As Atlanta Chamber president, Hala Moddelmog will be region’s ambassador
By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on November 22, 2013
In many ways, it’s a role Moddelmog has already assumed. Despite having received several job offers in other cities (and even accepting one), Moddelmog always felt she belonged in Atlanta — her home of choice.
“When I got the call about the chamber job, I was pretty much blown away by it,” said Moddelmog in an exclusive interview with Atlanta Business Chronicle. She is probably best known in Atlanta as a top executive of Church’s Chicken and Arby’s. “I’m thrilled, and I’m honored. It’s a privilege to be one of the head ambassadors for the city and state.”
It’s the first time in the Chamber’s 154-year history to have a woman executive. The Metro Atlanta Chamber was expected to announce Moddelmog’s hiring on Nov. 21. Moddelmog will succeed Sam Williams, who has been president of the organization since January 1997 and who is retiring at the end of the year.
Bowers said the committee believed it was time to introduce a nontraditional person to the Chamber role — someone who was a new face with new energy.
Moddelmog has been involved in the Atlanta business community for decades, and she has been involved in several civic causes. She served on the boards of the Atlanta Police Foundation, Clark Atlanta University, Leadership Atlanta, the B.B. King Museum Foundation and Women Looking Ahead magazine.
Also, during her tenure at Arby’s, she was instrumental in getting the fast-food company to adopt the “No Kid Hungry” campaign, working closely with food banks across the state.
Moddelmog’s professional background also is much more diverse than just the food service industry. As a breast cancer survivor, Moddelmog served as president and CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, from 2006 to 2009. Before that, she had started her own private equity firm — Catalytic Ventures — that consulted and invested in the food service industry.
Most recently, Moddelmog has been interim CEO of the Dallas-based Women’s Foodservice Forum, a job she accepted in October, shortly after stepping down as president of Atlanta-based Arby’s — a position she had held since May 2010. She served as president of Church’s Chicken from 1995 to 2004.
In the telephone interview, Moddelmog said that at 57, she was looking at her “next step,” knowing she wanted a job where she could make a difference. When the possibility came up to become president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, Moddelmog realized that she is passionate about the issues that the organization embraces — job growth, economic development, education, quality of life — including water and transportation.
She also was pleased that the Metro Atlanta Chamber already had a five-year strategic plan in place with a good road map of where to go as an organization.
As excited as Moddelmog is about assuming the new role, she also recognized that it is a significant job in the region.
“I think there’s an enormous amount of responsibility that comes with the Chamber job,” said Moddelmog, who then described her style of leadership. “I particularly enjoy collaborating with others to get the job done. I’m one who thinks you can get more done by having a collaborative team effort than worrying about who gets the credit.”
She then quickly added that she plans to build on the work and legacy of Sam Williams, who has had a long tenure at the Metro Atlanta Chamber.
Moddelmog grew up in Hartwell, Ga., a small town less than two hours from Atlanta. Her memories of coming to the “big city” were to see movies at The Fox Theatre, to go shopping with her mother at Neiman Marcus, to buy doughnuts for fundraisers at the Krispy Kreme on Ponce de Leon Avenue and to gawk at the hippies on 10th Street in the 1960s. “I was always fascinated with Atlanta,” said Moddelmog, who finally moved here in 1981 after going to The University of Georgia for graduate school. “I always knew that I wanted to move to the big city in the South.”
Moddelmog studied marketing and strategic planning — skills that she believes she will be able to apply in her new role.
“I fully believe in the power of marketing and setting a higher goal,” she said. “I certainly hope our city hasn’t lost that sense of optimism and its ability to dream. But hope is not a strategy. You need a strategy behind it. I really was happy to see that a five-year strategic plan had been worked on.”
She also understands competition. There’s probably no industry that is more competitive than the food service industry, where “if you are not stealing market share, you are not growing,” she said. “My job will try to make sure that the metro area and the state of Georgia is getting more than its fair share. If you are not global, by definition you are not in the game.”
Moddelmog said it would be premature for her to say what her priorities will be in her new role. She said she has a lot to learn from Williams, the staff and the board as well as community stakeholders. But she added that she is coming into a position where much of the foundation has already been laid.
“It’s not often you are able to walk into a role where the strategy is laid out so clearly,” Moddelmog said. “I feel very fortunate that there’s a strategy in place, a team in place and a very strong board.”