Dentons law firm boosts its public policy practice

Less than two weeks after Dentons placed its signature in Atlanta, the world’s largest law firm announced the hiring of a couple of new members to its government affairs practice.

Jeff Hamling, who has been serving as vice president of state and federal affairs for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, will join Dentons on July 27 as senior managing direct.

Fate of Atlanta Hawks still unclear with new team ownership

Original Story on WABE By MARIA SAPORTA

Atlanta Hawks' Dennis Schroder, of Germany, practices on the court before the start of an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015, in Atlanta.

It would be ideal if the lead owner of the Hawks called Atlanta home. An owner who has deep roots in a community is less likely to move the team somewhere else. Tony Ressler, the new principal owner of the Hawks, is a Los Angeles businessman. Credit David Goldman / Associated Press

The new principal owner of the Atlanta Hawks, Tony Ressler, closed the deal on the city’s professional basketball team on June 24. At his first press conference, 24 hours later, the Los Angeles businessman said the team would now speak with one voice … a marked contrast to the past owners, the Atlanta Spirit Group.

Atlanta has welcomed Ressler with open arms. He enters the scene as the new lead owner of the Hawks, without baggage and with great hopes.

Maybe now we can get an NBA championship. Maybe now we can have a unified ownership group. Maybe now we can have a leadership group with no trace of tension or racism. With former NBA player Grant Hill by Ressler’s side, the leadership duo reflects the diversity in Atlanta — and the entire country.

So far, so good.

But there are a couple of yellow flags.

Ideally, the lead owner of the Hawks would call Atlanta home. An owner who has deep roots in our community is less likely to move the team to another city.

Living in Los Angeles and going to basketball games in Atlanta is less than ideal for Ressler and his family, although they have bought a residence in Buckhead.

When asked if he would commit to keeping the team in Atlanta forever, Ressler wiggled his way out of a straight answer. Maybe it’s just a negotiating ploy.

But Ressler is on record saying that Philips Arena will either need to be remodeled or replaced, that doing nothing is not an option. Will he commit to keeping the Hawks downtown? Ressler said he is not ruling out anything.

This is beginning to sound like an expensive proposition for Atlanta.

Perhaps Ressler is not aware that Philips Arena is one of the most successful entertainment venues in the country. It has consistently ranked in the top five arenas in the nation, only surpassed by Madison Square Garden over the years.

What a shame it would be if it gets caught up in the frenzy of discarding our relatively new facilities for even newer and more expensive venues for pro sports.

Let us hope Ressler comes to fully appreciate our downtown and our arena … that he doesn’t get us into a bidding war with a western city like Las Vegas, or that he doesn’t uproot the Hawks from the heart of Atlanta, next to MARTA, for the suburbs.

The symbol for Atlanta is the phoenix rising from the ashes, an apt metaphor for the Atlanta Hawks. Last season started in a firestorm and ended with the team having its best record ever.

A new owner gives us hope the magic will continue.

Please Tony Ressler – don’t let Atlanta down.

Fortune 500 has no female CEO from Georgia – yet

By Maria Saporta

Original Story on WABE 

Play Audio

Veritiv’s Mary Laschinger would be the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company in Georgia.

Veritiv’s Mary Laschinger would be the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company in Georgia.

Few people have even heard of the company Veritiv. But by next year, it will become one of Atlanta’s best-known companies. That’s because it will have the first woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company based in Georgia.

When the company eventually is included on the Fortune 500 list in 2016, it likely will be ranked near No. 300 – thanks to its sales of about $9.3 billion a year.

Veritiv formed last July through a merger of Unisource and a division of International Paper – xpedx.  The company held its first annual meeting this Wednesday.

And its CEO is Mary Laschinger, formerly a key executive at International Paper and the CEO of xpedx.

Up until now, women have not fared that well at the top of the corporate ladder in Georgia.

Women were passed over in two recent high-profile opportunities.

At Home Depot, three internal candidates were being considered to succeed Frank Blake as the CEO. Carol Tomé, who had served as the company’s chief financial officer dating back to the founders, had as good a shot as any. But the top job ended up going to her colleague, Craig Menear.

 Mary Laschinger  standing next to John McCarty, a shareholder at Veritiv’s annual meeting

Mary Laschinger standing next to John McCarty, a shareholder at Veritiv’s annual meeting

The other lost opportunity was Newell Rubbermaid. Again, three internal candidates were being considered – including Penny McIntyre, who was running half of the business. The job ended up going to a director – Michael Polk.

