Leadership Atlanta (Leadership Atlanta, Inc.) is one of the oldest sustained community program of its type in the country. Nationally, there are more than 1,000 leadership development programs in the United States, and many of them were modeled after Leadership Atlanta.
A group of concerned citizens at the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce formed Leadership Atlanta as a formal initiative to address the growing need for a well-informed cadre of committed leaders. The first class was selected in the summer of 1969. In the spring of 1970, 46 leaders and future leaders of Atlanta graduated from the nine-month program. Among the class members was future U.S. Senator Wyche Fowler, several corporate CEOs, judicial and civil rights leaders and many committed business leaders and community volunteers.
A growing regional city, Atlanta boasted an expanding economy, convenient location and temperate climate, attracting more residents and businesses. The emerging boom unfolded amidst racial integration challenges, as Atlanta was deeply embedded in the Civil Rights movement.
Driven by dramatic economic and cultural changes, Atlanta had a pressing need for inspired and committed leaders to foster a sense of unity, commonality and dialogue among diverse constituencies.
Leadership Atlanta sprang from this atmosphere, building upon this conviction: the early selection, nurturing and training of leaders was too important to be left to chance. The founders envisioned an organization that would serve as a training ground and a conduit through which people could pass and make a difference in how Atlanta worked. The model leveraged one of Atlanta's strongest assets -- the tradition of cooperation among its businesses, community organizations and public officials.
The newly conceived program attracted new leaders and allowed people from diverse backgrounds, positions and interests to assemble for social interaction, dialogue and creative problem-solving.
While many aspects of the program have evolved over the years, the idea of selecting committed leaders for a rigorous, interactive program remains the foundation on which 40 successful Leadership Atlanta classes have been built. Since 1969, a diverse group of over 3,000 men and women from metro Atlanta counties has completed this program.
The exact impact of Leadership Atlanta isn't captured by a dollar figure, the construction of a city edifice, or the creation of public policy. However, the organization's influence is apparent throughout the area, as the program has helped educate and connect many of metro Atlanta's top CEOs, educators, judges, elected officials, entrepreneurs, community organizers, and nonprofit leaders.
Since becoming an independent organization in 1977, there has been continual improvement in structure, participant diversity, selection process, program content and alumni activities and services. But almost five decades after its founding, Leadership Atlanta adheres to the same principles and values that were established in 1969. Leadership Atlanta continues to grow and flourish as this year we celebrate our more than 3,000 alumni and our 49th class.
My involvement with Leadership Atlanta continues almost daily to influence my ability to affect change in the City of Atlanta. I am grateful beyond measure for all that I learned and for the relationships that I developed. I joined the class of 2012 four years after I became the Senior Rabbi of The Temple. The Temple has a strong history of commitment to involvement with the community. Leadership Atlanta was an essential part of my education about the who, what, where, when, and why of Atlanta. Of all the profound learning that took place, two ideas stand out: 1) Be courageous: Whether the issue is health, criminal justice, education, or race – strive to do what is right, even if it is not popular. 2) Build Relationships: Meet and develop friendships with other leaders who can bring about transformative change. I am confident that your decision to become part of Leadership Atlanta will be one of the best gifts you can give yourself.
Peter S. Berg, Leadership Atlanta 2012Senior Rabbi, The Temple
There is not a week in which I am not working with either a Leadership Atlanta classmate or alumni. An incredible investment, Leadership Atlanta exposed me to issues and parts of the city I would never have known -- opening my mind to our urgent role as leaders in this city. Moreover, Leadership Atlanta allowed me to make sincere friendships with leaders across the city, expanding my reach and ability to effectively get things done.
