By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Friday, August 31, 2012
Back in 1956, Anne Berg joined Atlanta’s legendary Rich’s Department Store, eventually becoming vice president of public and community relations.
As Rich’s has faded from the retail landscape, Berg has been the human link between the former retail giant and the Atlanta community.
On Friday, Aug. 31, Berg is saying good-bye — officially retiring as the grant consultant for the Rich Foundation — all that remains of the department store’s legacy.
“I want to leave while I still have my marbles,” Berg said in a telephone interview. “I must say I’ve loved it. When you can make a difference, it really feels good.”
At the Rich Foundation’s board meeting on Aug. 23, the board members honored Berg with a proclamation saying that it was a “momentous day in the history of the Rich Foundation.”
As presidents have come and gone, Berg has been a constant presence at the foundation since 1967 when she attended her first board meeting.
Since then, the Rich Foundation has made about 2,600 grants valued at more than $50 million. “I did all the investigations [of prospective grantees], and I made recommendations to the board,” Berg said.
The good news is that the Rich Foundation will continue to contribute to the Atlanta community for decades to come.
Tom Asher, whose father worked at Rich’s, has been serving as president of the foundation for the last two and a half years and has been on its board since 1982. He is going to temporarily fill the role that Berg has been playing.
“Anne has meant a lot to us,” Asher said. “She has been a wonderful asset to the Rich Foundation.”
Loudermilk: Time to go
For nearly six decades, R. Charlie Loudermilk Sr. and Aaron’s Inc. have been indistinguishable. Loudermilk was the company’s founder, builder and No. 1 cheerleader.
But in an interview after announcing in mid-September his plans to retire, Loudermilk said it was time to leave. He recently celebrated his 85th birthday, and he has been the company’s leader for 57 years.
Although he will become chairman emeritus of Aaron’s, Loudermilk is making a relatively clean break with the rent-to-own retailer that sells and leases furniture, consumer electronics, home appliances and accessories.
Loudermilk will not serve on the company’s board; and he will not have an office at the company.
“It’s just not fair for me to look over their shoulder,” Loudermilk said of the existing management of Aaron’s. “No one looked over my shoulder. That’s not the way to run a company.”
Loudermilk also admitted that he also needs to keep his distance.
“I couldn’t sit there if I saw stuff going wrong and keep my mouth shut,” Loudermilk said. “I have over 4 million shares. Therefore I’m very interested in how the company’s going. But I’m not going to try to tell people what to do.”
Loudermilk also made a passing reference to what may have been a power struggle between the management team and the board.
Loudermilk’s son, Robin Loudermilk, stepped down as the company’s CEO in November. Former Delta Air Lines CEO Ron Allen, who had served on Aaron’s board since 1987, initially was named as interim CEO becoming its permanent CEO and president in February.
“People on boards feel they know more about running the company than executives,” Loudermilk said. “And that’s unfortunate.”
Loudermilk also was quick to credit the whole Aaron’s team — “from truck drivers to vice presidents” — for the success of the company. “I want to tell everybody that I couldn’t have done one-tenth of this without a great group of people,” Loudermilk said. “We have 11,000 employees. We’ve got a hell of acompany, and we have done it as a family.”
Now that he is retiring, Loudermilk said he will focus more on his philanthropic interests. “I’m going to do a lot of good things,” he said.
Maynard Jackson’s legacy
The legacy of the late Maynard Jackson, who served three terms as mayor of Atlanta, lives on through hundreds of young people who have been part of the Maynard Jackson Youth Foundation’s Leadership Academy.
The former mayor started the Academy in 1992, and on Aug. 24, the nonprofit celebrated its 20th anniversary at the Ignite 2012 event at the Woodruff Arts Center. The event raised $500,000, roughly the annual operating costs of the Academy.
“Maynard wanted to create an organization that would allow him to touch Atlanta’s youth, who are ambitious, hard-working young people who also have hurdles in their lives,” said his daughter, Brooke Jackson Edmond, who is the unpaid CEO of Maynard Jackson Youth Foundation.
She went on to say that her father wanted high school students to “receive the guidance, support and resources necessary for them to be able to reach a goal they had set for themselves.”
In 20 years, the Academy has graduated about 350 students with 100 percent graduating high school and 97 percent entering college.
In addition to other corporate sponsors, the Academy receives significant support from Jackmont Hospitality, which also has strong ties to the Jackson family. Edmond serves as vice president of the food services company.
“The Jackson family has a lot of skin in the game,” Murray said.
By the way, Valerie Richardson Jackson, who is the former mayor’s widow, serves as chair of the foundation’s board.