Most Influential: Georgia’s Power List

published January 2009

This edition of the 100 Most Influential Georgians is the 11th such list we have compiled, spotlighting prominent figures in business, politics, government, science and education – as well those who wield their power behind the scenes.

The names on the list were selected by Georgia Trend’s editorial staff. Some of this year’s decisions were particularly challenging as elections and runoff elections left the influence of some individuals in doubt, right up until our 11th hour. A total of 24 of the honorees – nearly one-quarter of the list – hold elected office, although not all of them ran in 2008.

And while most of the individuals on this year’s list are recognizable from previous years, 36 of them were not on the 2007 roster, reflecting significant turnover among the people who keep Georgia moving in one direction or another: Influence can follow diverse paths.

Profiles were written by Jerry Grillo, Matt Hennie, Bobby Nesbitt, Collette Parker, Patty Rasmussen and Christy Simo.

The Rev. Dr. Joanna Adams
Senior Pastor
Morningside Presbyterian Church
Atlanta
Age: 64
Morningside’s popular pastor is known for her humanitarian involvement in church and community. Adams has a well-deserved reputation as a bridge builder who brings different religious groups and organizations together for the good of the community. She’s been an especially strong advocate for the homeless, helping start several programs to aid homeless children and families.

Michael Adams
President
University of Georgia
Athens
Age: 61
In 12 years on the job, Adams has led UGA to recognition as one of the best public research universities in the country. Donors to UGA have responded as the school recently completed its Archway to Excellence campaign with nearly $654 million in gifts and pledges. Adams also serves as chairman of the NCAA Executive Committee.

Dan Amos
Chairman & CEO
Aflac Incorporated
Columbus
Age: 57
Amos is a career Aflac man, having joined the company’s sales force in 1973, rising to CEO in 1990 and adding the chairman’s title 11 years later. But he’s probably best known among the 40 million people the company insures for introducing the Aflac duck, which helped build a top national brand and boost revenue to $15.4 billion in 2007.

Richard Anderson
CEO
Delta Air Lines, Inc.
Atlanta
Age: 53
Anderson successfully negotiated a merger with Northwest Airlines, where he previously served as CEO. The $17.7 billion all-stock agreement favored by 99 percent of Delta shareholders creates the world’s largest airline, with 75,000 employees and service to more than 375 cities. Most important for Georgia – Delta will remain headquartered in Atlanta.

Scott Angle
Dean, University of Georgia College of
Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
Athens
Age: 56
Under Angle’s guidance, CAES has experienced record enrollment and attracted an unprecedented amount of private donations and external funds to become the leading fund-raising college at UGA. The college has been ranked 4th in the nation for agricultural research for three years running by the National Science Foundation, and has increased its emphasis on environmental studies and research.

Thurbert Baker
Attorney General
State of Georgia
Stone Mountain
Age: 56
Baker wrote legislation protecting children from online sexual predators, pushed through a groundbreaking law against financial identity fraud and wrote the first law in the nation targeting the fast-growing crime of residential mortgage fraud. He led the charge against Medicaid fraud, enforced the state’s Open Records and Open Meetings acts and targeted counterfeit goods, such as pharmaceuticals, and other consumer products.

Charles Bannister
Chairman
Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners
Lilburn
Age: 59
Since 2004, Bannister has worked to reduce traffic, enhance public safety and create more jobs in Gwinnett County, which has since added hundreds of police officers, attracted high-paying jobs and completed more than 100 transportation projects. He also promotes community improvement districts and adding code enforcement officers to help revitalize portions of the county.

Eldrin Bell
Chairman
Clayton County Board of
Commissioners
Jonesboro
Age: 73
Bell knows the streets of Metro Atlanta. He came of age during three decades with the Atlanta Police Department and now oversees the day-to-day operations of Clayton County government in his second term as County Commission Chairman. He also digs deep into the region’s transportation woes as chairman of the Transit Planning Board.

Tom Bell
Chairman, President & CEO
Cousins Properties
Atlanta
Age: 59
Bell doesn’t really apply for jobs, he gets asked. After just six years in Atlanta, he gets asked often (and seldom refuses) to lead civic organizations, arts groups and healthcare agencies. That’s in addition to his duties overseeing one of the nation’s top development companies and expanding its large imprint on Atlanta.

Sanford Bishop
U.S. Congressman
District 2
Albany
Age: 61
Bishop helped implement the 2008 farm bill, which authorized $280 billion in support programs as well as incentives for farmers to implement crop rotation. He also introduced the Transitional Health Care Bill, which passed the U.S. House last year and would provide 180 days of healthcare for active military personnel who voluntarily join the Reserves.

Frank Blake
Chairman and CEO
The Home Depot
Atlanta
Age: 60
Since taking the reins in early 2007, Blake’s task has been to increase both morale and sales at the country’s second largest retailer. He’s since sold off the supply unit and shuttered 15 stores. He’s also focusing on what the store was once known for – customer service – and is investing in people while others are slashing jobs and expenses.

