuries, drug testing and physicals.

Under his leadership, MOM has grown 23 percent in the last two years, and is now one of the most comprehensive occupational health programs in Georgia. But it’s a foundation of community support that has given him true success.

“The most important thing is to be involved in the community,” he says. “That’s what we try to build everything in our practice on, and it’s what we built our success on.”

Active in several organizations, including the Downtown Council and United Way of Central Georgia, Bevill also encourages his employees to volunteer and participate in the community.

“[It creates] a positive work environment, because they know what our focus is and what we’re about: getting involved, trying to do our best, and to succeed as much as we possibly can.” – CWS

John Bozeman, 34

Managing Partner

GeorgiaLink Public Affairs Group

Locust Grove

When Gov. Sonny Perdue was looking for someone to shepherd his agenda through the 2005 Georgia General Assembly, he turned to John Bozeman, who has been involved in Georgia politics for some 13 years.

Bozeman says he picked up his interest in politics from his parents, both professors, who included him in political discussions. His father is Regents’ Professor of Public Policy at the University of Georgia.

After college (political science, Syracuse University), Bozeman in-terned with lobbying firm Georgia-Link Public Affairs Group and has spent most of his career there, except for a stint with the Georgia Bankers Association and his time as Perdue’s legislative director.

Bozeman has built a reputation as a consensus builder, a skill that came in handy pushing the governor’s agenda and today as a lobbyist for his top-notch client list. – BN

LaKisha R. Bryant, 33

Executive Director

Girls Inc. of Albany


LaKisha Bryant is a testament to the success of Girls Inc.

As a youth, she attended the organization’s summer programs and field trips, which opened her eyes to the world and gave her skills to succeed. Now executive director, she helps other girls become strong, smart women who are ready for what life hands them.

Most of those who attend Girls Inc. come from families with annual incomes of less than $25,000.

“I’m a hometown girl,” she notes, “so it was important to me to invest in the lives of the citizens here.”

While Bryant’s days are filled with the usual meetings and paperwork, she also participates in the activities and field trips.

“I love working with the girls,” she says. “The challenges get outweighed and overshadowed by the smiles and the parents that tell you, ‘I can see the difference that you’re making in my daughter’s life.’” – CWS

Tracy Chesser, 38


Chesser Island Wines


If winemaking and lawyering don’t seem related, you might consider Tracy Chesser’s other passion: storytelling, especially about his beloved area of the Okefenokee, especially if it helps tourism. Chesser Island Wines already bear the names of some regional legends, including Billy Bowlegs Blue (a Georgia Trend 2007 Wine of Distinction) and Jackson’s Folly Rose. In fact, Chesser’s winemaking operation, which uses native blueberries, blackberries and muscadines in the state’s only sparkling wines, was born when a Georgia Tech study revealed the need for more high-end local products.

“The average income is $68,000-$70,000,” he says of the area’s 400,000 annual visitors. “They had nothing to spend money on. We’re trying to change that, as well as promote the ecotourism aspect, and tell an interesting story. Once the pine market tanks,” he says of the area’s traditional source of income, “we need something to fall back on.”

In the meantime, Chesser will keep his day job at Jacksonville, Fla.’s Moseley Prichard Parrish Knight & Jones, where he is licensed to practice in Georgia and Florida. – KR

Dawn Cook, 39

Director of Institutional Advancement

West Central Technical College


A lifelong resident of west Georgia, Dawn Cook has a personal link to the community she serves. As head of the West Central Technical College’s foundation, her responsibilities include supporting the school’s educational mission through a variety of means, whether searching for grants for scholarships or tapping alumni and business for funds.

“We educate and train a workforce,” Cook says. “This isn’t theory education, it’s application. We have close ties to the business and industrial community and can tailor our programs to meet their specific needs.”

