2008 Most Influential Georgians

There is no such thing as a perfect 10. What would be the point?

“Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in,” writes Leonard Cohen, one of the most influential poets and songwriters of the past 50 years.

In this, our 10th edition of the 100 Most Influential Georgians, we did not set out looking for the perfect roster. As always, our goal is to illuminate, perhaps educate, by shining a spotlight on 100 different individuals whose influence may be long lasting or short lived, subtle or obvious. These are the people, we believe, who prove that influence is power, not the other way around.

You will recognize most of the names on this year’s roster, the usual suspects, the CEOs, statesmen, college presidents and the like. There also are some you’ve possibly never heard of, people who cast their influence from behind the scenes.

This year’s list, whittled as always by Georgia Trend’s editorial staff, may seem very similar to last year’s – very little turnover this time, with only 29 new Georgians. Yet it also is one of our most diverse, with 20 women (only 12 last year, nine the year before that) and 23 people of color (19 last year, 17 in 2006).

These are the people who inspire us, infuriate us, serve us and lead us. In many ways, they are just like us. “The humblest individual exerts some influence, either for good or evil, upon others,” wrote 19th century progressive clergyman Henry Ward Beecher.

But for our purposes, these profiles were written by Linda M. Erbele, Jerry Grillo, Matt Hennie, Karen Kennedy, Bobby Nesbitt, Patty Rasmussen, Christy Simo and Katheryn Hayes Tucker.

Richard H. Anderson


Delta Air Lines


Age: 52

Richard Anderson took over as CEO of Delta Air Lines last September and he’s been at full gallop ever since. The Atlanta-based airline giant had just made it through a turbulent period, but there was no time to fly on autopilot.

Retiring CEO Gerald Grinstein guided the airline through bankruptcy while fighting off a hostile takeover attempt by US Airways, but the 75-year-old Grinstein had come out of retirement to lead Delta and let it be known he would be ready to pass the baton once the company emerged from bankruptcy.

Delta’s board of directors knew an experienced leader was needed at the controls and they found one close at hand. Anderson, a member of Delta’s board, has served in top posts for several major corporations, including two airlines.

Anderson’s most recent job was executive vice president of UnitedHealth Group, but he has nearly 20 years of airline industry experience, including a stint as CEO of Northwest Airlines and staff vice president and deputy general counsel at Continental Airlines.

Anderson says his goal is to make Delta more financially secure, and a string of good-news announcements has been issued for the company since he took office. Two big ones: the highest quarterly revenue in company history for the third quarter of 2007 and approval for Delta to offer nonstop flights between Atlanta and Shang-hai, China, starting this March.

Because of Anderson’s background with other airlines, there has been increased speculation that a merger with another airline may be in Delta’s future. Anderson doesn’t deny it and has given hints that a leaner, stronger Delta will be dealing from a position of strength this time. – BN

Frank Blake

Chairman and CEO

The Home Depot


Age: 59

In a company known for big personalities, Frank Blake wants to downsize.

Not only does Blake, chairman and CEO of The Home Depot for nearly a year, want to slow the growth of the nation’s second-largest retailer, he also doesn’t intend to take the same high-profile role that marked the tenures of co-founders Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank. Blake says it’s time for customers and associates to bask in the limelight. That’s no small task, given that 22 million people walk into a Home Depot each week and the company employs 325,000 associates.

“The Home Depot is a company built on a strong set of core values,” Blake says. “We want to empower our associates to be their best and we want to provide our customers great products with excellent service and earn their loyalty. And I want our associates to have fun doing it.”

Rather than be a public cheerleader for the nearly 30-year-old home improvement giant, Blake wants to spend his energy revamping Home Depot’s shopping environment, products and associates. Make no mistake – Blake still bleeds Home Depot orange. He spent nearly $1.5 billion in 2007 on recruiting and better training front-line employees, developing ways to get new merchandise in stores quicker, polishing floors and re-striping parking lots.