Arthur Blank
Owner & CEO
Atlanta Falcons and Georgia Force
Atlanta
Age: 66
Long known as half of the entrepreneurial duo that founded The Home Depot, Blank is now playing out the fantasies of armchair quarterbacks everywhere as owner of the Atlanta Falcons and Georgia Force. His philanthropy through the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation has included giving more than $250 million to nonprofit organizations across Metro Atlanta.

Bill Bolling
Executive Director
Atlanta Community Food Bank
Decatur
Age: 61
Bolling oversees the distribution of more than 20 million pounds of food and grocery products each year through a network of 800 nonprofit groups that feed the hungry. His work on hunger, poverty and affordable housing makes him a frequent choice for the boards of regional and national organizations, including the Faith Alliance of Metro Atlanta and the Regional Housing Forum.

Brig. Gen. Maria Britt
Commanding General
Georgia Army National Guard
Conyers
Age: 47
Britt, who was in the fourth class of women to be admitted at West Point, has had her share of firsts and near-firsts in her steady climb through the ranks. Now, she is the first female general in the history of the Georgia Guard, with 10,900 men and women under her command.

Mark Burkhalter
State Representative/Speaker Pro Tem
Georgia House of Representatives
Johns Creek
Age: 48
Burkhalter was 31 when he was first elected to the Georgia House of Represent-atives. He’s now serving his ninth term and is one of the state’s most influential elected leaders. As Speaker Pro Tem, Burkhalter serves as ex-officio member on all standing committees in the House and as one of three House conferees on all state budgets.

Casey Cagle
Lieutenant Governor
Gainesville
Age: 42
Cagle barely had an occasion to wear a tuxedo before he started a Gainesville business selling them at age 20. Now, black tie functions are a regular occurrence for the first Republican elected to the state’s second-highest office. Cagle was elected to the state Senate at 28 and his business acumen and northeast Georgia roots helped propel him to his current post in 2006.

Murray Campbell
CEO, First United Ethanol LLC
Camilla
Age: 53
As CEO of the state’s first corn ethanol company, Campbell is a pioneer in Georgia’s nascent biofuels industry. Campbell, who owns and manages a 1,300-acre farm operation, was one of the original members and chairman of the Mitchell County research group that funded the feasibility study, which led to formation of First United Ethanol.

C. Michael Cassidy
President/CEO
Georgia Research Alliance
Atlanta
Age: 55
Cassidy is responsible for “opportunity creation” – encouraging new science and technology through groundbreaking university-based research to help people, encourage new business and create a substantial economic impact throughout the state. Since its founding in 1990, the public-private partnership has attracted more than $2.1 billion in federal and private funding.

Dan Cathy
President/COO
Chick-fil-A, Inc.
Fayetteville
Age: 55
President and COO since 2001, Dan continues to build on his father Truett’s philosophies. For Chick-fil-A, one of the nation’s largest family-owned businesses, customer service is key to getting people to eat more chicken. And it seems to be working. Chick-fil-A saw sales of $2.64 billion in 2007, its 40th consecutive year of positive sales.

Jeff Chapman
State Senator
Brunswick
Age: 49
Chapman lends a strong voice to diverse issues, earning a reputation for his support of people with disabilities, and as a proponent of eminent domain reform. He isn’t afraid to oppose members of his own Republican Party on certain issues. In 2008 he was named Senator of the Year by the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island State Park and won the Georgia Conservation Voters’ Leadership Award.

Bill Cooper
President/CEO
Cobb Chamber of Commerce
Marietta
Age: 66
Cooper landed in his current post 10 years ago after a career in the skies (pilot for Delta, U.S. Air Force) and politics (Cobb County Commissioner). As head of the Cobb Chamber, one of the largest chambers in the state, he leads an organization with more than 2,500 members, including Fortune 100 and 500 companies.

Deke Copenhaver
Mayor, Augusta
Augusta
Age: 41
Since 2005, Copenhaver has worked to restore faith in the local government and soothe political, social and racial differences. He’s also helped bring large employers and new construction to the city. Known for his composure and calm demeanor, Copenhaver has drawn on his real estate sales and nonprofit background, which makes him a good fit for city government.

Carol Couch
Director
Georgia Environmental Protection Division
Decatur
Age: 52
Couch’s agency oversees Georgia’s environmental resources, everything from air quality to solid waste disposal. But it’s water – or the lack of it – that has become a top concern, and Couch has the big job of implementing a comprehensive statewide water plan to deal with a lingering drought.

Charles Craig
President
Georgia Bio
Atlanta
Age: 56
Craig is the lead advocate for Georgia’s bulging biotech industry – nearly 300 companies with more than 15,000 employees and almost $8 billion in annual product sales. This May he’ll play host to the industry’s largest gathering when the BIO International Convention comes to Atlanta, bringing an expected 25,000 visitors from 70 countries and an economic impact of $26 million.

