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 4,000 alumni and our 52 graduating classes.
Leadership Atlanta was a transformative experience for me. The one-of-a-kind journey helped me to see our region with fresh eyes as well as the assets and challenges that are uniquely ours. Now nearly a decade later, I continue to cross paths with my LA classmates in all aspects of my life. And I count many of them among the trusted colleagues I call on for counsel, collaboration or encouragement in my work. Having those dependable connections has made all the difference in my transition to my new role here at the Chamber. I like to say that once you’re a part of Leadership Atlanta, it stays with you for life. I’ve had the pleasure of helping to plan programming for later classes and to be involved with the evolution of the program. I was lucky to have Leadership Atlanta, and so are the other leaders who have been and will be a part of this experience.
Katie Kirkpatrick, Leadership Atlanta 2012President & CEO, Metro Atlanta Chamber
Leadership Atlanta has impacted my life in many ways. I learned that my genuine efforts to lend my resources to people, places and initiatives has more impact than I could see for myself. Leadership Atlanta has made me a better mentor, a better professional, and a better human being in ways that I could never imagine.
Cassius Butts, Leadership Atlanta 2012Chairman & CEO, Capital Fortitude Business Advisors
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
Leadership Atlanta is a gift we give ourselves, which allows us to deepen our knowledge of Atlanta, develop lifelong meaningful friendships, and continue to give back to the community in which we live.
Wonya Lucas, Leadership Atlanta 2005President and Chief Executive Officer, Hallmark Networks
LEAD Atlanta was one of the most important experiences I have had in my career. It not only introduced me to new friends and peers, I was able to learn so much about the issues facing metro Atlanta today. I am truly grateful for the alumni network and the opportunities I continue to receive continuing opportunities I receive
Dov Wilker, LEAD Atlanta 2015Regional Director, American Jewish Committee
Growing up in Atlanta, I did not appreciate all the issues that our city and its citizens face. Leadership Atlanta provides a robust platform for community leaders to engage with each other in deep exploration of the real issues with a goal of creating a stronger Atlanta. For example, if it wasn't for Leadership Atlanta, I would not be directly involved in criminal justice reform. It's important to note that any good leader must be comfortable feeling uncomfortable and must get out of his or her comfort zone. Leadership Atlanta provides the opportunity for just that, and for that, I am grateful.
Justin Berman, Leadership Atlanta 2014, LEAD Atlanta 2006Founder & CEO, Berman Capital
Through Leadership Atlanta and as a military veterans leader on the national level, I learned how veterans can be both better supported by and better servants to the city. The program also helped me become a more empathetic, caring, and loving person in general, and certainly, in how I embraced my fellow Atlanta citizens. My classmates are now my family, and I love being with them and serving with them.
John Tien, Leadership Atlanta 2018Managing Director, Citigroup
Leadership Atlanta had such a profound impact on my life; one that keeps me inspired. I was pregnant with my son for the entire class year, leading all the way up to his birth three weeks before graduation. During this period of extreme change in my life, the program provided me with countless lessons of resilience, kindness, courage, creativity, joy and making good things happen.
Nzinga Shaw, Leadership Atlanta 2019Global Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer, Marsh & McLennan
My Leadership Atlanta experience taught me that the right group of motivated people can indeed change the world! It also taught me that you can’t be a bystander in the world. It’s not enough to nod your head in agreement that change is needed. When you see a need for change, you have to take action - get busy and do your part, no matter how small, to help bring about change!
Kitty Chaney Reed, Leadership Atlanta 2016Vice President, Enterprise Operations, IBM
My Leadership Atlanta experience not only expanded my network and put me in tune with extraordinary, community-minded leaders with whom I’m still connected today, but also catalyzed my efforts through a greater understanding of our region’s most critical issues. Leadership Atlanta had – and is still having – a profound impact on how I’ve evolved as a leader.
Bob Jimenez, Leadership Atlanta 2004Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications & Public Affairs, Cox Enterprises, Inc.