“Our values are the fabric of the company’s unique culture and are central to our success,” he says. “In fact, they are our competitive advantage in the marketplace. Associate pride and our orange-blooded entrepreneurial spirit are distinctive hallmarks of our culture.” – MH

Casey Cagle

Lieutenant Governor


Age: 41

Healthcare accessibility, transportation improvements and water conservation are the top public policy priorities for Cagle. But on a personal note, he wants to help young people who are in the shoes he once wore.

The organization he founded, Presence with a Purpose, offers scholarships and support to children of single mothers. Cagle identifies – he was abandoned by his father at the age of 3 and raised by his mother alone with limited resources.

He recalls a pivotal moment in his life as a teen growing up in Gainesville and being invited to attend a sports camp with some of his heroes. The trouble, his coach told him, was that he would need to raise $500. It seemed like a fortune. But he followed his coach’s advice and asked his pastor for help. He still remembers the pastor turning to his wife and saying, “Write him a check.”

“That was huge to me,” Cagle says. “What he was really saying was that I believe in you. I want to be a part of you fulfilling your dream. That was the vision of Presence with a Purpose.”

He says he intends to use his statewide presence to “do something special for a lot of people and stay connected to my roots.”

The former state senator achieved success in banking and real estate, his first big break coming after he was hurt playing football at Georgia Southern. He went home and was working in a racquet club when the owner of a Gainesville tuxedo store walked into the gym and offered him a job. He later bought the business and moved on from there. – KHT

Beverly L. Hall, Ed. D.


Atlanta Public Schools


Age: 59

“I’m filled with a sense of anticipation,” says Dr. Beverly Hall, superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, whose contract was recently extended to 2011.

Hall’s enthusiasm stems from seeing momentum at the elementary level, a system-wide focus since she arrived eight years ago.

Buildings were renovated, improvement plans were implemented and the results are in: Standardized test scores are up, parental involvement increased, and 100 percent of APS elementary schools met adequate yearly progress (AYP) as measured by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. All that from a system in which 75 percent of the students receive free or reduced lunch, a standard indicator of economic need.

“We compare ourselves to other systems in urban areas with comparable poverty rates,” Hall says. “We are improving at a rate faster than other urban areas in both the state and in the country.”

Improvement also is being made at the New Schools at Carver, formerly failing Carver High School, now transformed into five, highly personalized high schools within the Carver building, each with its own emphasis: Arts, Entrepreneurship, Health Sciences & Research, Technology, and Early College.

“The retention rate is astronomical and we’ve doubled our graduation rate,” says Hall, who determined that tinkering around the edges wouldn’t do enough to shake up middle school performance. So in August 2007, the system opened two single-gender middle schools, Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy and The B.E.S.T. Academy at Benjamin S. Carson.

Parents weren’t the only ones anticipating positive changes. Hall reports that APS had 200 applicants for each principal post. – PR

P. Russell Hardin


Robert W. Woodruff Foundation


Age: 50

Hardin claims his job is simple: “We are to be good stewards of the money, invest it so that the money grows and seek out opportunities to spend charitable dollars.”

But as president not only of the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, and also the Joseph B. Whitehead, Lettie Pate Evans and Lettie Pate Whitehead foundations, not to mention manager of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center Fund, the concept “simple,” for Hardin, reaches a whole new level – in excess of $6.5 billion, the combined total assets of the foundations.

Hardin moved to Georgia to practice law at King & Spalding after attending Duke University School of Law. Through his practice he became familiar with the people and work of the Woodruff Foundation. He joined the foundation as secretary in 1988 and worked his way up the ranks, assuming the role of president in 2006.

That year, the Woodruff Foundation made commitments of more than $260 million to Emory University. The support for Emory continues Robert Woodruff’s interest in the medical school, which dates to the 1930s.

“He thought a big city needed first-class medical care,” Hardin says about Woodruff.