Dennis Creech
Executive Director
Southface Energy Institute
Atlanta
Age: 58
Southface programs reach more than 45,000 people every year and include partners ranging from Fortune 100 companies to community-based affordable housing developers. Creech, who started the nonprofit 30 years ago, walks the walk: He works in a green office building, lives in an environmentally-restored 1950s ranch-style home and drives a hybrid vehicle.

Erroll Davis
Chancellor
University System of Georgia
Atlanta
Age: 64
A big job takes a good plan and Davis, in his third year as chancellor, is well on his way with a bold plan to “educate more and more Georgians to higher levels.” Unfortunately, he must do it in a tough economy that has forced student tuition hikes and budget cuts for Georgia’s 35 public colleges and universities.

Benjamin DeCosta
Aviation General Manager
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
Atlanta
Age: 62
DeCosta makes sure one of the state’s most vital economic engines continues to operate smoothly. It takes a lot of upgrading and expansion to remain the “world’s busiest airport,” and DeCosta is guiding a multibillion, 10-year development program that includes a new international terminal.

Margaret DeFrancisco
President/CEO
Georgia Lottery Corporation
Atlanta
Age: 59
DeFrancisco, former director of the New York State Lottery, took over leadership of the Georgia Lottery Corporation in 2004. Since its inception in 1993, the lottery has given upwards of $9 billion for education (on almost $35 billion in sales), providing HOPE Scholarships to more than 1.1 million students and sending more than 940,000 four-year-olds to pre-K programs across the state.

Kit Dunlap
President & CEO
Greater Hall County Chamber of Commerce
Gainesville
Age: 66
As head of the chamber for one of the state’s fastest growing areas, Dunlap has played a vital role in attracting and developing much of that growth. As chair of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District, she also plays a leadership role in seeking solutions to the state’s shrinking water supply.

Mostafa A. El-Sayed
Julius Brown Chair and Regents Professor
Director, Laser Dynamics Laboratory
Georgia Institute of Technology
Atlanta
Age: 75
El-Sayed received the nation’s highest honor for a scientist – the Medal of Science – at a White House ceremony in September, for his work in nano-science, including innovative applications in the treatment for cancer. The award also recognizes his humanitarian efforts such as fostering scientific exchange among countries and his role in developing future scientific leadership.

Burrell Ellis
CEO
DeKalb County
Stone Mountain
Age: 50
Before being elected CEO of Georgia’s most diverse county, replacing Vernon Jones, Ellis served eight years as a county commissioner. He campaigned on a promise of improved police protection and a pledge to reduce turnover in the police department. He’s also a real estate attorney with the firm Epstein, Becker and Green.

Damon Evans
Athletics Director
The University of Georgia
Bogart
Age: 39
When Evans took over UGA’s top athletics job in 2004, he was 34 and one of the youngest athletic directors in the country. In rabid Dawg country, he’s on the hot seat of UGA athletics, but he and UGA’s sports teams have performed well. Evans oversees a nationally recognized program with 21 intercollegiate sports teams and a $76 million budget.

Gena Evans
Commissioner
Georgia Department of Transportation
Sharpsburg
Age: 40
Evans learned how to navigate Georgia government as state property officer and head of the Georgia Building Authority. But she blazed a new trail in becoming the first female commissioner of the Georgia DOT, inheriting an agency with 6,000 employees and a $2.1 billion budget to address an infrastructure crisis and funding deficit.

Bill Floyd
Mayor, Decatur
Decatur
Age: 62
Floyd, who operates his own blogsite (www.billfloyddecatur.com), has been a leader on Decatur’s political scene since being elected to the city commission in 1991. Since 1998 he’s served as mayor of one of Georgia’s most progressive small cities. Most recently, Decatur has been considering annexation (increasing from 4 to 5 square miles) and developing a local, organic, urban farming program.

Shirley Franklin
Mayor, Atlanta
Atlanta
Age: 63
Potholes and sewers. Unglamorous is-sues for a big city mayor, but Franklin has focused her two terms at the helm of Atlanta’s government on just those – repairing infrastructure and delivering services while becoming the city’s cheerleader-in-chief. Quite impressive for Atlanta’s first female mayor and a first-time political candidate who’s gone on to win national accolades for her accomplishments.

Mike Garrett
President & CEO
Georgia Power
Atlanta
Age: 59
Garrett knows power grids across the Southeast, thanks to four decades of work for Southern Company subsidiaries in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. Once he returned to his native Georgia in 2004, though, Garrett reached beyond his corner office with leadership roles on the boards of several civic and business groups, including the Georgia Conservancy and Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

Sharon Gay
Attorney/Partner
McKenna Long & Aldridge
Atlanta
Age: 52
Gay’s specialty is state and local government law, especially when it comes to land use and zoning, and tax allocation districts – TADs, or tax increment financing, a tool jurisdictions use in neighborhood revitalization and improvement efforts. Last year she led the way in crafting a new amendment (which passed) that gives local boards of education the ability to opt into a TAD.

