Annual meetings bring Atlanta business leadership changes
By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Friday, May 3, 2013
The local thread of leadership that has run through several of Atlanta’s key companies has become thinner during the 2013 annual meeting season.
In late April, the annual meetings of shareholders were held for Genuine Parts Co., Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc., SunTrust Banks Inc., Marine Products Corp., Rollins Inc. and The Coca-Cola Co., among others.
These are legacy Atlanta-based companies that have had long-term relationships with complementary and crossover ties with each other for decades.
Take Genuine Parts. Its executives often have served as directors of SunTrust (or its predecessor bank — Trust Company of Georgia). And Trust Company/SunTrust traditionally has been represented on Genuine Parts’ board.
Today, retired SunTrust CEO Jimmy Williams is a director emeritus on Genuine Parts’ board. Retired Genuine Parts CEOs Wilton Looney and Larry Prince both served on SunTrust’s board.
Executives of Genuine Parts — namely Looney and Prince — also have served on the boards of Marine Products, RPC and Rollins (three companies with overlapping ownership). Gary Rollins, CEO of Rollins, serves on Genuine Parts’ board.
SunTrust’s Williams has been a common thread through many of these Atlanta companies. In addition to having served on the boards of Genuine Parts, SunTrust and his ongoing tenure on the three Rollins-related boards, he has been a long-standing director of the Coca-Cola Co.
But at Coca-Cola’s annual meeting of shareholders on April 24 meeting, Williams did not stand for re-election along with retired Coca-Cola President Donald R. Keough.
“Jimmy Williams is a 33-year board member,” Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent said in recognizing Williams at the meeting. “He was asked to serve on our board by our legendary leader Robert Woodruff, and we are so glad he said yes.”
Williams and Keough retiring off Coca-Cola’s board is certainly recognized as an inflection point for Atlanta leadership.
Another less visible, but certainly significant, milestone also occurred April 23 at the annual meetings of the three Rollins-related companies. Looney decided not to stand for re-election as a director of those three companies.
“There comes a time when it’s time to change,” Looney said. “I’m 94. I’ve got enough to do. It just takes me longer to do it. I’m getting off all boards.”
Williams, who overheard the conversation, did make a slight correction. Looney would remain as a trustee of the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, the largest foundation in the Southeast.
“He’s right, I’m not going off that one,” Looney said to his friend, who also serves on the Woodruff board.
At the end of the Rollins meeting, Chairman Randall Rollins recognized Looney, saying that he joined the board on Oct. 27, 1975 — almost 38 years ago. At the time the company had revenues of$213 million, and today it has revenues of $3.4 billion.
“Personally I have benefited from the guidance and the friendship and the steady hand and the encouragement that Wilton provided me,” Randall Rollins said. “Wilton, you will be missed. In appreciation of your service, the company would like to make a contribution of $100,000 to a charity of your choice.”
Looney, who was touched by the gift, said he had to talk to his wife, Martha, about which charity should benefit from that gift.
Before this year, Looney had donated more than $500,000 to Rotary International to combat polio, partly because his wife had been afflicted with the disease. Then a few weeks ago, Looney called his friend, Rotarian Robert Hall, and said he was contributing another $250,000 to the cause.
Three years ago, it appeared that Gary Rollins’ son, Glen Rollins, was in line to be the successor. But there has a been a legal dispute between Gary Rollins and his children that led to Glen Rollins leaving the company. The legal case is ongoing.
Change also was apparent at Genuine Parts. Longtime Chief Financial Officer Jerry Nix retired at the end of February, and he was succeeded by Carol Yancey, who has been with the company for 22 years. She is the first high-ranking female officer with the company, and she had a prominent speaking role at the annual meeting.
Meanwhile, some things did not change. There are no women and no African-American directors on the Rollins board. And there are no African-American directors on Genuine Parts’ board.
By comparison, Coca-Cola Enterprises continues to lead in the area of diversity. At its annual meeting on April 23, one-third of CCE’s board was female — four of the 12.
Interestingly enough, another retired SunTrust CEO — Phil Humann — serves on CCE’s board. By the way, CCE CEO John Brock timed that meeting, when not one shareholder asked a question. It lasted seven minutes and 53 seconds.
At the annual meeting of SunTrust, which has two African-American directors and two women directors, the mood was significantly more upbeat than it has been in recent years. Like Brock, CEO Bill Rogers was almost proud that no shareholder asked a question. Usually, someone asks whether SunTrust is an acquisition target or is in negotiations about being acquired. But that kind of speculation has died down.
As Rogers said in a one-on-one conversation after the meeting, “the best way to increase shareholder value is to run this franchise to the best of its ability. We have a good franchise in a growing market.”