The Woodruff Health Sciences Center Fund, a $725 million fund, supports Emory’s medical school, research and clinical programs, Hardin says. Half the annual support goes to Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute (Winship was Woodruff’s mother’s maiden name), which is on track to be designated by the National Cancer Institute as Georgia’s first Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Sounds simple, right? – KK

Jack Hill

State Senator


Age: 63

Relationships are the key to building influence at the Capitol, and Jack Hill has been working on that since he started as state senator from the fourth district 18 years ago.

He has worked his way up to chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and serves on other key committees for natural resources, regulated industries, rules, ethics, reapportionment and economic development.

Hill, a Republican, has taken a leading role in rural economic development. He has been involved in such popular grassroots efforts as the “Good Samaritan” law, which promotes the use and availability of automated defibrillators, life-saving devices used for people in cardiac arrest. He has successfully sponsored legislation to cut taxes, increase the potential jury pool beyond voter lists, promote recycling and tighten rules for teen drivers.

An independent grocer, Hill is retired from 37 years service in the U.S. Air Force Reserves. He is married to an elementary school principal. They have three children and five grandchildren.

“Someone who wants to be successful in the house or the senate must work from the day they get there on building relationships,” Hill says.

But his secret is to make friends on both sides of the building. Legislators make a fatal mistake, he says, when they think they only need relationships in their own chamber. They find out when they need to pass their bills on the other side. When a senator walks into a House of Representatives committee and “doesn’t know anybody in the room,” he says, “that’s a poor time to start building relationships.” – KHT

Noel Holcomb


Georgia Department of

Natural Resources


Age: 55

Noel Holcomb’s goal sounds simple enough: Keep Georgians connected to their land.

But with the sprawl of Atlanta leading the transformation of the state from predominantly rural to urban, that strong sense of Georgia’s natural charms embedded in Holcomb after 29 years with the state Department of Natural Resources is shared less and less among his neighbors.

“We know that, ultimately, people will only protect what they love and understand,” Holcomb says. “So it is critical that we educate our citizens and help them appreciate the value of the resources that support our quality of life in Georgia.”

The appointment of Holcomb as DNR commissioner in August 2004 capped a career he began as a technician on Ossabaw Island in 1978, a job that ignited a passion caring for Georgia’s wildlife.

Holcomb now oversees a sprawling agency with 3,000 employees and six divisions challenged with protecting the environment, enforcing state and federal game and fish laws, operating 63 parks and historic sites, protecting the coastline, preserving historic sites and choking off pollution.

The job requires that Holcomb navigate the political landscape to fulfill his budgetary needs and track (and sometimes help defeat) legislation that could impact the agency, while allowing him to get back to his roots as a wildlife biologist content to enjoy the more than 1 million acres of land DNR manages across the state.

“We want to help instill a strong conservation ethic and a strong sense of place, an understanding that Georgia is a special state with outstanding natural, cultural and historic resources,” Holcomb says. – MH

James Holland

Altamaha Riverkeeper


Age: 67

James Holland wasn’t always an environmental activist.

First, he was a boy in Cochran, hunting, fishing and roaming the woods. Then he was a Marine, starting at age 17. When he returned, he moved to Brunswick and worked in the food service industry – until he began to notice what a good life and good living fishermen enjoyed.

So he bought a boat and some crab traps and started working for himself, a life he loved for nearly a quarter of a century.

Ultimately, development upstream warmed and polluted the water to the point that all the crabs began to disappear. His harvest dropped from 1,500 pounds a day to less than 200 pounds a day, and then even lower. That’s when he became an activist.

Holland and a group of fishermen and outdoorsmen banded together in 1994 to try and figure out what had happened. In 1999, they formed the Altamaha Riverkeeper organization, the nation’s 26th Waterkeeper program.

Holland is a powerful protector and persuasive spokesman for the environment. “I’m a lifelong Georgian, but sometimes I’m ashamed of the way that we do things,” he says, referring to over-development in Metro Atlanta, new subdivisions in marshlands on the coast and the state’s growing water crisis.

“Every time we fill a wetland, God only knows what we just did.”

