Column: Dennis Creech to step down at Southface after 38 years

By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Decmber 18, 2015

Dennis Creech, executive director of Southface since its inception 38 years ago, will be stepping down from the sustainable energy nonprofit he founded when it names a new leader.

“I’m not retiring; I’m transitioning,” said Creech, one of Georgia’s most respected voices on sustainability and energy-efficient buildings.

Southface has retained Boardwalk Consulting to conduct a national search for Southface’s next leader, which Creech said likely would happen by the time he turns 66 in June. At that time, he plans to take a little time to decompress before deciding what his next role will be, only saying: “Right now I see myself working as a catalyst with other organizations.”

Creech, however, said he would give the new executive of Southface room to lead the organization.

Dennis Creech

Dennis Creech

“I’m not going to be a shadow over that new person,” said Creech. “I’m not going to be on the board. I’m not going to have an office at Southface. I do plan to continue being a member.”

Creech did add he would only be a phone call away if the new executive wanted or needed anything.

“This has not been a job,” Creech said. “This has been my life. I’m excited for me personally, and I’m excited for Southface. It’s a good time for someone to come in and bring a new perspective. We will actually be a better organization as a result of this transition.”

Originally, Creech had thought he would become a doctor until he took a Fundamentals of Ecology course in college. After completing a master’s degree at Emory University, Creech began working on environmental issues — co-founding Southface (the original name was Sunday) in 1977.

Since then, Southface has been promoting the concept of energy- and water-efficient buildings in Georgia, long before those were trendy issues.

“We are an overnight success that took 20 to 30 years,” Creech said laughingly. “I think the chorus is growing.”

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed credited Creech along with husband-wife team Laura Turner and Rutherford Seydel for opening his eyes on environmental issues.

“I can’t thank Dennis enough,” Reed said. “He really made sustainability and climate action one of the top five priorities of my administration. Dennis, Laura and Rutherford were most impactful in making me shift my policy focus.”

Creech said Southface has sought to educate the public and the building industry about green practices.

“We have always been science-based,” he said. “We train people on how to do the things we advocate about how buildings should be designed for our climate. We have always been an entrepreneurial nonprofit that has had to work in the marketplace.”

Southface also has led by example, using its own headquarters on Pine Street as a model for cutting-edge green building techniques. The nonprofit has an annual budget of $5 million to $6 million with 55 employees. As a result of its work, Georgia has developed a national reputation for green building.

“Georgia has led the region and actually been a national leader in energy-efficient building codes,” said Creech, who said there is still much more work to do in the field. “We have a very inefficient economy in Georgia so we have a lot of opportunity to save energy in our state. For years, we have let the cheap price of dirty energy be subsidized by our health.”

That said, Creech said he is amazed at the dramatic change that has occurred in the four decades he’s been working in the environment. The climate change talks in Paris concluded in a historic agreement among nearly 200 nations.

“There are exciting times,” Creech said. “You can’t work in the environmental movement for 40 years and not be optimistic.” The recent climate accord reached in Paris is “a good milestone for us, but the work is not done.”

Cedric Suzman farewell

One of Atlanta’s most global citizens — Cedric Suzman — had a gala send-off Dec. 14 when the World Affairs Council of Atlanta honored him for the contributions he’s made during his career.

Suzman has been executive vice president and director of programming of the World Affairs Council. Previously he served as director of programming for the Southern Center for International Studies since its inception in 1977 until 2009.

“Cedric was instrumental in the evolution of the Southern Center to the World Affairs Council. and he’s been the driver for programming,” said Mark Becker, president of Georgia State University. “It’s now one of the top 10 World Affairs Councils in the country — all because of him and Wayne Lord. This has all happened in five years.”

Lord, who retired more than a year ago, came to town for the gala of his former colleague.

“I believe he’s one of the people who is responsible for the building of global Atlanta,” Lord said. “He does it with grace and diplomacy, and he always lets someone else be out in front. He brings a great humanitarian sense to everything he does because of his experience in South Africa.”

The dean of GSU’s Robinson College of Business, Richard Phillips, said Suzman will be tough to replace — and not just for his Rolodex.

The gala was held at the headquarters of United Parcel Service, and was hosted by UPS CEO Dave Abney, who chairs the World Affairs Council of Atlanta (see related photos on Page 6A, The Insider).

“Cedric has been the heart and soul of this organization,” Abney said. “From the very beginning, Cedric and Wayne Lord worked in partnership to take this to where it is.”

Suzman was visibly touched by the outpouring of appreciation.

“It is a wonderful compliment to Atlanta that a crowd like this can turn out for international affairs,” Suzman said. “This is not the same city I came to in 1974. It’s really made huge progress, and that’s the most most gratifying thing of all.”

Ralph de la Vega and the Metro Atlanta Chamber

At the annual meeting of the Metro Atlanta Chamber on Dec. 10, outgoing Chairman Larry Gellerstedt III announced that the leadership of the business organization is set for the next three years.

Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobile & Business Solutions, will chair the Chamber in three years. De la Vega will follow Jenner Wood, corporate executive vice president of SunTrust, who is chairing the Chamber in 2016; and Jeff Sprecher, chairman and CEO of Intercontinental Exchange, who will chair the organization in 2017.

“I will do anything for this city — especially when Hala comes calling,” De la Vega said, referring to Hala Moddelmog, the Chamber’s president and CEO.

By agreeing to lead the Chamber in 2018, De la Vega also was making a statement about AT&T’s presence in Atlanta.

“AT&T is very supportive of the community,” he said. “Anything we can do to help the community, we are happy to do it.”

David Martin and financial literacy

David Martin, executive director of the Georgia Council on Economic Education, was presented with the inaugural Lee Burge Servant Leadership Award at the annual meeting of the Georgia Consortium for Personal Financial Literacy at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta on Dec. 3.

Lee Burge was a former chairman and CEO of Equifax and the long-time chair of the Consortium, which was created 20 years ago by the Consumer Credit Counseling Service (now ClearPoint Credit Counseling), the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, the Georgia Council on Economic Education and Junior Achievement.

Nancy Schwartzmiller serves as executive director of the Consortium, which is the Georgia affiliate of the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy.

Also, the Georgia Council on Economic Education will launch its $3.3 million 2016-2018 Support Campaign in January.

The campaign co-chairs are W. Ron Hinson, executive vice president and CFO at Georgia Power; and David Smith, executive vice president of Regions Bank.

Since 1972 the mission of the Georgia Council has been to help teachers teach economics in the public and independent schools of Georgia.

The current chair of the Council is Loren Starr, senior managing director and CFO of Invesco. The vice chair is Kirby Thompson, senior vice president for community and government affairs at SunTrust Bank.

The Council’s 2016 annual meeting is scheduled for May 23, at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta with Carol Tomé, CFO of The Home Depot as the keynote speaker.

The Council’s prestigious William J. VanLandingham Commitment to Education Award will be presented to J. Alvin Wilbanks, superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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