Column: Metro Atlanta Chamber celebrates legacy, leadership

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on December 6, 2013

At the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s annual meeting on Dec. 3, it was a day to celebrate both new leadership while honoring the legacy of the past 17 years.

It was the day that 2013 Chamber Chairman Paul Bowers, president and CEO of Georgia Power, happily passed the reigns to Richard Anderson, CEO of Delta Air Lines, who is chairing the Metro Atlanta Chamber in 2014.

But before he did that ceremonial passing of the torch, he thanked Sam Williams, who has served as president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber since January 1997, for his leadership in running the organization.

As a special touch, Bowers brought up Bill Dahlberg, who had been president of Georgia Power and CEO of Southern Co. and the chairman of the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s search committee that named Williams as president in late 1996. It was a true symbol of the bookends of power — literally and figuratively.

In giving his own self-evaluation over the work that the Metro Atlanta Chamber had done during his leadership, Williams gave himself a mixed report card. Although the metro Atlanta business community has worked hard on several of the region’s toughest challenges — transportation, water and public education — Williams said that problems remain.

He urged everyone to work together as a team to continue trying to improve those issues, and he told his successor — Hala Moddelmog, who will become president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber on Jan. 6, that he will be available to help in anyway he can.

As Anderson takes over as chairman, he said that Delta has a saying that fits right in with the issues that Williams had discussed: “Never give up. If it’s a 10 year effort, you continue to persist.”

And then he told Moddelmog: “Hala, you are a great choice for this community.”

Later Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed thanked Bowers, Anderson and Williams for contributing to the city.

“I have got the best business community in the United States of America,” Reed said. “Hala, you are going to have an extraordinary time in this job. I’m going to be there for you, and every business leader in this room is going to be there for you.”

And then Reed put Williams’ report card in perspective.

“The challenges we face are because of the success we have had as a region,” the mayor said. “Thank you Sam. By every measure, Atlanta is stronger because of your stewardship.”

Larson to lead HR at Newell Rubbermaid

Atlanta-based Newell Rubbermaid Inc. has named Paula Larson as its chief human resources officer. Larson, who starts Dec. 16, succeeds James Sweet, who is retiring after nearly a decade of leading the company’s transformation efforts.

Larson has built her career leading change in both human resources and as a strategic consultant, emphasizing cultural and geographic diversity. She has lived in Asia, Europe and North America. And most recently, she was chief human resources officer for Western Union.

She also was chief human resources officer at Invensys, the London-based global technology group.

“The development of our people is at the foundation of our growth game plan – and throughout her career, Paula has helped companies navigate change and empower employees to achieve sustainable growth,” said Michael Polk, Newell Rubbermaid’s president and CEO, in a statement. “As we deploy our new operating model and build key capabilities to speed, Paula has the perfect combination of strategic and executional HR leadership to strengthen our talent base and support our global growth ambition.”

Larson, who plans to move to Atlanta, called Newell Rubbermaid a company with strong brands. “I am excited to be joining at this key moment when the transition to a new operating model is allowing employees to work in a more empowering environment to enhance company value,” she said. “My two key goals are to help ensure we delight shareholders and create an ‘I want to work here’ culture for Newell’s diverse workforce.”

Russell won’t hang it up after AT&T

Sylvia Anderson Russell may be retiring as president of AT&T Georgia at the end of the year, but don’t expect her to fade from the local scene.

Russell, who has spent nearly 21 years with AT&T, said that was actually her second career. She had worked as an attorney with the Department of Defense.

Asked if she might leave Atlanta, Russell said: “Oh my God, no. This is my home now.” Russell is married to Atlanta business leader Herman J. Russell Sr., and she said the two are firmly planted in Atlanta.

For the time being, she said her plan is to step back and breathe a little.

“I’m not ready to stay home and eat bonbons,” Russell said.

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1 comments
Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

The Metro Chamber reminds me of the chorus of a catchy 1950s Broadway tune:

"We belong to a Mutual Admiration Society,My baby and me.We belong to a Mutual Admiration Society."