Holland and his wife have three children, five grandchildren and three great grandchildren. He wants to preserve the state’s natural resources, he says, for “everyone’s children.” – KHT

Eric E. Jacobson

Executive Director

Governor’s Council on

Developmental Disabilities


Age: 45

Jacobson gives credit to a group of mothers at the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta for his career with the Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities.

He worked with the federation “when the Jewish Community was beginning to think about services for people with disabilities,” he says. Following his successful tenure there, some of the women encouraged him to apply for a job with the council. He’s been with GCDD since 1992 and has served as executive director since 1997.

The council works within the governmental framework and with the community of disabled people, advocates and service providers to help promote the things people with disabilities need in order to be contributing members of society, Jacobson says – needs such as accessible housing and opportunities for education and real careers.

A current focus of the council is on the Asset Alliance Coalition, Jacobson says. “We recognize that people with disabilities predominantly live in poverty,” often because policies create barriers to work or to save.

For example, in order to keep Medicaid or Social Security, people are only allowed to save a small amount of money before losing their benefits. The coalition of bankers, micro-enterprise specialists, housing specialists and people from the disability community are working together to develop policies that will allow people to hold jobs, save money and participate in the American dream, without losing their benefits before they can afford to replace them.

“That is, long term, going to have a great impact on how people’s lives are supported,” Jacobson says. – KK

Jack Kingston

U.S. Congressman

1st District


Age: 52

Jack Kingston has earned a reputation as his party’s available mouthpiece.

“To be honest, the Republican party hasn’t been media friendly or media comfortable,” says Kingston, a regular guest on political talk shows from Face the Nation to The Colbert Report. “It’s important for us to talk to the people who watch those shows. The worst form of communication is not showing up.”

Believing what’s good for Georgia is good for his district, and vice versa, Kingston was delighted that a half-million-dollar program using technology for tracking military supplies and material to be used at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base will be managed and implemented by Advanced Solutions for Tomorrow, a Roswell-based, minority-owned small business.

With four military bases and posts within his district, much of Kingston’s attention turns toward the welfare and support of active duty and retired service personnel and their families.

“You want to make sure our [military personnel] have the best training, equipment and funding, and that we close the gaps between those who serve and those who don’t,” he says.

Kingston is an enthusiastic co-sponsor of HR 670, the DRIVE Act, which expands incentives for developing alternative fuel technology.

“We’re on the cusp of some exciting things,” he says, citing hybrid vehicle research at Jackson EMC in Jefferson, as well as research at the University of Georgia.

“I support funding for more alternative energy research and will continue to use my bully pulpit to talk about it.” – PR

Dennis P. Lockhart


Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta


Age: 60

Nowadays it seems everybody is talking about the economy. But when Dennis Lockhart talks, everybody listens.

Lockhart became president of the Sixth District Federal Reserve Bank (serving Georgia, Alabama and Florida, and parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee) last March.

He brings to the job a depth of experience in banking, international issues and education: former senior corporate officer of the Southeast office of Citicorp/Citibank (now Citigroup), managing partner at private equity firm Zephyr Management, president of Heller Financial’s Internation-al Group.

When he was named to his current post, Lockhart was a faculty member in the master’s program at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service, while also serving as an adjunct professor in the economics department at Johns Hopkins University’s Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.

He offered a glimpse into his decision-making process and interest in bolstering the economy’s resilience in a recent speech on the housing downturn, saying, “As we move forward, my voice in Fed deliberations will be aimed at balancing response to immediate problems with concern for the best outcome for the long run.”

Lockhart says slower growth (as opposed to inflation) poses the biggest risk to the U.S. economy. He’ll be paying close attention to risk factors like the housing market this year.

“Given the large inventory of unsold homes in many markets and current restraints on certain types of mortgage financing, I believe the bottom of the housing downturn could be a ways off,” Lockhart told an audience at Middle Tennessee State University in September. “Potentially the second half of 2008 or later.” – BN

Jim Marshall

U.S. Congressman

8th District


Age: 59

The media can’t seem to agree on a one-word assessment of U.S. Congressman Jim Marshall. He’s been described as both “influential” and “vulnerable.” The tag he embraces most is “centrist,” courtesy of NationalJournal.com.