Rodney Bullard, Leadership Atlanta 2012VP of Community Affairs, Executive Director of Chick-fil-A Foundation, Chick-fil-A
Living an inspired life has always been central to my work, personal life, leadership, and pursuits in social-justice. However, my one-year (and beyond) Leadership Atlanta experience has become the catalyst for my personal and professional transformation in ways that I could not have imagined. It helped me move from the hypotheticals of "building thriving communities" into developing work without borders. To my surprise, it has pulled me out of my leadership silo into a mutually-interdependent universe where I now have a chance to collaborate and co-conspire with people and communities that are doing meaningful work in the areas that I am either unfamiliar with or do not have expertise in. Leadership Atlanta envisions a community where its passionate and energized leaders create spaces where change begins with you and you, in return, contribute to a radical transformation in the world around you. And that’s the hallmark of a transcendent life!
Sucheta Kamath, Leadership Atlanta 2015Founder/CEO, ExQ
My Leadership Atlanta year was one of the most significant experiences of my professional life. The program challenged my thinking and transformed the lens through which I view myself and my community. My year built upon strengths and developed new skills. The people I've come to know because of Leadership Atlanta make me a stronger and more effective community leader. Many are among my closest friends. Had it not been for Leadership Atlanta our paths would never have crossed. The Atlanta community is stronger because of the relationships created by Leadership Atlanta.
Condace Pressley, Leadership Atlanta 2016Director of Community Affairs, Cox Media Group Atlanta
LEAD Atlanta is the best community-focused, leadership development program for young professionals in the country. Participating in the program gave me experiences and helped hone skills that accelerate my career. Further, the opportunity to interact with and learn from emerging leaders who were just as interested as I was in engaging deeper in our community was invaluable. I am honored to be part of the large network of LEAD Atlanta alumni that work every day to make Atlanta a better place to live, work, and play.
Jason Esteves, LEAD Atlanta 2012Assistant General Counsel, Equifax
Leadership Atlanta is an extraordinary and life-changing experience. The people, program design, and high standards elevate even the most accomplished leaders to an entirely new level of thoughtful decision-making and impact. LEAD Atlanta heightened my awareness of the issues facing our city at just the right time in my career. Leadership Atlanta challenged me further with even more complex topics and experienced colleagues. Fortunately, the learning continues as the alumni programming and relationships created through the program are of the highest quality. I strongly encourage all driven and active professionals to consider LEAD and Leadership Atlanta.
Dan Gordon, Leadership Atlanta 2015, LEAD Atlanta 2009Chief Operating Officer, The City of Atlanta
I had very high expectations going-into Leadership Atlanta, from its great reputation and the alums that I knew. But my experience was even more transformational than I could have imagined – both personally and professionally. From day 1, I found myself amidst a passionate and committed group of leaders who are driving positive change every day. My eyes were opened to a fresh view of issues and diverse perspectives. I also gained a renewed sense of optimism for the vital community Atlanta can surely become. Although you graduate, you are never “done” with Leadership Atlanta, because the experience continues to build on itself through an active and engaged alumni network and lifelong friendships. This is a program that truly delivers.
Kevin Green, Leadership Atlanta 2006President and CEO, Midtown Alliance
Leadership Atlanta was a life-changing journey. As an Atlanta native, it was a tremendous privilege to be a part of an organization that allowed me to give back to the educational, socioecomic and political landscape of this great city that has given so much to me.
April Spencer, Leadership Atlanta 2019Owner/CEO, Just Breast, LLC
I am proud to be a Leadership Atlanta alum. Through Leadership Atlanta, I am able to connect with and appreciate this city in ways I do not believe would have been possible without this experience. The program and curriculum challenged me to assess my own leadership capabilities and responsibilities at work and in the community. It also provided me with a unique opportunity for building and strengthening relationships that have come to matter for both personal fulfilment and for the express purpose of helping to fulfill Atlanta’s potential as one of the world’s great cosmopolitan cities.
Erika James, Leadership Atlanta 2016Dean, Goizueta School of Business
Leadership Atlanta develops leaders who are solving important issues that make Atlanta and our region a better place to live, work and play. What I learned as a member of the 2004 class has helped make me a better community leader today. Add to this the lifelong friendships that are made, and you see why Leadership Atlanta is our city’s premiere leadership program.