Dr. Helene Gayle
President/CEO
CARE USA
Atlanta
Age: 53
Gayle spends most of her time traveling around the planet to visit CARE’s poverty-fighting projects and expand the humanitarian organization’s reach. In 2007, CARE USA contributed manpower and $545 million to more than 1,000 projects in 71 countries, reaching more than 65 million people in the ongoing battle to end global poverty.

Rob Gibson
Executive & Artistic Director
Savannah Music Festival
Savannah
Age: 50
Before coming to Savannah, Gibson was the founding director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, possibly the world’s most prestigious presenter of jazz activities. Under his guidance, the Savannah Music Festival has become Georgia’s largest musical arts event, presenting more than 100 programs featuring more than 400 classical, jazz, blues, bluegrass and international artists over nearly three weeks every spring.

Phil Gingrey
U.S. Congressman
District 11
Marietta
Age: 68
Dr. Gingrey delivered more than 5,200 babies in his 26 years as a practicing obstetrician, then became a U.S. Congressman in 2002, breezing to re-election three times since in his heavily conservative district. A member of the Armed Services Committee, he strongly supported the invasion of Iraq, but opposed expanding the G.I. Bill (which passed last year).

Renee Glover
President and CEO
Atlanta Housing Authority
Atlanta
Age: 59
Glover, who has been with the AHA since 1994, has transformed the agency from troubled to a national leader by, among other accomplishments, introducing mixed-income developments into Atlanta public housing. In fact, the model she created at AHA is now used as the blueprint by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Tim Golden
State Senator
Valdosta
Age: 54
Golden, who chairs the Senate Demo-cratic Caucus, is a champion for Georgia industry. The former Georgia Chamber of Commerce “Legislator of the Year,” he authored and/or led the passage of legislation during the last session to assist Georgia manufacturers, including a cap on energy prices and the “Made in Georgia” program. Golden co-chairs the Senate Study Committee on the Future of Manufacturing in Georgia.

Jerry R. Griffin
Executive Director
Association County Commissioners of Georgia
Jonesboro
Age: 64
Griffin stays busy breaking down the complicated issues facing Georgia’s 159 counties – population growth, traffic congestion and property taxes – for state lawmakers. He also helps shape tomorrow’s leaders through the creation of a civic education program for high school students and prepares for the retirement of today’s county government workers by overseeing a retirement and deferred compensation program.

Beverly L. Hall
Superintendent
Atlanta Public Schools
Atlanta
Age: 59
Big city school superintendents typically don’t last more than a few years on the job. But Hall defies that as she nears 10 years in her post, overseeing a rise in standardized test scores, renovations to aging facilities and implementation of new business operations. Her goal is lofty: graduating 90 percent of ninth-graders in four years ready for college or a career.

Karen Handel
Georgia Secretary of State
Roswell
Age: 46
Since 2007, Handel has implemented initiatives designed to strengthen elections security, including the voter ID requirement, and increased penalties for all forms of election fraud. She boosted transparency and efficiency by posting her agency’s budget and monthly expenditures online and streamlined operations. She bore some criticism for the long lines that slowed early voting last fall, and an attempt to bar a Democratic candidate from running for state office earned a thumbs-down from the Georgia Supreme Court.

P. Russell Hardin
President
Robert W. Woodruff Foundation
Atlanta
Age: 51
In addition to overseeing the Woodruff Foundation, which last year awarded 51 grants totaling more than $95 million, Hardin also manages the Joseph B. Whitehead, Lettie Pate Whitehead and Lettie Pate Evans foundations. Each organization supports interests ranging from education, health and human welfare to economic development and the arts.

Jim Higdon
Executive Director
Georgia Municipal Association
Atlanta
Age: 67
Higdon oversees the lobbying efforts for more than 500 municipal governments – as well as the educational programs, technical services and employee benefit services provided by GMA, which was founded 75 years ago. Among Higdon’s latest fights on behalf of GMA was his opposition to the abolition of real estate taxes proposed in the last legislative session.

Tommy Hills
Chief Financial Officer
State of Georgia
Atlanta
Age: 64
As Georgia’s chief financial watchdog, Hills has seen his tough job get tougher as the state battles a slowing economy and major budget cuts. Prior to his appointment by Gov. Sonny Perdue in 2003, he had a 36-year career as a banking executive, experience he now puts to good use to keep the state’s fiscal foundation solid.

Johnny Isakson
U.S. Senator
Marietta
Age: 64
Isakson and other members of the bipartisan “Gang of Ten” developed an energy plan to address offshore drilling, conservation and alternative energy sources. In addition to voting in favor of the emergency economic stabilization bill, he pushed for a tax credit for homebuyers, including those purchasing a foreclosed home or one on which foreclosure is pending.