Cook also serves as the chairman of the Haralson County Chamber of Commerce, which is currently in the process of obtaining an “Entrepre-neur-Friendly” designation from the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

She feels she provides a valuable link between the college and the business community. “It’s important for [the county] to plan for growth,” she says. “The college is a partner in that.” – PR

Joseph W. Ethier, 39

Chief Professional Officer

Boys & Girls Clubs of Mitchell County


In the past three years, Joe Ethier has helped Boys & Girls Clubs of Mitchell County double both its number of locations and kids served while also increasing local giving.

But it’s making a difference in a child’s life that is his true success.

“They’ll come back to tell you that the Boys & Girls Club saved their life because of the people, the programs and the opportunities,” he says.

Ethier also travels nationwide as a training associate teaching the ropes to staff members at other clubs. Closer to home, he serves as director of the Camilla Rotary Club’s Literacy Project and on the Pelham and Camilla Chambers of Commerce.

Still, he credits his co-workers for the club’s recent success.

“We’ve been fortunate to have a really good team and be surrounded by good people that are passionate about what we do,” he says. “And that makes it all possible.” – CWS

Elizabeth “Liza” Lovejoy Fritchley, 32

Vice President

Senior Services

West Georgia Health System


Liza Fritchley’s background makes her an ideal choice for West Georgia Health System’s vice president of senior services. Her grandparents lived with her family for a time when she was growing up, so she learned at an early age to how to bridge the generation gap.

“I think making someone’s last years of life, their senior years, as good as previous years is very important,” says Fritchley, who has twin boys who are 4 and a daughter who is 2. “You respect them as people and know that they have needs and wants and desires of what they want in their life. You also respect the families’ needs and wants.”

Fritchley directs operations at three facilities that serve 325 people (Florence Hand Home, Twin Foun-tains Nursing Home, Vernon Woods Retirement Community). She’s a Fellow with the American College of Healthcare Executives (2007) and Georgia’s sole representative on the national Nursing Home Survey/ Certification task force, which sets national strategies for nursing home management. – RG

Kevin Harper, 34

Deputy Director

Southwest Georgia Regional Airport


Kevin Harper is a people person. Today he helps others to be their best, but as a young man – and Army brat – his primary motivation was alienation.

“I was raised overseas,” Harper says. “When we returned it was culture shock.” He turned to gangs for acceptance, but upon moving to Albany he began the process of personal transformation.

“I moved at the request of my mom to get me out of trouble – staying with relatives and playing basketball: that’s where life began.” Athletics still guide him. “Life is a competition, and life is teamwork. It’s also a struggle you can win or lose.”

A former director of communities in schools, Harper is an experienced mentor and credits mentors for his success. As he makes the transition from human resources training specialist with the city of Albany, to deputy director for the airport, Harper is excited about his new position and aware that risk is part of every solution. “My mom always says ‘It wouldn’t be you if you didn’t take a risk.’” – MW

Elizabeth Harvill, 26

Executive Director

Vidalia Area cvb


Long known for its sweet onion, the Vidalia area is showing the world it is more than a one-hit wonder – with a little help from Elizabeth Harvill, that is.

Since taking over the two-county Vidalia Area Convention and Visitors Bureau in 2004, Harvill has in-creased the advertising budget used to attract tourists by more than 700 percent. She has lured travel writers to rural Toombs and Montgomery Counties, an effort that resulted in features in national, regional and state publications.

Harvill also has championed the use of historic Civil War artifacts in a local courthouse to attract history buffs, and was instrumental in promoting a quiet little Christian college, Brewton Parker, as a center of cultural activities worth seeing. She even convinced a local farmer who had a private collection of exotic deer from around the world to open his farm to tourists.

“Tourism is clean cash,” Harvill says. “We had to find reasons that tourists would pull off the road and visit our community and leave some of that cash behind.” She’s been successful so far; hotel and motel taxes are up, and tourism is a growing part of the local economy. – EL

Amy Hughes, 39


Hughes Public Affairs

Isle of Hope

On the clock or off, Amy Hughes makes an impact on her surroundings. A veteran healthcare lobbyist, she and her husband Lee have just launched their own public affairs firm – with blue-chip clients including Amy’s former employer, Memorial Health, the Savannah College of Art & Design, Chatham County, CSX and Gulfstream.