Bob Jimenez, Leadership Atlanta 2004Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications & Public Affairs, Cox Enterprises, Inc.
LEAD Atlanta provided me a learning and development experience that remains unmatched. Through the deep and meaningful relationships that were built, I gained a perspective that changed my view of my community and gave me a new sense of energy and passion to change it for the better. I developed lifelong friends, grew as a leader and found a new purpose for my role within Atlanta. I am forever thankful to LEAD Atlanta for challenging my positions, encouraging me to go further and making me a stronger leader committed to progress.
Rich Johnson, LEAD Atlanta 2015Director, External Affairs, AT&T Georgia
Wow! is how I describe my Leadership Atlanta experience. My Wow! includes people, knowledge and experience. I met and continue to meet extraordinary leaders who are making a difference in our city and state every day. The knowledge gained throughout my year was life changing, and the experiences were unmatched. I am honored to be part of such an outstanding organization.
Soumaya Khalifa, Leadership Atlanta 2015Executive Director/Founder, Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta
Through Leadership Atlanta I had the unique opportunity to engage with a diverse and passionate group of leaders dedicated to addressing many of the issues we face in metro Atlanta. A true strength of the program is that it forces you to be intentional about finding solutions for creating a better, stronger community for future generations.
Hala Moddelmog, Leadership Atlanta 1997President & CEO, Metro Atlanta Chamber
Like many others, my Leadership Atlanta experience was outstanding, providing me a chance to discuss and debate some of the key issues facing our City and our region, and to engage with other local leaders in tackling them. In addition to being provided a unique exposure to the region, and the complexities and varied perspectives that define so many of its challenges and opportunities, the shared experience of going through the year with classmates created many lifelong friendships and opened the doors to opportunities to better serve our community. The legacy of Leadership Atlanta is evident in many other ways, as it is common for me to encounter other Leadership Atlanta graduates in service on the boards of community and civic organizations, advocating for causes that move us forward, and at the table when conducting my business affairs.
Egbert Perry, Leadership Atlanta 1987Chairman and CEO, The Integral Group, LLC
Leadership Atlanta is and has been one of the most fulfilling experiences I have had in Atlanta. I have been personally and professionally enriched by the thought provoking programs and the personal connections I made with some of the very finest leaders in our City. My eyes, heart and mind were opened to both the needs in our community and to those talented individuals leading the way to make sure those needs are met. Not a week has passed since my graduation from the Leadership Atlanta program that I have not been positively influenced by the lessons I learned about our Atlanta community or by the people I met and remain connected to today. I am proud to say I am part of the Leadership Atlanta community.
Michael J. Sullivan, Leadership Atlanta 2015Managing Partner, Atlanta Office, Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice LLP
Leadership Atlanta is FOR Atlanta. FOR those looking to learn more about our city, our community, and our opportunity to raise the collective bar on the society that we live in, walk in, drive through, and circle around daily. Leadership Atlanta is FOR leaders. And FOR leaders who know, want, and crave personal development. FOR leaders who seek and appreciate relationships with other broad-based civic and organizational difference-makers. FOR those that want to know more because knowing more fuels doing more. Leadership Atlanta is an experience – an experience that is unique. An experience that is differentiated and educational; challenging and thought-provoking; memorable and enduring. Leadership Atlanta was designed with you in mind. A program, an experience, an environment FOR you.
Justin Honaman, Leadership Atlanta Class of 2014Managing Director - Products, Accenture
No program in Atlanta is better than LEAD Atlanta at identifying and nurturing the next generation of impactful Atlantans. It’s the best inroad for young professionals who want to roll up their sleeves and build the Atlanta they want to see in the future. Personally, my LEAD Atlanta experience yielded insights and opportunities beyond what I could’ve ever imagined, but the best byproduct for me has been access – LEAD Atlanta has made it easy to build bridges with nearly anyone in the city. Bringing ideas to life or connecting like-minded people now is just a call, email, or group text or two away.
