Column: Ratcliffe leaves mark on Georgia Research Alliance

By Maria Saporta
Friday, September 4, 2009

After five years, David Ratcliffe stepped down as chairman of the Georgia Research Alliance at the organization’s quarterly board meeting on Sept. 2. Ratcliffe is chairman and CEO of Southern Co.

He was succeeded by Bill Linginfelter, area president for Georgia and South Carolina for Regions Bank, who has been serving as vice chairman.

John Rice, vice chairman of General Electric Co., was elected as the new vice chairman.

The Georgia Research Alliance is nearly 20 years old. It is a public-private organization that includes top executives, civic leaders and the presidents of the six research universities in the state — Emory, Georgia State University, Georgia Tech, The University of Georgia, the Medical College of Georgia and Clark Atlanta University.

“I thank you for the opportunity to be associated with you folks,” Ratcliffe said at the meeting. “This is team ball at its best. I’m not going anywhere. I’m excited about the value proposition here.”

In the past several years, the alliance has been focused on building Georgia’s biotechnology profile, particularly in the fields of vaccine development and public health.

In appreciation for his tenure as chairman and his service on the board since 2001, the alliance is establishing a biology scholarship named after Ratcliffe at Valdosta State University.

“David’s impact on this city or state and particularly this organization can’t be overstated,” Linginfelter said. “He has been just the right leader to chart this course with his levelheaded determination.”

The nominating committee also said the following leaders are being asked to join the board: James Prestegard, an eminent scholar at The University of Georgia who is director of the Southeast Collaboratory for Biomolecular NMR; James Wells, chairman and CEO of SunTrust Banks Inc.; and Lizanne Thomas, partner-in-charge of the Atlanta office of Jones Day. She will be the only woman trustee on the alliance’s board.

Attempting the impossible

Going backward is not an option.

At Atlanta’s United Way campaign kickoff on Sept. 1, AGL Resources Inc. CEO John Somerhalder announced that this year’s goal will be $80.5 million — the same amount that was raised last year.

“If our goal strikes you as one that’s difficult or even impossible, let’s attempt to do the impossible,” said Somerhalder, who is chairing this year’s campaign.

Given the economic recession, Somerhalder said the campaign cabinet had to balance the increased needs of the community with the reduced financial capacity of donors.

“It’s very important … that we have the right number,” Somerhalder said, adding that he wanted to push the goal as high as possible. “Raising $80.5 million last year was an extraordinary feat.”

Milton Little, president of Atlanta’s United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta Inc., acknowledged that raising money in 2009 could be even tougher than raising money in 2008. Last year, United Way also raised $3.7 million in a one-time Critical Needs campaign that was included in the campaign numbers. “Let’s not have any doubts, this will be a difficult campaign,” Little said. “The choice to give has probably never been more difficult. Yet the reason to give has never been more clear.”

Top of the heap

Forbes Magazine recently released its list of the 100 Most Powerful Women in the world. And a woman well-known in Atlanta ranked higher than Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, first lady Michelle Obama or talk show host Oprah Winfrey.

Paula Rosput Reynolds, former CEO of AGL Resources, was ranked as the 23rd most powerful woman in the world (Clinton: 36; Obama: 40; Winfrey: 41).

Most recently, Reynolds was the chief restructuring officer for insurance company American International Group. Before that, she was CEO of the Safeco insurance company in Seattle. Reynolds continues to serve on the board of Delta Air Lines. Inc.

From what I could tell, no other Atlantans were on the list. A couple of obvious omissions: Helene Gayle, CEO of CARE-USA; and Roxanne Spillett, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

Running companies

More than 325 companies have signed on to participate in the 27th Annual Kaiser Permanente Corporate 5K Run/Walk through downtown Atlanta on Sept. 10.

The companies that had the largest teams as of press time included Verizon, 550; Assurant, 448; Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, 423; and Equifax Inc., 318. More people are expected to register before the race, which is being directed by Jeff Galloway, an Atlanta native who Kaiser Permanente described as a “running legend.”

Four Atlanta companies will be participating in the Run/Walk for a minimum of 17 years: National Vision, 17 years; PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, 25 years; Cisco Systems (formerly Scientific Atlanta), 20 years; and Atlanta Foot and Ankle Center, 20 years.

The Run/Walk, which will benefit the Atlanta Braves Foundation and the Atlanta Community Food Bank, will begin at Turner Field at 7 p.m. on Sept. 10.

Another Ted in town

A bit of California is coming to Atlanta.

TED — which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design — has been bringing together some of the leading creative minds in the world for 25 years in the Los Angeles area.

One of the recent attendees has been Tod Martin, president and CEO of unboundary, a communications technology firm, who was has been amazed at how the annual TED events have opened up his mind.

Now Martin is to bring TED to Atlanta. On Sept. 15, the first TedxAtlanta will be held at unboundary’s offices off North Avenue near Georgia Tech.

Among those retailer Rawson Haverty, Serenbe’s Steve Nygren, attorney Keith Mason, developer Jerome Russell, The Coca-Cola Co.’s Ben Deutsch, and Pat Upshaw-Monteith of Leadership Atlanta, along with dozens of others.

They’re already planning the next one Jan. 19.

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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