George M. Israel III
President/CEO
Georgia Chamber of Commerce
Macon
Age: 58
The former mayor of Macon has aggressively enticed the Georgia General Assembly to present a lucrative welcome mat for businesses. The chamber, with 4,500 members, has played the lead role in enhancing Georgia’s pro-business environment, successfully pushing for legislation that includes corporate incentives, relief for manufacturers and tort reform in recent years.

Ronald Jackson
Commissioner
Technical College System of Georgia
Atlanta
Age: 61
Enrollment in the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) always goes up when unemployment jumps, as workers retool for new career opportunities. TCSG is merging 13 colleges into six schools, but all campuses will remain open during another round of budget cuts. Jackson will manage a leaner administrative workforce while serving more students (some 154,000) than ever before.

Bill Jones III
Chairman/CEO
Sea Island Company
St. Simons Island
Age: 50
As the fourth-generation chairman & CEO of one of the world’s leading golf resorts, Jones oversees 65,000 acres along Georgia’s coast, including a world-renowned historic hotel, The Cloister. He’s also a charter member of the Commission for a New Georgia, a director for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and a trustee for The Nature Conservancy of Georgia.

Jerry Keen
Majority Leader
Georgia House of Representatives
St. Simon’s Island
Age: 58
Keen says budget issues will dominate the upcoming legislative session. “The economic slowdown doesn’t change the fact that we have to balance the budget,” he says. With Governor Perdue’s backing, Keen announced his intention to develop a plan to restructure the way Georgia’s Department of Transportation is administered.

Dennis Kelly
President/CEO
Zoo Atlanta
Atlanta
Age: 55
Here’s what has happened at Zoo Atlanta since Kelly arrived in 2003: Annual giving has increased more than 50 percent, the Zoo received a record $5 million gift from Turner Broadcasting and attendance has grown nearly 25 percent. More than 600,000 visitors a year tour one of the nation’s oldest zoos to see more than 800 specimens representing more than 200 species.

James Cox Kennedy
Chairman/CEO
Cox Enterprises, Inc.
Atlanta
Age: 61
As one of the nation’s leading media companies, Cox Enterprises owns 80 radio stations, 15 television stations and – until lately – 17 daily newspapers, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The conglomerate employs 83,000 and logged 2007 revenues of $15 billion, but isn’t immune to the challenges facing the print industry, recently selling all but three of its newspapers.

Muhtar Kent
President/CEO
The Coca-Cola Company
Atlanta
Age: 56
It was an eventful summer for Coca-Cola. Beijing was painted in corporate colors (a $75-$90 million Olympics sponsorship deal) and Kent became master of the soft-drink universe, adding the CEO title to his role as president. Every day some 1.5 billion servings of one of Coca-Cola’s 2,800-plus products are made, contributing to more than $28 billion in annual sales in more than 200 countries.

Jack Kingston
U.S. Congressman
District 1
Savannah
Age: 53
Republican Representative Kingston has served the 1st District for the past 14 years. He’s a member of the House Appropriations Committee’s Defense Subcommittee, which oversees military-based funding, and was also recently appointed Ranking Member on the Appropriations Committee’s Agriculture Subcommittee. He’s a strong supporter of farmers’ rights and alternative energy research.

Charles “Chick” Krautler
Director
Atlanta Regional Commission
Atlanta
Age: 61
Krautler’s job involves being a problem solver and a moderator. Not only must he manage the problems brought on by the tremendous growth of Metro Atlanta – traffic, air pollution, water issues, among them – he has to keep 10 counties and 66 municipalities with diverse interests focused on finding solutions to common problems.

John Lewis
U.S. Congressman
District 5
Atlanta
Age: 68
Lewis is at an age when he could sit back and rest on his laurels – and there are plenty of them – but this legendary figure from the civil rights movement continues as a tireless advocate for civil liberties. Lewis, who holds one of the top leadership posts in Congress, starts his 12th term in 2009.

Jim Lientz
Chief Operating Officer
State of Georgia
Atlanta
Age: 64
Lientz’s job is to make sure the state government is running smoothly. That’s no small task: The position was created in 2003 to transform the state’s bureaucracy into a model of customer friendliness and prompt service – in short, to make Georgia the nation’s best managed state. The Pew Center on the States recently gave the state a B+ for its efforts.

Dennis Lockhart
President & CEO
Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta
Atlanta
Age: 61
Lockhart’s expertise in finance and banking was often parceled out in the quiet confines of academia and New York financial firms. His March 2007 appointment as head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta came ahead of an economic tsunami. Six years as a Marine serves him well now that he sits on the frontlines of a financial crisis.

R. Charles Loudermilk, Sr.
Chairman
Aaron Rents, Inc.
Atlanta
Age: 80
After an ultra-successful career turning a $500 loan into a multibillion-dollar company, Loudermilk has handed over the CEO title to his son. But the Atlanta native, who has given millions to charitable endeavors and educational institutions, remains chairman of the company he built and a pillar of the city’s civic community.