“Our careers have always followed parallel paths,” Hughes says. “We’re always talking business and comparing notes. Now, we’re merging.”

Hughes also keeps a full schedule as a volunteer, working for a number of community organizations. Family – she and Lee have three boys – is always the priority, but “I think seeing me give back is a good example for my children,” she says.

She remains passionate about access to healthcare, noting that Georgia has no statewide trauma network. “We have very good trauma centers, but no system in place to get people there,” she says. “We need to develop that network and offer financial support to these centers.” – KS

John Isakson, 36

CEO, Williams Asset Management


John Isakson grew up in the family business of real estate – literally. He remembers his father, Johnny, now a U.S. senator, taking him and his brother to the Northside Realty offices on the weekends to organize flyers for the next week’s showings.

After founding his own company, Iaskson, who says his passion has always been “growing companies and building things,” partnered with legendary developer John Williams at Williams Asset Management. The company, which purchases multifamily dwellings, is in growth mode: it has acquired 6,000 units in the past 12 months.

Isakson also is a devoted volunteer with the Arthritis Foundation, beginning as chair of the local chapter and now serving on the national board. But what about the other family business – politics? “I’d be lying if I said I don’t sometimes think about running for office,” he says. “But I don’t want to spend less time with my family. It’s so much fun to walk in the door and see my kids.” – KS

Jennifer Auer Jordan, 33

Trial Attorney

Barnes Law Group


It’s not surprising that a lawyer focusing on pro bono work would find country music appealing. “The thing about country [music] is that it always tells a story and it’s appealing to the everyman, which is what we try to do,” says Jennifer Auer Jordan, who focuses on pro bono cases at the Marietta law firm of former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes.

Jordan is proud of her line of work, which she refers to as “Every-day People Law. When someone gets in trouble, who do they call? How do they get help? If there’s a way for people to get in trouble, there’s a way for us to help them,” she says.

For this wife and mother (husband Lawton Jordan was named to Georgia Trend’s 40 Under 40 in 2003), it’s more about attitude than outcome. “Winning itself isn’t im-portant,” she says. “If you really believe, you’re going to be unbeatable. We really believe.” – MW

Ross Kogon, 31

Executive COO, Pull A Part


As chief of staff in the family business at Pull A Part, an environmentally friendly self-service used auto parts company, Ross Kogon shares an office wall with his grandfather. He also shares his grandfather’s dedication to being active in the community. Kogon has served as co-chair of the Atlanta chapter of ACCESS, the young adult division of the American Jewish Committee, which promotes interaction between people of different faiths, cultures and backgrounds. And he’s an alum of LEAD – Leadership Atlanta’s young professionals program.

The environment is always on his mind, whether it’s providing a safer way to recycle old cars at work or focusing on the larger environment of Atlanta. “The city is like a quilt – each square has its own identity, but it’s tied into what’s around it,” he says. “And we’re all working together to keep the city covered.”

Kogon cites water, traffic and affordable housing as three crucial issues facing Atlanta. How can young leaders get involved? “Find something outside of work you care about and get involved,” he says. – KS

W. Jonathan Martin II, 39


Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLC


As one of Georgia’s top labor and employment attorneys, Jonathan Martin has helped many clients out of big messes. But he doesn’t believe that’s his most important role. “My job is to identify issues before they become problems,” he says. “In my 14 years in the law profession, I have yet to represent a company that planned to get sued.”

Generous in sharing his knowledge with others, Martin volunteers his time to a variety of local and state organizations. Long active with the State Bar of Georgia, he is chair-elect of the Georgia Department of Labor Employers’ Committee and president-elect of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s Council on Drugs & Alcohol.

The former Air Force Reserve officer is also active in the community, serving two terms as president of Leadership Macon and working with such organizations as Goodwill Industries. – BN

Nick Masino, 36



When Nick Masino became mayor of Suwanee in 2000 at age 29, he was one of Georgia’s youngest municipal chief executives. He soon became one of the busiest.