Kyle Stapleton, LEAD Atlanta 2016Manager of Culture & Experience, Turner Studios
There are few experiences in my life that compare to my time with Leadership Atlanta. Having spent much of my life living in Atlanta, I saw the challenges that faced the city on a daily basis and wondered how I could best help with overcoming those challenges. The knowledge I gained and the relationships I built through Leadership Atlanta are what have allowed me to make a positive difference not just in the City of Atlanta, but the state of Georgia and the entire country. I can say with certainty that I would not be where I am today without Leadership Atlanta, and I cannot recommend it highly enough for anyone looking to build a better city, a better career, and a better self.
Tharon Johnson, Leadership Atlanta 2016, LEAD 2010Founder & CEO, Paramount Consulting Group, LLC
Renew, Refresh and Reinvent! In the midpart of your career, one can feel the world around them is stale. Leadership Atlanta opens your eyes to new ideas, fresh ways of thinking, and amazing new friendships. This is a life changing program with an exceedingly high ROI for the time invested. You will graduate with new energy, perspective on our city and a drive to supercharge your impact on the community around you. And you will gain lots of new relationships who will in turn be there as true friends for you as we continue life's journey.
Ken Ashley, Leadership Atlanta 2014Executive Director, Cushman & Wakefield
LEAD Atlanta presented me with the opportunity to learn more about the challenges facing Atlanta and presented opportunities to get more involved in serving our community. The collective experiences presented throughout the program from city leaders, peers, and alumni allowed for personal growth and leadership development. The chance to learn where, when, and how I can be effective in the Atlanta community is significant and will undoubtedly make me a stronger citizen. LEAD Atlanta allowed me the opportunity to further develop my leadership and service skills thus helping me to define the personal goals developed over previous years of service with multiple types of organizations. I am confident in the experience that LEAD Atlanta provided, and am looking forward to the contributions of our alumni to the city of Atlanta.
Kurt Ford, LEAD Atlanta 2014General Manager - Schedule Implementation, Delta Air Lines, Inc.
Among the many experiences and organizations in which I have been involved, Leadership Atlanta stands out as one of the most impactful and rewarding. The program provided tremendous insight into issues prominent in our city, as well as access to the “who’s who” of Atlanta’s corporate, political and civic leadership. My classmates - 80 amazing individuals who are diverse in background, race and career - provoked deep thinking and meaningful discussions. They have become some of my closest friends, and given our common passion for this city, we will have the opportunity to do great work here! I’m proud to be a part of Leadership Atlanta and “The Class” of 2017. If you have the opportunity to become part of this community, do so. The journey was amazing.
Chris Ahrenkiel, Leadership Atlanta 2017Executive Vice President, Selig Enterprises
Leadership Atlanta afforded me the opportunity to engage with a diverse group of leaders. The bonds I have forged with my classmates has had a significant impact on me both professionally and personally. My experience has helped me better understand the needs of the communities throughout Atlanta, and how I as a leader can contribute to those communities. Most importantly, it gave me colleagues and partners who share my passion for and commitment to ensuring Atlanta remains a vibrant city to all its residents.
Valerie Montgomery Rice, Leadership Atlanta 2013President & Dean, Morehouse School of Medicine
The Leadership Atlanta experience is unique and impactful. I learned the most from the diverse backgrounds of my classmates -- who are now my close friends. The professional commitment was significant, but what I received in return for the time invested cannot be easily quantified. In learning more about the challenges in our community and what is needed to move forward, I was inspired to give more of myself to helping others. In other words, I was inspired to lead.