“I’m doing my best to reflect the values and advance the interests of Georgians, particularly those I represent in middle and south Georgia,” says Marshall, often considered a nominal Democrat, who represents a GOP-heavy district. “Partisanship makes it difficult to find solutions to tough problems. And we’ve got tough problems.”

A third-term congressman, Marshall says growing up in a military family, then serving for two years as an enlisted infantry “grunt” in Vietnam, enlightened his approach to military issues.

A member of the House Armed Services Committee, Marshall has made 11 trips to Afghanistan and Iraq, including embedding with a Special Forces team at Firebase Chamkani, Afghanistan.

His knowledge is helpful for middle Georgia, home of Robins Air Force Base. “Robins is the largest industrial engine in middle Georgia,” says Marshall, pointing to the 23,000 jobs (about 2,000 of them computer programmers) the base is responsible for providing. In August, the Air Force announced its intention to locate its $21 million Software Support Facility at Robins.

Marshall was the only Demo-cratic congressman to vote against increased funding for the State Children’s Health Insur-ance Program (SCHIP) and Georgia’s PeachCare. A non-smoker, Marshall opposed raising tobacco taxes as a means to pay for the expansion – but he says he supports sustaining and growing the SCHIP through honest compromise.

“America is caught in the clutches of extreme partisanship,” he says. “And most Americans know that’s not how to get things accomplished.” – PR

John Maupin


Morehouse School of Medicine


Age: 61

Discipline helps John Maupin balance the pull of his two families. On the personal side, he is a husband, father and grandfather. On the professional, he’s 18 months into leading Morehouse School of Medicine, the 32-year-old medical school linked to Grady Health System (and the ongoing debate over the system’s funding and future).

But Maupin is accustomed to difficult balancing acts, having served in a variety of public and private roles during his 30-year career as a healthcare leader and dental practitioner, learning lessons he hopes to pass along to the medical school’s nearly 300 students.

“I remind them that it is not how smart they are, but how disciplined they are and that they will be tested personally and professionally every day of their lives,” Maupin says. “They must remain humble as they make their daily decisions and learn to manage the stress that inevitably comes in our line of work.”

The medical school is nearing completion of a five-year strategic plan, which will leave Maupin to implement its top priorities – expanding educational programs to meet the state’s need for physicians, strengthening the school’s research infrastructure and enhancing clinical facilities and service offerings. Maupin, appointed MSM’s president in July 2006, is no stranger to the school, having served as executive vice president for five years in the early 1990s.

“The medical profession, as with everything in society, is ever-changing,” he says. “Our biggest challenge is to continue the tremendous success and growth of MSM in the face of a healthcare environment that is brutally competitive with increasingly scarce resources.” – MH

Dr. Rhonda Medows


Georgia Department of Community Health

Peachtree City

Age: 46

The doctor is in at the Georgia Department of Community Health, an $11 billion agency responsible for providing healthcare to more than 2 million Georgians under the Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids programs and the State Health Benefit Plan for state employees.

One of Medows’ biggest concerns has been Georgia’s PeachCare program, which has been caught up in funding flaps on both the state and federal levels. Federal funding for PeachCare, along with other state children’s health insurance programs, has been on hold while the Congress and President Bush battle over possible expansion of the program.

Medows has held her post for just over two years, but she started preparing when she was in the third grade. “That’s when I decided I wanted to be a doctor,” she says. “My family was not wealthy and we had to use public assistance for healthcare when I was young. One of my first heroes was a health department doctor.”

Medows pursued her dream with a passion, finishing high school at 16, attending Cornell University and then the Morehouse School of Medicine. She practiced at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville and held top posts within the healthcare industry before leading Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration.

Medows was serving as the first chief medical officer for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Region IV Office in Atlanta when Gov. Sonny Perdue asked her to head the DCH in December 2005.

