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.
Leadership Atlanta’s program required me to be vulnerable, get uncomfortable, and learn to be fully present with my class members for nine months. It reinforced that as a leader I must learn how to listen, have hard conversations, be more curious than defensive, and be truly authentic. It has made me 100% committed to the mission of the organization which is “to inspire members to take on and exercise real leadership committed to serving the common good.”
Meagan Davies, Leadership Atlanta 2014Chief Relationship Officer, HelloHealth Today
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
The most special aspect about Leadership Atlanta is that it sorts out the complexity so that “changing the world” can happen right at one’s doorstep. The experience has done that for me personally by granting me a bird’s eye view into macro socioeconomic and political factors that affect Atlanta’s residents, workers and visitors and then affording me a chance to make a difference across these for the better.
Pamela Stewart, Leadership Atlanta 2015Senior Vice President, National Retail Sales, The Coca-Cola Company
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 & Diversity Officer, Partner Resources, Starbucks Coffee Company
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
Leadership Atlanta gave me an enriching and transformational experience I didn't expect as I entered my class year. What I came in thinking versus what I received exceeded my expectations. It gave me courage to step FULLY into my life personally and professionally. In turn, the ongoing growth allows me to contribute to others in a totally different way than before. I cherish what the program taught me about Atlanta and the authentic friendships that continue to build. Thank you to Leadership Atlanta for the GIFT that keeps on giving. Forever grateful!
Narinder Dhaliwal, Leadership Atlanta 2019Vice President, Distribution Support, Americold
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 has been the single most important growth experience of my adult life. The program helped me realize the power of collective, diverse perspectives, and what can be accomplished when you collaborate to help lift others and make our community better. I am grateful to be part of the Leadership Atlanta family.
Ben Deutsch, Leadership Atlanta 2012Vice President, Corporate Communications (Retired), The Coca-Cola Company
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 was both enriching and impactful. However, it is the life-long relationships with classmates and fellow alums that I enjoy the most. LEAD is comprised of leaders and influencers across multiple industries throughout the City of Atlanta. Those relationships motivate me every day.
Tony C. Jones, LEAD 2017Attorney, Law & Moran
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
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
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
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