LEAD Atlanta opened up my world to a cross-section of people I never would have otherwise met. My classmates became confidants and collaborators, changing my own path in the process. While learning about our city is the fundamental attraction to LEAD, being exposed to peers and viewpoints from across professional sectors and backgrounds is transformational.
Amir Farokhi, Leadership Atlanta 2013, LEAD Atlanta 2006District 2, Atlanta City Council
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
If one is open, Leadership Atlanta has the potential to call you to a higher level of consciousness. As a result, you are compelled to want to become a transformational, rather than a transactional leader, because you are exposed to the realities of the social, racial, and economic inequities in our city and throughout society. It was great connecting and working with other leaders to exchange thoughts and ideas to make a difference in our city, nation, and world. I value the mission focused, purpose driven friendships that were developed as a result of my Leadership Atlanta journey.
Bernice A. King, Leadership Atlanta 2020Chief Executive Officer, The King Center
My Leadership Atlanta year was a truly wonderful experience. I was blessed to have an amazing group of very dedicated and involved classmates. Equally important was the opportunity to learn so much about the important challenges facing the greater Atlanta area. It was as if someone had pulled back the curtain to give a true view on the issues affecting the ATL. I immediately became an alumni volunteer, and though I left Atlanta for a time, jumped right back in on my return to the city. I’ll continue to be involved until they roll me away.
William "T" Thompson, Leadership Atlanta 2006Retired, President & CEO, Association of Graduates, U.S. Air Force Academy
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. Fortunately, the learning continues as the alumni programming and relationships created through the program are of the highest quality.
Dan Gordon, Leadership Atlanta 2015, LEAD 2009Executive Director, Jabian Consulting
LEAD Atlanta changed my life by giving me a new lens through which to view myself and my city. Expect to get to know Atlanta like you've never known her before and do so alongside a diverse group of brilliant people committed to uplifting our vibrant communities. The best part? The LEAD experience just keeps getting better as an alum.
Natasha Alladina, LEAD Atlanta 2017Attorney Recruiter, The Partners Group
LEAD Atlanta was an eye-opening experience that provided me a deep dive into some of the most significant challenges facing our city, while simultaneously allowing me to build strong relationships with peers committed to bringing positive change to our community. I left the program informed, inspired and confident in the future of Atlanta.
Adam Parker, LEAD Atlanta 2019Director, Carter
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
Leadership Atlanta's mission is to "inspire its members to exercise real leadership committed to serving the common good." That commitment to serving the common good feels especially critical now. Leadership Atlanta challenged me to think differently about what it means to lead in service of our community, and it introduced me to an incredible group of partners, teachers and friends with whom to do it. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity.
Julia Houston, Leadership Atlanta 2019Chief Transformation Officer, Equifax Inc.
LEAD Atlanta far exceeded my expectations and helped me recognize a new confidence in myself that continues to benefit me both personally and professionally. The experience is unlike any other. The caliber of speakers, experts and programs is unparalleled. As a result, LEAD Atlanta for me will always be a formative and profound chapter that will influence my life and those around me forever.
Rachel Sprecher, LEAD 2019Executive Director of Partnerships and Development, Atlanta Public Schools
Leadership Atlanta was the most impactful program in which I’ve ever participated. Notably, Leadership Atlanta challenged me to look at our region’s issues comprehensively -- from all angles -- rather than framing them with a narrow viewpoint influenced by my experiences. Moreover, Leadership Atlanta connected me with other like-minded leaders that share the goal of improving these issues in order to create a better Atlanta.
Chris Ahrenkiel, Leadership Atlanta 2017Executive Vice President, Selig Enterprises
For me, Leadership Atlanta is a unique lens for understanding the city as a multi-layered community of communities. No experience I’ve had can compare in terms of giving perspective about Atlanta’s past, present and future possibilities. Just as valuable, the Leadership Atlanta network is a source of ongoing insight as well as wonderful relationships that touch practically every driver of the city’s dynamism. I have made friendships that will last a lifetime and will keep me connected to the breadth and depth of civic life, for which I am forever grateful.