Bjay Pak, Leadership Atlanta 2017U.S. Attorney’s Office, Northern District of Georgia
All of the exceptional things I heard and learned about the Leadership Atlanta program from reading and talking to alumni prior to applying, paled in comparison to the actual experience of the program itself. And, yet even the words I can think of to describe my experience still seem inadequate. Engaging. Educational. Thought-provoking. Instigating. Inspiring. Challenging. What a gift it was to be a part of a group of exceptional leaders, learning together, challenging each other together, debating together, creating awareness together, growing together – all for the good of this community we love. The great thing about this Program is graduation isn’t the end – it’s the beginning. I can’t wait to see what we do next!
Laurel Hill, Leadership Atlanta 2017Senior Vice President, Government & Institutional Banking, Wells Fargo
Before my Leadership Atlanta year began, I thought it would provide a unique opportunity to explore our city’s challenges and opportunities and meet other civically-minded Atlantans. And it did - - but it was so much more. The full day seminars and tours offered deep dives into critical social and community issues, which included surprisingly frank and illuminating discussions with senior public officials and business and non-profit leaders. Further, from opening retreat, through study group sessions and community service projects, right up to the closing session, the Leadership Atlanta experience promotes an atmosphere that encourages honest dialogue, introspection and real understanding among participants. Every activity is designed to break down barriers and create lasting relationships with the hope that those bonds will be leveraged to better our city. Leadership Atlanta goes well beyond civic education and networking: I came away with new and better informed points of view and what I know will be life-long connections and friendships with my remarkable classmates.
Ben Garren, Leadership Atlanta 2017General Counsel, North America, The Coca-Cola Company
The Leadership Atlanta experience is difficult to describe. If you want to experience the thrill of parasailing, you have to make the leap yourself. Sitting on the boat and watching someone else go for it is not enough. The same is true of Leadership Atlanta. I jumped into a life changing experience. The perspectives I gained by learning from others with very different viewpoints was invaluable. It’s helped me see all things differently and more fully. Most importantly are the incredible friendships I’ve made. They will last a lifetime. When Leadership Atlanta ended, I felt like I did after my wedding. The ending of both experiences was very emotional. However, I realized after my wedding came a new way of life. My marriage was about to begin. The same is true for Leadership Atlanta. It’s not an ending; it’s a beginning. I can’t wait to see where my Leadership Atlanta journey will take me next.
Wendy Stewart, Leadership Atlanta 2017Atlanta Market President & Co-head Southeast Region, Global Commercial Banking, Bank of America Merrill Lynch
As a Leadership Atlanta alum, I am excited to remain engaged and to continue finding ways to strenghen our community.
David Lee, Leadership Atlanta 2017SVP, External Affairs & Executive Director, Atlanta Hawks Foundation
Leadership Atlanta was a much needed ground tilling experience for me that introduced me to my authentic self. With this experience, I am better equipped to do the transformational work that God has ordained for me in Atlanta and beyond.
CJ Stewart, Leadership Atlanta 2015Co-founder, CEO Diamond Directors | L.E.A.D., Inc.
“No brakes!” is the best way to describe the incredible journey that I experienced as a fortunate member of the Leadership Class of 2013! From day one, I was exposed to the riveting real-life pillars of our community, which parallels the many complex issues of our society. In particular I found the richness and engagement of my classmates who had the strength to be so transparent and authentic as a gift that everyday fires my passion to lead and be the change agent of the future.
John Brewer, Leadership Atlanta 2013Chairman and CEO, Vantage Private Capital Group
My participation in Leadership Atlanta was one of the most transformative events in my life. It exposed me to new issues, ideas, challenges, opportunities, and most importantly, people. My advice is to apply to join the program. Life is short. If there ever was a moment to follow your passion and do something that will matter to you and to our city, that time is now.