Doug Marchand
Executive Director
Georgia Ports Authority
Savannah
Age: 61
The economy has taken a nosedive, but under Marchand’s leadership Georgia’s ports continue to thrive – and to meet the growing demands of international business. The ports support more than 280,000 jobs in Georgia and contribute almost $56 billion in revenue and $12.8 billion in taxes to Georgia’s economy. Savannah is the fastest-growing and fourth-largest container port in the nation.

Rhonda Medows
Commissioner
Georgia Department of Community Health
Peachtree City
Age: 47
Medows manages the agency that’s responsible for the healthcare of 2.1 million Georgians, and oversees an $11 billion annual budget. She’s worked to create awareness of healthcare disparities, and to protect underfunded government programs, such as Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids, frequently calling upon the private sector – particularly health insurance companies – for support.

John Mellot
Publisher
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Atlanta
Age: 51
Mellott is guiding the Cox company’s flagship publication through the toughest economic challenge American newspapers have ever faced, as advertising revenue and circulation numbers continue to sink. The AJC has jettisoned some distinguished veteran journalists, as well as employees in advertising, distribution and other areas, and has reduced its distribution footprint while concentrating on growth of its internet offerings.

Emory Morsberger
CEO
The Morsberger Group
Lawrenceville
Age: 53
Morsberger’s company has been at the forefront in creating two community improvement districts in Gwinnett County (Highway 78 CID and Southwest Gwinnett Village CID). Specializing in the redevelopment of declining neighborhoods across the Southeast, the firm is engaged in a number of ambitious revitalization projects in Metro Atlanta, including Ponce Park (the redevelopment of City Hall East).

Jeff Mullis
State Senator
Chickamauga
Age: 49
The Republican community planner and volunteer fire chief from Walker County has become one of the General Assembly’s most influential leaders as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. Mullis, who chairs the Transport-ation Subcommittee of Senate Appropriations and previously chaired the Senate Economic Development Committee, is executive director of the Northwest Georgia Joint Development Authority.

Sam Olens
Chairman, Cobb County Commission
Chairman, Atlanta Regional Commission
Marietta
Age: 51
Olens, who had no opponent in his bid for re-election, plans to lead Cobb County through the economic crisis with fiscally conservative policies, maintain a balanced budget, increase reserves and encourage slower population growth. The chair of Atlanta’s regional planning agency, he aggressively promotes adequate and efficient transportation/transit funding, water conservation, improved air quality and environmental sustainability.

Dan Papp
President, Kennesaw State University
Marietta
Age: 61
Under Papp’s leadership, KSU was recently ranked fourth in the new category of up-and-coming master’s level universities in the South by U.S. News & World Report, Georgia’s only public institution on the list. Enrollment tops 21,400 and recently added housing options have boosted the number of residential students to more than 5,000.

Sonny Perdue
Governor, State of Georgia
Atlanta
Age: 63
Perdue expanded Georgia’s international business profile with highly publicized trips to China, Spain, Portugal and Italy. Closer to home, he mandated a 6 percent reduction in state agency budgets with a 2 percent reduction in the school funding formula. Proposed legislation requests local school superintendents be given authority to make site-based budget decisions on class size, media, staff development and instruction.

Tom Price
U.S. Congressman
District 6
Roswell
Age: 54
The former orthopedic surgeon became the first Republican majority leader in the Georgia State Senate, then won the U.S. Congress seat vacated by Johnny Isakson, winning his latest bid for re-election in November. Price has been a forceful voice for reform on Capitol Hill, staging a determined assault on government pork.

Daniel Rahn
President
Medical College of Georgia
Senior Vice Chancellor for Health & Medical Programs
University System of Georgia
Augusta
Age: 58
Shortfalls in all health professions led Rahn to promote expansion of satellite medical and pharmacy education programs, training opportunities for allied and behavioral health professionals and increased dental and medical education. The state has seen a 17 percent increase in enrollment in nursing programs and aims for a 50 percent increase by 2010.

David M. Ratcliffe
Chairman, President & CEO
Southern Company
Atlanta
Age: 59
With the economy in flux and energy on everyone’s mind, Ratcliffe’s job as head of one of the world’s largest electricity producers is more important than ever. With the responsibility of “keeping the lights on” for some 4.3 million customers, Ratcliffe has Southern focusing on nuclear energy as an option to meet future demand.

John Rice
Vice Chairman, General Electric Company
CEO, GE Technology Infrastructure
Roswell
Age: 52
Rice, who has been with General Electric for 30 years, runs one of GE’s most successful businesses, a recently restructured $60 billion enterprise. A past-president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, he has a track record of success in the office, the boardroom and the community that makes him a possible candidate to become GE’s next CEO.