It is a change from being a practicing family doctor, but Medows says, “The dream is still the same. I’m just a doctor doing things in a bigger picture.” – BN

Burgett H. Mooney III


News Publishing Company


Age: 57

Doomsayers who pop up every so often to forecast the imminent death of newspapers need to talk to Burgett Mooney. This third-generation newspaperman and immediate past president of the Georgia Press Association knows well the ups and downs of the business, but he’s confident “there will always be a place for newspapers.”

“I tell people they don’t want a town without a local newspaper, whether they agree with that newspaper or not. A newspaper is still an institution that is vital to the growth of a community,” says Mooney, who is head of the family-owned News Publishing Com-pany of Rome.

The company has a daily, three twice-weeklies, four weeklies and a slew of other specialized publications covering a broad swath of northwest Georgia and a bit of Alabama.

News Publishing was formed in 1928, when Mooney’s grandfather and two associates purchased the Rome News-Tribune, still the company’s flagship newspaper. Mooney III, a University of Georgia graduate with a degree in economics, was named president of the company in 1977 and publisher of the News-Tribune in 1987, following his father’s retirement. He has taken the company from one newspaper to 22 products today.

Mooney looks to the past to see the future for newspapers.

“I think newspapers are going back to the way we used to be and that’s closer to our communities,” he says. “Back in the ’40s, ’50s and even ’60s, the local newspaper was the focal point of the community and that’s what we need to be today. More than ever, our focus must be on being the community’s primary source of information.” – BN

Daniel S. Papp


Kennesaw State University


Age: 60

The KSU president brings a unique combination of global security understanding, expertise in technology and experience in education to the job.

Author of 10 books on foreign affairs, Soviet-American relations, and even international policy in space, Papp also has spent an enormous amount of energy on education in Georgia. And while his proudest accomplishments have to do with parenting his two sons and two stepsons, immediately second are his efforts to put programs and policies in place that help students succeed in life.

In his previous position as senior vice chancellor for academics and fiscal affairs for the University System of Georgia, Papp’s accomplishments included higher admissions standards, a comprehensive program review and a statewide assessment of the system.

In 1999, he coordinated the educational portion of Yamacraw, Georgia’s academic/industry initiative in global broadband technology leadership, and in 1990 he was founding director of Georgia Tech’s Sam Nunn School of International Affairs.

“Education in the state of Georgia is critical as we move into the information age,” he says. “The challenges we face are overall funding and graduation rates, particularly in high schools. It will require dedication, hard work and an open mind, as well as the ability to respond quickly. One of several keys to the future of Georgia is to provide increased access to higher education throughout the state while maintaining high standards.”

As for a KSU football team, he just smiles. “We are looking seriously at the possibility,” he says, noting that it is a very expensive sport. “If we decide to go ahead with it, we will make sure that we can afford to do it right.” – LME

Beverly Daniel Tatum


Spelman College


Age: 53

The nation’s oldest African-American women’s college is headed by a self-described “integration baby” and leading national author and lecturer on the issue of resegregation and the importance of cross-racial relationships.

Tatum has written definitive books on race relations, commented in Time, The Boston Globe and The Christian Science Monitor, and has discussed her views on CNN, National Public Radio, Lifetime and Oprah.

She is the author of the best-selling academic title Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? published in 1997 and important reading for educators in New York City schools. Last year, she published a new book, Can We Talk About Race?: And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation.

Tatum came to Spelman in 2002 from Mount Holyoke College, where she taught for 16 years and served as dean. Previously, she taught psychology at Westfield State College in Westfield, Mass., and lectured in black studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

A couple of years after coming to Atlanta, she was asked by a national newspaper how, more than 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education, a place like Spelman could be relevant. She replied that focusing on gender and race in a positive way can be a very powerful influence.

During her tenure, Spelman students have shaped national conversations. Long before the outrage against portrayal of women in the hip-hop culture became a staple of TV news, a group of Spelman women ignited a debate by canceling a famous rapper’s concert after he made a music video that degraded women. – KHT

Mable Thomas

State Representative

District 55


Age: 50

Politics has never been for the faint of heart, but representing an area that bridges the wide demographic gap between Buckhead and Bankhead calls for nerves of steel. “Able” Mable Thomas, in her second stint as a member of Georgia’s House of Representatives, seems to possess the internal fortitude required of the job.