Working at what, to some, seemed a frenetic pace, Masino quickly produced a lightning series of community improvements that have landed the little Gwinnett County town on several lists of best places to live. He harnessed his vibrant energy to lead in the creation of the new mixed-use Town Center, a village bristling with life day and night. Masino also took the lead in creating four new parks, acquiring hundreds of acres of greenspace and bringing citizens and their opinions into government planning.

Now Masino is taking his ideas and leadership into broader fields as vice president of economic development for the Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce. He plans to put his ideas for success into play immediately. “The quality of life initiatives we’ve been able to do in Suwanee we will carry forth in my new role at the Gwinnett Chamber,” he says. – EL

Shawn Arevalo McCollough, 36

Superintendent of Schools Greene County

Board of Education


Excuses have no place in discussions with Shawn McCollough when it comes to talking about problems that plague school systems.

McCollough, Georgia’s first His-panic superintendent, gained national attention between 2002 and 2005 when he turned around an under-performing Gainesville elementary school with significant Hispanic immigrant enrollment.

He spent a year as superintendent of schools in Maricopa County, Ariz., before returning in 2007 to run the Greene County system, which was headed toward a state takeover because of budget problems and poor results.

“Throwing money and programs at a problem has never been a solution for me,” McCollough says. “It has been a simple combination of high expectations, accountability for results, and no excuses. A lot of people in tough environments in certain school systems do not want to hear about that.” – RG

Evette Mills, 37

Area Specialist



When Evette Mills heard about agricultural economics as an undergrad at Fort Valley State, her first thought was, “I don’t want to be a farmer.” But as she learned more, she realized the program went far beyond that. She joined the USDA after graduation and has been with the agency for 17 years, most recently as rural development manager, helping low-income families purchase homes.

“I’m an instant gratification person,” Mills says. “And I get to see that with home ownership. The stability of owning your home makes a big difference in people’s lives.”

That dedication to helping others extends beyond her job – Mills served as chair of Youth Leadership Lowndes and continues to act as a mentor. “I think every child is exceptional, and if they don’t succeed, it’s just as much our fault as theirs,” she says.

Mills is completing a master’s in human resources and considering career options, including a new role as outreach coordinator at USDA. “I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up,” she says, laughing. – KS

Mary Moore, 38


Cook’s Warehouse


Mary Moore seems prescient – in a rear-view mirror. But when she opened her first Cook’s Warehouse store more than 12 years ago, at 25, there were “so many days when I ate macaroni and cheese, and didn’t know if I was going to make the rent,” she says.

Moore, who says she never lost faith that things would work out, opened her third store (in Decatur) in 2005, and plans to spend this year growing her web business, which leaped 348 percent over last year.

She opened her first store after a frustrating search for a crepe pan in New York led her and Chef Scott Peacock (she worked for him, and at Atlanta’s Partners and Indigo) to one particular store. “It was nothing fancy, there was dust everywhere, bad customer service – but they had everything. It was one of those moments, like a lightning bolt went through me.

“I had no idea what I was doing,” she says, “but I knew I wanted to teach people how to cook and sell them things that worked.” – KR

Joseph Mulholland, 30

District Attorney


When Joseph Mulholland was elected district attorney in Bain-bridge, he may have been the youngest ever to hold that job, but he definitely wasn’t a newcomer to justice. In fact, the position marked the culmination of a career that began when Mulholland prosecuted his first case as a third year law student.

While other new lawyers were accepting lucrative jobs in the private arena, Mulholland was fighting for crime victims’ rights as an assistant DA in Albany and Bainbridge.

“It makes the difference when you see a child’s face after you tell them you believe them and the jury comes back and you can give them a little justice,” he explains. “That made more of a difference to me than it did making six figures.”

The pursuit of justice has led Mulholland to take on some big challenges – such as becoming the first DA in Georgia to prosecute predatory payday lenders. He also led the charge to allow prosecutors to help determine whether defendants and judges could waive the right to a jury trial. – RS

Dwayne Myles, 30

President & CEO

United Way of Southwest Georgia


“I’m not into eating cookies, drinking coffee and having meetings,” says Dwayne Myles, 30, the new president and CEO of the United Way of Southwest Georgia. “I’m busy; there are people out there who are homeless and hungry.”