Sadly, few women are being groomed to be the next CEO of Georgia’s major companies. OnBoard, an association that tracks the percentage of women on Georgia’s corporate boards as well as those sitting in the executive suites,  sees much room for improvement.

Only 10 percent of the top officers in Georgia’s public companies are women, and only 11 percent of all the directors on Georgia’s corporate boards are women.

So when Veritiv picked Atlanta as its headquarters – over Cincinnati, Charlotte and Dallas – Atlanta not only got a new Fortune 500 company. The greatest gift was having Mary Laschinger appear on the scene.

Laschinger is already serving on the board of the Metro Atlanta Chamber. She’s looking forward to putting down her roots in Atlanta and making sure Veritiv becomes engaged in the community.

Given the scarcity of top women executives in Georgia’s business community, Laschinger will have ample opportunities to be a role model and set an example for other companies around the state.

So welcome to Mary Laschinger. You are giving women in Georgia a reason to celebrate.


NCR’s virtual shareholders meeting has real-world implications

Original Story by Maria Saporta on WABE

Play Audio

When NCR ─ a Fortune 500 company based in Gwinnett County ─ held its annual meeting last Wednesday, the only way one could participate was online.

The NCR Corp. headquarters building, in Dayton, Ohio is shown Tuesday, June 2, 2009. NCR is expected to announce that it will move the headquarters operations to Duluth, Georgia.  (AP Photo/Dayton Daily News, Ron Alvey)

The NCR Corp. headquarters building, in Dayton, Ohio is shown Tuesday, June 2, 2009. NCR is expected to announce that it will move the headquarters operations to Duluth, Georgia. (AP Photo/Dayton Daily News, Ron Alvey)

It’s the first time in Georgia’s history a major public company held a virtual annual meeting.

So NCR shareholders were unable to interact with the executives and directors running their company. The meeting was only available online in audio ─ not even video ─ and not one shareholder asked a question.

Not surprising. An online-only meeting is an unfriendly forum for shareholders.

It leaves the impression that a company has something to hide. Or that a CEO does not want to meet shareholders face-to-face.

It’s not a good idea folks.

Nationally, more companies are choosing to go virtual with their annual meetings. Last year, 53 companies went to online-only annual meetings compared to 21 in 2011. Companies say they are cheaper to hold and more shareholders can participate.

But there has been a backlash.

Angry shareholders forced Intel to abandon its online-only annual meeting format in 2009 so it went back to a “hybrid” meeting.

People can show up in person or can participate online in a hybrid meeting. More than 500 U.S. companies are holding hybrid annual meetings, including several in Atlanta like Coca-Cola.

I am one of those strange people who enjoys going to annual meetings because they tell me so much about a company.

It is an opportunity for me to see the diversity on a company’s corporate board and its top management. They let me see how executives interact with shareholders, employees and the public. In short, they tell me a great deal about a company’s culture.

And that cannot be captured virtually.

Annual meetings also keep executives on their toes. Remember when Home Depot CEO Robert Nardelli held an annual meeting in 2006 with no directors present. He was gone from Home Depot a few months later.

NCR is moving its corporate headquarters from Gwinnett County to Midtown. It is considering options to sell part or all of the company.

At next year’s annual meeting, NCR should welcome its shareholders both online and in person.

It’s the smart thing to do.

MARTA Clayton

Clayton County MARTA Could Be Big Economic Generator

By MARIA SAPORTA Original Story on WABE  In one short year, Clayton County has gone from being the Atlanta region’s ugly duckling to its beautiful new swan. The reason is simple. MARTA. On March 21, MARTA will launch its first three bus routes in Clayton, and more bus lines will be added in August and in […]

Chick-fil-A CEO draws attention to zip code 30314

Dan Cathy wants people to shift their focus a few blocks west of the new Falcon's stadium to an area of Atlanta that’s struggling. Credit Dan Raby / WABE

Dan Cathy wants people to shift their focus a few blocks west of the new Falcon’s stadium to an area of Atlanta that’s struggling.
Credit Dan Raby / WABE

All Things Considered Host, Amy Kiley, in a conversation with Maria Saporta & Dan Cathy >> Original Story 

The new Atlanta Falcons stadium has a lot of people keeping an eye on the intersection of Northside Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.  But, a local businessman and philanthropist wants people to shift their focus a few blocks west to an area of Atlanta that’s struggling.

Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy says crossing Northside Drive in that spot is like walking into another world: from the wealth and flare of professional football … to the poverty and crime of ZIP code 30314.

He called for cooperation to help that area in a recent Atlanta Business Chroniclearticle by Maria Saporta. Cathy and Saporta expanded on the issue with WABE’s Amy Kiley.