“The key to my success is my willingness to work with people in every sector,” says Thomas, who has developed a reputation as someone unafraid of political storms and who is a tireless champion for families.

A veteran public servant, Thomas first served in the state legislature from 1985 to 1993, then was an Atlanta City Council member before heading back to the General Assembly in 2002.

Along the way, Thomas, a Demo-crat, has become known for her stands on behalf of women, children and working families – that devotion has played out on the political stage, and the theatrical stage. In 2004 she wrote and produced a one-woman play for the Black Arts Festival about domestic violence.

“People have empathy for this issue, but don’t really understand the effect it has on society as a whole,” she says. “Any way that I can, I use the forum available to me to help educate.”

Thomas says that her years on the city council were a contributing factor to winning her current statewide seat, because it put her in close contact with a variety of people.

“I didn’t come to them as a Democrat or Republican,” she says, “but as an ally listening to their concerns about traffic, crime and economic development encroaching upon their communities.” – LME

James M. Wells III


SunTrust Banks, Inc.


Age: 60

Last year started with a bang for Wells, who became president and CEO of SunTrust Banks on Jan. 1, 2007, following two years as chief operating officer and capping a 38-year career with SunTrust and its predecessors. Wells has overall executive responsibility for SunTrust’s business operations and financial performance, including nearly 1,700 retail branches and more than 30,000 employees.

Like other financial institutions, SunTrust faced a number of challenges in 2007 related to the downturn in the housing market, including a 23 percent drop in third-quarter profits. Part of that drop also was attributed to a $45 million severance payout due to the elimination of approximately 1,000 positions in August. The elimination of 2,400 more jobs is expected by the end of 2008, as part of the company’s efficiency and productivity program.

Rumors of a takeover resulted in quick “no comments,” but analysts seemed to agree that a sale wasn’t likely given SunTrust’s focus on improving shareholder value and its sale of 4.5 million shares of Coca-Cola stock, which the bank had owned since 1919. A decision about whether or not to sell additional shares was expected by the end of 2007.

“Despite far-reaching changes that have reshaped the financial services industry in recent years and the prospect of continued change as we look ahead,” Wells says, “it is clear that a consistent and concentrated focus on meeting the needs of customers is also the key to profitable growth and enhanced shareholder value.” – KK

Rick Winger


Savannah Economic Development Authority


Age: 66

Savannah has a centuries-old reputation for diversity. First there is its population, a melting pot that has been simmering since James Oglethorpe designed the cityscape. But in addition to the varied cultures that give Savannah a cosmopolitan flavor, there is the diverse collection of drivers – manufacturing, ports, education, tourism and healthcare – that keep the area’s economy moving. And SEDA President Rick Winger has played a leading role in guiding continued good fortune to the historic port city.

While SEDA’s emphasis on cultivating knowledge-based businesses (the Creative Coast Initiative) has resulted in numerous successes, manufacturing has maintained its place as a dominant force in Savannah, where technology and manufacturing are joined at the fuselage. Witness local aircraft builder Gulfstream’s $300 million expansion. Its new engineering center will eventually employ 800 engineers. And manufacturing interests from abroad have circled Savannah in bold ink on the economic development map.

“More than half of the projects and inquiries that we’re working on are manufacturing,” Winger says. “And more than half of those are European.” Those interests and the growth of the port by Asian companies have enhanced Savannah’s image as a global business center.

Savannah ranked 10th on Inc. magazine’s 2007 list of “boomtowns” (based mostly on job growth) so Winger’s upbeat, cup-half-full philosophy is understandable. This year, he says, “will be the year of the mega-site,” a reference to the 1,500-acre site in Pooler once expected to house a Daimler-Chrysler manufacturing facility. – LME

Click on the link below to view full list

Most Influential Georgians

Notable Georgians

Categories: Opinions