His first plan for his new role: Doubling the organization’s fund-raising goal to $4 million. “This has been a very stable organization,” Myles says, “But I think we can do even greater things by raising our expectations.”

Myles’ experience as former executive director/CEO of the Food Bank of Southwest Georgia has come in handy. “If you can’t build relationships, you’re not going far in nonprofits,” he says. “Sometimes you swallow your pride because you know you’re doing what’s best for the community.”

Though he knows he could take his skills to the corporate world, Myles remains steadfast. “That doesn’t motivate me,” he says. “My passion is helping people and developing the communities where people live.” – PR

Farzad Nahai, 37

Board Certified

Plastic Surgeon

Paces Plastic Surgery


Considered a rising star in the plastic surgery community, Farzad Nahai has compiled an impressive list of achievements in his chosen field. Equally impressive is his community service.

His desire to help others manifested itself early in his career. After completing medical school (Emory) and his surgical residency, Nahai devoted a year to working as surgeon for the Navajo Nation in Shiprock, NM.

After his plastic surgery training at the University of California, Nahai returned to Atlanta to join Paces Plastic Surgery, where associates have high praise for his surgical skills and his desire to help those in need. Nahai has worked with other doctors and with Children’s Cross Connec-tion International on mission trips to El Salvador and Tanzania to help children and adults with extreme deformities.

“It is truly rewarding,” Nahai says. “I have been very fortunate. I have had a lot given to me, and the mission work is an opportunity to give back.” – BN

Navneet Singh Narula, 29

Management Executive Financial Services



In the rarefied air of Fortune 500 business consulting, where conformity is the norm, Navneet Narula stands out like, well, a guy in a turban. And that’s exactly how Narula, a practicing Sikh, describes himself to strangers.

But it’s his actions that truly set Narula apart. After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, he became a living embodiment one of Sikhism’s key tenets – giving back, helping and sharing earnings with others.

Under the aegis of United Sikhs, Narula traveled to the Great Nicobar Islands, where he helped set up a clinic, an orphanage and a computer center, purchased the community’s first ambulance and established an income generating tailoring program for local women. And yes, some of the funds came out of his own pocket.

He performed similar missions of mercy in 2005, following Hurricane Katrina and the Pakistan/Kashmir earthquake. “I am really blessed; God has been kind to me. I have more than what I need in this life, and there are others who have less than what they need in this life,” he says. “Before I leave this world, I simply want to give back and balance some things out.” – SW

Alan NeSmith, 34


Tribune & Georgian

St. Marys

Alan NeSmith was 10 years old when he first started working at his father’s newspaper. He believes the ink that first stained his fingertips at the inserting table and rubbed onto his hands is now in his veins.

NeSmith has put that ink to good work in the 8,200-circulation paper, he publishes twice weekly. Lumped in a category by the Georgia Press Association with papers twice its size, the Tribune & Georgian, 113 years old, won a General Excellence Award in 2007.

“Our role is to keep taxpayers informed of how their money is being spent,” NeSmith says. “Yes, we will pick up a rock and look under it.”

His newspaper work is community involvement itself with a continuing series called “It’s Your Money” on how tax money is allocated to various public entities. NeSmith also is involved with the Camden County United Way, the Camden County Chamber of Commerce and the Camden County Rotary Club.

NeSmith’s working style is to stay within arm’s reach of his staff of 22. His bullpen-style office, on the same floor as the staff, does not have a door. – RG

Wole Ralph, 28

Georgia Director


Clayton County Commission


As a student at Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Wole Ralph became interested in organizations and leadership and worked on several local political campaigns. Bitten by the political bug, he decided to pursue a graduate degree in public administration.

After returning to Georgia to head ACCION-USA, which provides micro-loans to small businesses and entrepreneurs, Ralph settled in Clayton County. It wasn’t long before he realized the county wasn’t providing the kinds of services that its citizens needed. “I really saw that there were a number of people who had moved to the county and the major challenge was a leadership vacuum … ,” he says.