Alba Baylin, Leadership Atlanta 2018Vice President, Community & Stakeholder Relations, The Coca-Cola Company
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
LEAD Atlanta is one of the best programs I’ve been involved with while living here in Atlanta. I’ve built authentic and meaningful relationships with people I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet under normal circumstances. Because of the well-crafted program and immersion days, I’ve been able to see the city in a new light and feel hopeful for the future of Atlanta; a city I love, cherish and am committed to improving for future generations.
Sofia Bork, LEAD Atlanta 2019Engagement Readiness Consultant, Truist Bank
Leadership Atlanta was a life-altering experience for me. The education and deep conversations around the challenges that have plagued our city and region for far too long were extremely enlightening and lit a fire inside of me to be a catalyst for positive change. The work of Leadership Atlanta is challenging, but forces reflection that spurs personal growth. The individual growth pushes a collective drive to attack issues of racial inequity. Many of our efforts have already helped to facilitate major changes in our city and state. The friendships, bonds and relationships we developed within my class and throughout the alumni network of Leadership Atlanta will ensure that this work will continue to be our personal and collective focus for years to come. The potential of Atlanta and our state is tremendous, and Leadership Atlanta is a critical foundational element in developing the Leaders of our region to fulfill this great potential.
PJ Bain, Leadership Atlanta 2020Chief Executive Officer, PrimeRevenue, Inc.
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
LEAD Atlanta opened my inspiration to explore entrepreneurship. Surrounded by uniquely, creative individuals that I have never met, I could not resist the urge to learn about their personal journeys while continuing to cultivate my own. I still connect with multiple people in our group for guidance and motivation.
Maegan Moguel, LEAD Atlanta 2019Strategic Partnership Manager, Porsche Cars North America
“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 has given me a community in Atlanta unlike any other. I have established life-long friends who are doing interesting and amazing things in and for our beloved Atlanta. It is through LEAD Atlanta that I learned more about our city's greatest needs and established relationships to help solve those problems.
Julianna Cagle, LEAD Atlanta 2014Vice President of Programs, The Goizueta Foundation
My LEAD Atlanta experience helped reaffirm my life’s purpose. Over time, I have been able to establish lifelong connections and collaborate with some incredible leaders who are doing some amazing work within the Metro Atlanta region to continually make it the BEST place to live in the world. LEAD Atlanta helped me understand that I have been called to use my influence to help positively impact the lives of others.
Jadrien Grimes, LEAD Atlanta 2016Head of Business Operations, North Metro Academy of Performing Arts
Leadership Atlanta changed my life. It significantly increased my awareness and understanding, not only of the challenges and issues that black and brown people face that I never had to, but also all the other challenges across our beloved metro Atlanta community. It drove me to make greater and more impactful action. It also made me a better mom, employee, supervisor and friend.
Sheila Weidman-Farley, Leadership Atlanta 2004Senior Vice President, Georgia-Pacific
As Leadership Atlanta reflects upon a 50-year legacy of forward progress, I am grateful for its forward thinking to invest in the city’s next generation of leaders with the creation of LEAD Atlanta. The investment has paid continuous dividends by cultivating a rich network of young professional, community, and civic leaders who leverage their collective genius and diverse leadership experiences to bring Dr. King’s vision of the beloved community to fruition. I will always say ‘Yes’ to LEAD and am honored to pay it forward.
Kim Adams, LEAD Atlanta 2008Global Employee Experience Leader, Equifax Inc.
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
Leadership Atlanta shakes your core while wrapping its arms around you, revealing your blind spots and making you a mirror for others. It requires you to bring your authentic self - along with a desire for introspection and refinement - in order to experience the transformation. This program challenges you, enlightens you, and guides you to a zone of discomfort in a way that inspires you to take your leadership and commitment to action to a new level. All the while, it creates a space to develop deep bonds of friendship - the kind that feel as close as family and help you carry each other forward on the next phase of this journey. I remain grateful for this meaningful experience.
Afshan Ali, Leadership Atlanta 2018Founder and Chief Executive Officer, SkyHealth, Inc