Glenn Richardson
Speaker
Georgia House of Representatives
Hiram
Age: 48
The powerful, sometimes volatile Richardson, Georgia’s first GOP House Speaker in more than 130 years, has boldly and openly feuded with Gov. Sonny Perdue and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, tried and failed to abolish real estate taxes during the last legislative session, and survived a challenge from within his own party for the speaker’s gavel.

A.J. Robinson
President
Central Atlanta Progress
Downtown Improvement District
Atlanta
Age: 53
Robinson manages an organization that helps make Atlanta safe, livable and economically vibrant. In the past year, he worked to pass legislation to allow vending in public spaces; helped create a citywide anti-panhandling program; continued the revitalization of Woodruff Park; and played a role in securing more than $80 million in tax credits for downtown projects.

Michael Russell
CEO
H.J. Russell & Company
Atlanta
Age: 43
Russell manages the nation’s largest minority-owned development company, an enterprise with $300 million in annual sales and 1,800 employees. Multifamily housing is the firm’s strong suit, but recent company highlights include work on the fifth runway at Hartsfield-Jackson and a $96 million expansion of the Woodruff Arts Center and High Museum in Atlanta.

Leah Ward Sears
Chief Justice
Georgia State Supreme Court
Atlanta
Age: 53
Sears, the first woman and youngest person ever appointed to the Georgia Supreme Court, announced her intention to leave the Court effective June 2009, 18 months before her term ends, opening the door for a judicial pick by Gov. Sonny Perdue. Her name has been mentioned for a role in the Obama administration, including a spot on the list of potential nominees for U.S. Supreme Court.

Beheruz N. Sethna
President/Professor of Business Administration
University of West Georgia
Carrollton
Age: 60
Sethna is the first person from any ethnic minority to become president of a predominantly white or racially integrated university in Georgia and believed to be the first person of Indian origin to become president of any university in the nation. He leads a growing institution with an enrollment of 11,100 and a total budget of more than $100 million.

Dr. Greg Simone
President/CEO
WellStar Health System
Marietta
Age: 62
Simone, a career cardiologist, was selected to lead the 11,500-employee, not-for-profit WellStar system in June 2007. He runs a massive health services organization that receives about 800,000 patient visits to its Cobb, Douglas, Kennestone, Paulding and Windy Hill hospitals (as well as homecare, hospice and other service centers), with plans to develop an additional medical campus in Paulding County.

Tom Smith
President/CEO
Oglethorpe Power Corporation
Alpharetta
Age: 54
Smith leads the nation’s largest power co-op as it enters an aggressive phase of power plant construction while maintaining a commitment to green, renewable energy. OPC has 30 percent participation in the expansion at nuclear Plant Vogtle and is currently planning to build up to three electric-generating biomass plants, as well as additional gas-fired plants.

Vance Smith
State Representative
District 129
Pine Mountain
Age: 56
Smith, one of two finalists for the job as DOT chief (which Gena Evans won), remains an important go-to guy in state transportation policy, as chair of the House Transportation Committee. A 30-year veteran of the construction and earth-moving business, he also is a member of the Appropriations, Economic Development & Tourism and Rules Committees.

John W. Somerhalder II
President/CEO/Chairman
AGL Resources
Atlanta
Age: 53
Somerhalder worked in the energy arena for almost 30 years before taking the reins at the second-oldest company in Georgia in 2006. AGL Resources, one of the nation’s largest natural gas companies, with more than 2,200 employees and annual revenue of about $2.7 billion, serves 2.2 million customers in six states.

Connell Stafford
Director of Public Strategy
Troutman Sanders
Atlanta
Age: 60
The former Coca-Cola executive and former executive assistant to Sen. Sam Nunn has become an influential force in Georgia public policy at Troutman Sanders, providing leadership on legislative and procurement issues for businesses. Stafford played one of the pivotal behind-the-scenes roles in crafting a statewide water plan last year.

Kessel Stelling, Jr.
President/CEO
Bank of North Georgia
Marietta
Age: 52
While capably guiding his bank, a subsidiary of Synovus, through rough economic waters, Stelling remains an influential force behind the scenes in a number of activities, serving as chairman of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, a trustee of Kennesaw State University and a member of the Board of Regents.

Kenneth C. Stewart
Commissioner
Georgia Deptartment of Economic Development
Marietta
Age: 59
Despite the tumultuous economic climate, the GDEcD, under Stewart’s leadership, announced 321 economic development projects located or expanded in the state during Fiscal Year 2008, resulting in double-digit percentage growth in the number of projects, the amount invested and jobs created. In total, these companies will bring 19,668 jobs and $3.26 billion in investment to the state.

Jimmy Tallent
President/CEO
United Community Banks, Inc.
Blairsville
Age: 56
Tallent is credited with turning a small Blairsville bank into the third-largest traditional bank holding company in Georgia. But even his previously steady ship was rocked by the economic tsunami that hit the U.S. financial system. United, like most banks, reported huge losses in late 2008 but has been aggressive in getting back on course.