Instead of complaining, Ralph decided to do something. That led to his first campaign for public office and seat on the county commission – he’s now the youngest county commissioner in Georgia, focusing his talents on improving county services and tackling the always nettlesome problem of traffic congestion and transportation. – RS

Barton Rice, 38

Executive Director

Early County 2055


It’s going to take about 50 years for Barton Rice to finish his current job – executive director of Early County 2055 (EC2055), a 50-year revitalization and economic development project in rural Southwest Georgia’s Early County.

Funded by his parents’ Rice Foundation, EC2055 seeks to rejuvenate the economy of Early County (pop. 12,000), while maintaining its quiet, village-like way of life. “This is about preserving the culture and history and all the wonderful things that are still here,” Rice says. “But to also give them a new economic reality. And we are making some great headway.”

When Rice early on saw potential for generating jobs and revenues from film production in Southwest Geor-gia, he was greeted by more than a few guffaws from the locals. But EC2055 has lured a costume company and stunt agency to the county and is partnering with a nearby motion picture and television sound stage in a number of projects. Rice has been courting legislators to help provide land incentives for filmmakers shooting in Georgia. – EL

Malaika Rivers, 36

Executive Director

Cumberland Community Improvement District


Though she lived in many different places around the globe growing up, eventually settling in Virginia, Malaika Rivers was a quick convert to Atlanta.

“I received a phone call from a friend in Atlanta about a job opening (with the Atlanta Regional Commission),” she says. “Three weeks later I moved.”

In 1996, Rivers was hired by the the Cumberland Community Im-provement District (CCID) to manage the very successful public/private partnership developing and funding preliminary engineering and designs in the ever-evolving northwest corridor. When state or county funding comes available, plans are ready.

“My job is all about being pro-active,” Rivers says, “It’s made easier because the (CCID) transportation response has been driven by the business community.” Among CCIDs successes are the Kennedy Inter-change, Cumberland Boulevard loop road, Windy Ridge Parkway and the Commuter Club. – PR

Melody Rodriguez, 32


HOLA Program

Armstrong Atlantic State University


Four years ago, Melody Rod-riguez created the HOLA program to provide scholarships, services and support for Georgia’s growing Hispanic population who may not have the means to go to college.

“They really want to have a better quality of life, and that’s what my program is focused around,” she says. “It’s providing a door for them.”

Armstrong Atlantic State now has the highest percentage of Hispanic students among Georgia colleges, but there is still much work to be done. “The most challenging thing has been changing the viewpoint Georgians have about undocumented Latinos,” she says. “They can contribute and become an asset to the state, but if we discriminate or push them out, we’re not going to be as strong of a state as we could be.

“They, too, deserve an opportunity,” she adds. “If they’re getting a 700 on their SAT math and they want to become engineers, then hey, let’s give them a chance.” – CWS

Todd Sheppard, 38

Men’s Basketball Coach

Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College


When Todd Sheppard walks into a recruit’s living room, he isn’t just selling a winning basketball program. He’s offering a chance at a better life.

For the past four seasons, the father of two has charted a course of steady improvement as men’s basketball coach at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC). Last season, the Stallions set a school record for wins with 27 to earn Sheppard Coach of the Year honors in the Georgia Junior College Athletic Association.

While his 76-49 record is impressive, Sheppard is equally proud of the fact that his program has been built around quality individuals who often choose to continue their educations at four-year institutions after their playing days at ABAC.

“The goal is to get a four-year college degree and improve your quality of life,” Sheppard says. “If we develop them as people, the winning will come.” – RW

Will Simmons, 31

Clayton County Court Administrator


Clayton County Court Admini-strator Will Simmons worries he’s boring.

The soft-spoken Simmons says he strives “to be a tool,” to make smooth the way of justice, and as ex-director of the Cobb County Law Library he’s naturally quiet.

“I’m a public servant at heart,” Simmons says. “I think it’s part of my being to make things smooth. I have a gift for bringing people together. I’m a problem solver, a builder.”

