Column: Cousins Properties’ Larry Gellerstedt to receive 2019 Four Pillar Tribute
By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on May 3, 2019
Atlanta business leader Larry Gellerstedt III will be honored with the prestigious Four Pillar Tribute by the Council for Quality Growth on Oct. 10 at the Georgia World Congress Center.
Gellerstedt said the theme of the dinner will be “strength through diversity” – a core belief he has held throughout his career – from when he began at Beers Construction in 1978 through his tenure as CEO of Cousins Properties Inc. (NYSE: CUZ) until January, when he became the real estate company’s executive chairman.
“It’s great to be honored by your peers,” Gellerstedt said in an interview. “I’ve been so incredibly lucky in my career – to have been in the construction and real estate industry in a city like Atlanta.”
Gellerstedt has been central to Atlanta’s civic leadership for decades.
He was instrumental in helping engineer the successful merger between Egleston and Scottish Rite children’s hospitals to form Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. He chaired the board of Fernbank Museum of Natural History, steering it through a financial crisis.
He is a past chair of the Atlanta Committee for Progress, the Georgia Research Alliance and a former chair of the Commerce Club, the Metro Atlanta Chamber, the Metro Atlanta YMCA, and the Midtown Alliance.
Gellerstedt currently serves as a director of Georgia Power Co., Brown & Brown Insurance and United Distributors. He also serves on the board of the highly influential Robert W. Woodruff Foundation.
“The award means a lot to me, but I certainly want to highlight the team here at Cousins,” Gellerstedt said. “The most satisfying part by far is helping put together and mentor the people and then turning the company over to them.”
When Gellerstedt became CEO of Cousins in June 2009, there were no “women at the top ranks,” he said. “If you look at Cousins today, about half of the top executives are women.”
Gellerstedt said he intentionally hired Marva Lewis, a black woman, as head of the company’s human resources, a role she had until she joined the mayoral campaign of Keisha Lance Bottoms and eventually serving as the mayor’s chief of staff until recently.
“I was frustrated that the real estate industry lacked diversity,” Gellerstedt said. “That had a tremendous impact on the culture here. Diversity has nothing to do with compliance. It has everything to do with competitiveness.”
The dinner will be the 30th annual Four Pillar Tribute event, which recognizes an individual in the region who encompasses the leadership traits of quality, responsibility, vision and integrity.
“It’s such an honor to recognize Larry for his continued emphasis on diversity in the workplace,” said Ann Hanlon, chair of the Council for Quality Growth and executive director of the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts. “As a leader of a world-class organizations such as Cousins Properties, he sets the tone and example for others leaders to follow.”
Already a prestigious group of tribute chairs have been assembled to honor Gellerstedt. Georgia Power’s Paul Bowers; Cousins CEO Colin Connolly; Shan Cooper of the Atlanta Committee for Progress; Cousins Foundation’s Lillian Giornelli; Taylor Glover of Turner Enterprises; the Woodruff Foundation’s Russ Hardin; retired executive Virginia Hepner; United Distributors’ Doug Hertz; Children Healthcare’s Donna Hyland; Metro Atlanta Chamber’s Hala Moddelmog; the Integral Group’s Egbert Perry; H.J. Russell & Co.’s Michael Russell; WestRock’s Steve Voorhees; and retired SunTrust Banks executive Jenner Wood.
Previous recipients of the Four Pillar Tribute have included U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (2005); developer Tom Cousins (2008); former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin (2009); Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank (2010); architect/developer John Portman (2013); Chick-fil-A’s Dan Cathy; and former Gov. Nathan Deal (2017).
“Larry epitomizes the Four Pillars of excellence that the Council has recognized in Atlanta’s leaders for the past 30 years,” said Michael Paris, CEO of the Council for Quality Growth. “Larry’s dedication to business excellence and diversity, coupled with his contributions towards civic good, illustrate the positive influence and impact our leaders can make on the community and world around them.”
Rollins Hall for veterans
The Veterans Empowerment Organization (VEO) will be able to build a new $1.2 million, 10,000-square-foot building to serve veterans in need thanks to a $500,000 gift from Gary and Kathleen Rollins.
A ground-breaking ceremony was held at the VEO campus, which serves homeless veterans and those in need.
VEO’s founder and executive director Frantz Fortune is Haitian immigrant who said it is important to provide services for U.S. veterans, especially at a time when an average of 20 veterans a day commit suicide.“We want to provide a place where veterans can feel at home,” Fortune said. The VEO campus is on West Lake Avenue near Joseph E. Boone Boulevard on the Westside.
Kathleen Rollins said her father was a colonel in the Air Force and that she’s always appreciated the “men and women who have served this country.”
Her husband agreed. “Kathleen and I are proud to be able to help give back to our veterans,” said Gary Rollins, who is CEO of Rollins Inc. (NYSE: ROL).
In addition to the most recent donation, the Rollins also have made a $1 million gift over five years to the VEO.
Rollins Hall will have 10 housing units, a dining hall for 60 people, a commercial kitchen, a laundry room, a gym and 20 computer stations. Classrooms will host sessions on substance abuse and mental health support as well as financial literacy classes.
The VEO was founded in 2008, and it has provided housing services, job training and placement to more than 5,000 veterans and their families.
Boosting quality care for children
The nonprofit Quality Care for Children has zeroed in on a major issue. The lack of affordable child care is a major barrier for low-income college students who are also parents, according to Pam Tatum, president and CEO of the nonprofit.
About 26 percent of college students are parents with young children, and 11 percent of all undergraduates are single mothers.
Quality Care for Children now is providing student parents with child-care scholarships through its “Boost” program, a two-generation approach to breaking the cycle of multi-generational poverty. When parents are confident their children are well cared for, they can dedicate themselves to getting a college education.
By 2025, nearly 60 percent of all jobs in Georgia will require college certification. But less than 48 percent of adults currently meet that criteria.
Jen Bennecke, campaign chair for Boost, said the program can help close that gap.
The keynote speaker at the Early Start Breakfast on April 30 was Milton Little, president and CEO of the United Way of Greater Atlanta.
A centerpiece of United Way is on the well-being of children in the region. Working with the Atlanta Regional Commission, they have developed a Child Well-Being Index.
“Out of 1.3 million children in metro Atlanta, 600,000 are living in poverty,” Little said. The index gives different geographical areas of the region a score based on the well-being of children. For example, children in the affluent community of Ansley Park have a score of 90 – the equivalent of being born on third base. By comparison, children in much of Clayton County have a score of 30.
“Those children are outside the park looking at the game being played,” Little said. By the way, the overall Child Well-Being score for the Atlanta region is 58.9. “Every child has the right to expect that the future is going to be better.”
United Way will hold its “State of the Child” breakfast on May 9 at the Omni Hotel at CNN Center. Little teased the group saying there will be good news to share.
Meanwhile, Learn4Life will hold its third annual “State of Education in Metro Atlanta” on May 6 at the Metro Atlanta Chamber, where it will report on progress in several key indicators – childhood literacy and post-secondary success.