Michael Thurmond
Commissioner
Georgia Department of Labor
Athens
Age: 55
Georgia’s labor department is well positioned to meet the challenges of a tough economic environment and rising unemployment, the highest in 16 years. Thurmond’s penchant for innovation helped the department become a national leader in helping the unemployed get back to work. He recently announced a $25 million unemployment insurance tax cut for employers in 2009.

William J. Todd
President
Georgia Cancer Coalition
Atlanta
Age: 60
Todd’s mission is pretty straightforward – reduce the number of cancer deaths in the state while improving prevention, early detection and research. But with nearly 40,000 new cancer cases diagnosed in Georgia each year, he faces a moving target. Todd oversees a public-private initiative that has provided more than $300 million to meet those goals.

Cynthia Tucker
Columnist/Editorial Page Editor
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Atlanta
Age: 53
As evidenced by a recent ambush at home by Bill O’Reilly’s cameras, Tucker clearly is a thorn in the side of extremist talking heads. Her columns, which are syndicated to more than 40 U.S. newspapers, earned her a Pulitzer Prize for commentary last year, and she also directs editorial opinion policy for the Southeast’s largest newspaper.

Richard Tucker
Chairman
Board of Regents
Lawrenceville
Age: 59
The former president and CEO of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce assumed the Regents chairmanship in June. Tucker, the principal and managing partner of Arlington Capital LLC, also chairs the Gwinnett Convention & Visitors Bureau and the University System of Georgia Foundation, and is a charter member of the Georgia Gwinnett College Board of Trustees.

Jerry Vereen
President/CEO
Riverside Manufacturing Co.
Moultrie
Age: 68
Vereen represents the fourth generation of leadership at the company his great-grandfather founded. Riverside produces uniforms for a national client list that includes Budweiser, Coors, Georgia Power, Krispy Kreme, Orkin, Pepsi and Waffle House. He serves on the boards of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and Georgia Power (where he chairs the Nuclear Oversight Committee).

James Wagner
President
Emory University
Atlanta
Age: 55
Wagner, who was named chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Atlanta Regional Council of Higher Education for 2008-2009, also launched Campaign Emory. More than half the campaign’s $1.6 billion goal – the largest fundraising campaign in the university’s history – is already in hand. Emory University was nationally recognized as “Conservationist of the Year” for its “green” building and sustainability initiatives.

B.J. Walker
Commissioner
Georgia Department of Human Resources
Atlanta
Age: 59
As leader of one of state government’s larg-est departments (19,000 employees), Walker is responsible for providing health and human resources throughout Georgia (including mental health, developmental and addictive diseases, aging, child welfare and public health). She manages critical public assistance programs with an ever-shrinking budget ($2.4 billion, down from $2.8 billion two years ago).

Joel Wernick
President/CEO
Phoebe Putney Health System
Albany
Age: 54
For 20 years Wer-nick has managed a growing healthcare system, which has an economic impact of almost $1 billion and some 3,800 employees. Phoebe recently extended its reach to Americus, where it will commit $25 million to rebuilding Sumter Regional Hospital (destroyed by a tornado in 2007). Phoebe also will lease and manage the new hospital, which is scheduled for completion in 2011.

Sam Williams
President
Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce
Atlanta
Age: 63
The voice of Atlanta’s business community, Williams encourages enterprises to move and grow here, while challenging current civic and corporate leaders to tackle critical issues facing Atlanta: gridlock, Grady Hospital, city water and sewers and schools. In recognition of his efforts, Williams was inducted into Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business 2008 Hall of Fame.

Tommie Williams
Majority Leader
Georgia Senate
Lyons
Age: 53
The conservative Republican is currently Senate Majority Leader and has served five terms in the state Senate. He recently authored a bill to reform the state’s certificate of need (CON) laws, which will encourage organizations such as Cancer Treatment Centers of America to establish treatment centers in the state.

Rick Winger
President & CEO
Savannah Economic Development Authority
Savannah
Age: 68
Savannah’s good economic fortunes have no doubt resulted, in part, from its being home to one of the busiest ports in the country. Winger has built on that to pitch the coastal city as a global business center. His innovative sales and marketing efforts have brought thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in investment while earning him a spot in the Savannah Business Hall of Fame.

Jim Wooten
Columnist/Associate Editorial Page Editor
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Smyrna
Age: 63
The McRae, Ga., native is known as the lone conservative voice on The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s editorial pages. He speaks his mind about politics and government, and is well respected by many across the political spectrum. A Vietnam veteran and former U.S. News & World Report staffer, he has a wealth of experience from which to draw.

Michael Young
President/CEO
Grady Health System
Mableton
Age: 52
Young, a career administrator, has a reputation for turning around troubled hospitals. He’ll be put to the test at Grady Memorial Hospital, the state’s biggest, most hectic (and debt-ridden) hospital. Young represents the vanguard of a new age at Grady – a new nonprofit corporation now governs the system, which received a $200 million pledge from the Woodruff Foundation last year.

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