Building? That’s not boring. And he’s built – or more aptly helped bring into being – things that last. He instituted a DUI/Drug Court, created a wi-fi hotspot at the Justice Center and developed a training program for Georgia’s bailiffs.

“I just have high drive. Every-thing I do is for someone else – I’m a giver,” he says. “Whether it’s creating a program or spending time with family or obtaining more education, I’m doing it for someone else. At the same time, I hope it helps me to get to other areas in life, areas where I can bring about more change.” – MW

Rob Simms, 36

Deputy Secretary of State


Robb Simms had a hard time telling his parents about his career choice. He wanted to go into politics, but his mom and dad – both career civil servants – thought it was a bad idea because it meant giving up a more lucrative opportunity in real estate.

“I’ve been very fortunate throughout my career to work for some just really good people who were motivated to be involved in politics for the right reasons,” Simms explains.

Simms has helped a wide variety of candidates run and get elected. He guided Mike Kenn to victory as chairman of the Fulton County Commission and then spent three years as Kenn’s chief of staff.

After a stint in the private sector, he answered the call to help Karen Handel win Kenn’s seat. When she made a bid for Georgia secretary of state, Simms ran her campaign.

Following that election Handel tapped him to serve as her deputy secretary of state – a job that he says includes managing the day-to-day operations of the office and “keeping the knucklehead stuff off of Karen’s desk.” – RS

Mike Stephens, 35

Senior Vice President

Metro Bank


You might call Mike Stephens the accidental banker. He planned to go into real estate after college, but ran into just one problem – there were no jobs. The alternative was banking and he soon found a position as a credit analyst with a local institution.

What was only supposed to be a temporary step instead has lasted 16 years. During that time, Stephens held a variety of jobs with Regions Bank, from private banking to lending. He recently joined the newly formed Metro Bank as head of its commercial lending division.

Banking has given Stephens the personal interaction and ability to not only make a difference for customers, but for the community as well. As a member of Douglasville’s banking community for the past decade, he has advocated community causes ranging from the local chamber to the United Way to leading fund raising campaigns for a youth center and a performing arts facility.

“Serving the community really excites me and makes me feel that I’m contributing back to a community that has been really good to me,” Stephens says. – RS

Major Kevin Tanner, 35

Dawson County

Sheriff’s Office


Impatient to make a difference, Kevin Tanner became a certified police officer and full-fledged investigator at 19.

He’s been Dawson County’s chief deputy/undersheriff since January 1998, handling daily operations for a 120-man department and serving as project manager for a $20 million law enforcement center currently under construction. He’s also worked on regional drug task force, and taken on the day-to-day crime-solving duties of a local officer.

It isn’t what his father had in mind. “My dad is a businessman, who grew up kind of poor, the oldest of seven children, and he went into business and did well,” Tanner says. “My dad said ‘You need to go be a banker,’ but it’s not something I could do. I wanted to look back on life and see that I made some kind of difference. I just fell in love with law enforcement.”

However, as a founding partner of First Citizens Bank of Georgia, Tanner is on the path to fulfilling his – and his father’s – dreams. – RG

Rachel Alterman Wallack, 37

Executive Director

VOX Teen Communications


Combining journalism and social work isn’t your average career, but for Rachel Wallack it was inescapable. As a young journalist she interviewed teens for a story and never knew how to say goodbye. “I was interviewing kids from Guatemala who sniffed glue to curb hunger pains,” Wallack says. “I was struck by how powerful storytelling is, both for the person sharing her story and for the reader.”

So she decided to create a venue for teens to tell their stories. VOX Teen Communications is a nonprofit that produces the VOX newspaper, website and a number of community programs designed to raise teen voices. VOX is unique because it’s teen-driven – kids decide everything from what stories to cover to which community needs should be addressed through programs.

“We’re engaging teens – the hardest group to engage and keep – because they own both the product and the process,” Wallack says. She credits the teens, volunteers, staff and a committed board of directors for the program’s success – last year alone it grew by 40 percent. – KS

Categories: Opinions