Michael Hobbs, Leadership Atlanta 2008Partner, Troutman Sanders
LEAD Atlanta was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. The organization exposed me to so many new communities, social issues, and areas in which to continue my personal development and growth. LEAD Atlanta introduced me not just to new people, but to new ways of experiencing the city of Atlanta and the world. I am so appreciative of the relationships, opportunities, and personal development that my LEAD experience continues to contribute to my life. It is incredibly rare for me to go more than a day or two without speaking with one of my classmates. I will always make myself available to continue to serve the LEAD Atlanta mission. I cannot more strongly recommend the LEAD Atlanta program for personal and professional development for young leaders.
Everett Steele, LEAD Atlanta 2014Chief of Staff, Post 3 At-Large, Atlanta City Council
Imagine that you are a combat-tested, 32 year career-retired from active duty Soldier who rises to the rank of general - - you have seen it all. So you think! Now imagine that you are part of a year-long “crucible” experience where you are building relationships with some of the most amazing people you’ve ever met; that you are seeing leadership through a lens that you never could have before; and that you are feeling emotions about diversity and leadership because of the unique immersive experiences and rich dialectic. If you can imagine these things, then you can imagine how you, too, will feel after your experience in Leadership Atlanta. You’ll continue to be impacted by the Leadership Atlanta experience even after you graduate because it never really ends after that year. You can stay immersed for the rest of your life by serving on committees with teammates for future classes, or participating in CEO leadership seminars throughout Atlanta, or serving as a mentor for current Leadership Atlanta study groups or project groups. Leadership Atlanta changes you. Leaders are either ripening or rotting. Leadership Atlanta will keep your leadership ripe!
Ronald Johnson, Leadership Atlanta 2016Major General, U.S. Army (Ret.); Professor, Industrial & Systems Engineering, Georgia Tech
As a transplant to Atlanta, Leadership Atlanta expanded my understanding of the issues facing our city and the historical underpinnings that created the challenges the city faces. It pushes participants to get outside of their comfort zone, see things from a different lens, and learn from others’ diverse experiences. It enabled me to learn to be a better community advocate and to become a stronger leader in my personal and professional life and to have a better understanding of the community that I now call home.
Audra Dial, Leadership Atlanta 2016Head of U.S. Litigation, Mercedes-Benz
Prior to my LEAD Atlanta experience, I was unclear how the pieces of corporate and community leadership fit together in a meaningful way. LEAD Atlanta’s curriculum provided clarity, direction, and introspection through relevant program content centered around the ‘soft skills’ of leadership, such as emotional intelligence and inclusive leadership, thoughtfully integrated with actionable, results-driven community cohort projects. This equipped me to be a more effective and empathetic leader as well as to tap into my potential to help solve some of Atlanta’s most complex problems. The seeds planted during my class experience have taken root and blossomed exponentially over the course of 10 years through countless opportunities to collaborate with class members and alumni to further develop, grow, and positively impact our city. My LEAD Atlanta experience brought into focus a successful model of community leadership, and I will always say ‘yes’ to being included at the table to influence change with this diverse collective of Atlanta’s highest-performing, elite thinkers, and gamechangers.
Kim Adams, LEAD Atlanta 2008Principal, Inclusively Kim ID&E Consulting
LEAD Atlanta helped me develop one of my most significant networks. The experiences provided us the opportunity to learn about our city while thinking the through impact of solutions, the importance of collaboration, and how to lead well. The individuals from LEAD Atlanta go on to be influencers in their places of work and in our community. Programs like this are essential to passing the baton to the next generation of leaders in our city.
Gloria Cox, LEAD Atlanta 2015Corporate and Foundation Giving Leader, Chick-fil-A
My Leadership Atlanta experience has been life-changing in so many ways. I was a bit of a skeptic when they said I would build friendships for life. but I was wrong. Because of Leadership Atlanta, I have completely reengineered my view on work and life. And the friendships I have made will in fact last forever. Thank you for letting me participate and give back.
Robby Gulri, Leadership Atlanta 2018Chief Marketing Officer, ENGAGE Talent