Play Audio

New airport business alliance similar to successful economic development program in Gwinnett County

The newly formed Atlanta Aerotropolis Alliance bears a striking resemblance to Partnership Gwinnett, a public-private initiative that has created a strong record of economic development in Gwinnett County.

Each entity was formed to attract jobs and investments to their respective areas. One distinguishing point is that the aerotropolis alliance was convened by the Atlanta Regional Commission, whereas Partnership Gwinnett is based at the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce.

Longtime Atlanta protester targets Walmart and more

Even though Walmart will likely take over Suburban Plaza shopping center in Decatur, Brian Sherman still isn’t giving up. Late last week, he stood among a couple of dozen placard-waving protesters from Good Growth DeKalb insisting Walmart can still be stopped.

Their unflagging commitment intrigued me. I stopped at their protest, feeling cynical in the wake of news that the Atlanta Braves will move to Cobb County. Why continue to fight Big Money, the Power, the Man, or whatever you call It when It always seems to get Its way? That was my question to Sherman, who at 70 has been fighting the fight since the 1960s.

“Because,” said Sherman rather defiantly, “We eventually win.”


Looking in plain sight for Atlanta’s random signs of optimism

A random shoe track on a downtown Atlanta sidewalk turned into a  “spontaneous smiley”—a feat akin to finding the face of Elvis in a piece of toast, but a whole lot easier.

People all over the world (like me) discover, photograph and post spontaneous smileys to social media as a creative challenge to others. It is tailor made for creative thinkers and distracted people in our crowded and gridlocked city. This fun scavenger hunt can be done anywhere, and a handy time-killer when you’re stuck waiting.

Looking for the most basic sign of happiness in ordinary circumstances will shift your mood and mindset. Looking for a smiling face can release positive brain chemicals like dopamine. The scientific term for this pursuit is pareidolia, when a vague and random stimulus is perceived as significant (after all, it was just a footprint…). It is an example of how mindfulness identifies the extraordinary in ordinary life.

Georgia taxes: New report contends “Fair Tax” would hurt hurt – not help – families, businesses, economy

A report released today on Georgia’s tax structure fuels a debate over proposed tax reform that advocates are increasingly pushing for the 2014 session of the state Legislature.

The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute issued a tax analysis that contends the proposed “Fair Tax” reform would raise taxes on and hurt Georgia’s “families, businesses, communities and the economy.”

The report follows a promise made last month by an advocacy group that said it would help convince Georgia voters to approve a fair tax. The campaign would be similar to the one it waged in favor of 2012 charter school amendment, according to Americans for Prosperity.

Coke meets with human rights advocates who seek new practices for giving, diversity in Brazil

The Coca-Cola Co. has agreed to continue discussions with an Atlanta-based human rights group, led by veteran advocate Joe Beasley, to consider expanding Coke’s philanthropic and diversity practices in Brazil, advocates said Sunday.

Top Coke officials met with the advocates Friday and agreed to convene a tele-conference this week, advocates said Sunday. The Coke representatives who attended Friday’s meeting reportedly included Alexander Cummings, chief administrative officer, and Lisa Borders, chair of The Coca-Cola Foundation. Coke did not respond to a request for comment that was submitted Friday.

“We’re calling for Coke to have a reciprocal relationship with its most loyal consumers in Brazil,” Beasley said in a statement, referring to Brazil’s population of nearly 100 million Afro-descendants.


In pollen season, Kirkwood’s old-school carwash hums

Monday marked nine straight days in Atlanta of extremely high (over 1500) pollen counts. You can’t avoid the blanket of yellow green dust covering the city.

For Stuart Brady, the plague of pollen on our cars is almost a biblical call to atone through what his business serves: lots of water and your own elbow grease. At his Kirkwood Car Wash, three words preach from the shingled roof: “Honor Thy Auto.”

These days, the ka-ching of tokens in the self-serve machines is the reason Brady calls pollen “gold dust.” It also gives him hope that his slice of Americana might survive the relentless redevelopment that Atlanta is known for.


Column: City of Atlanta toots its horn in Fortune special section

By Maria Saporta

Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Friday, March 8, 2013

In the current issue of Fortune magazine, Atlanta has a 22-page spread just in front of the “World’s Most Admired Companies” — perhaps one of the most coveted spots in the publication.

To celebrate the promotional placement, Fortune invited top Atlanta CEOs and civic leaders to the Commerce Club on the 49th floor of the 191 Peachtree building on March 4, where they were able to witness how the city has grown over the years.

Police raids, building price lift veil on business district south of Five Points

A string of narcotics arrests near Five Points last week, plus arrests for several outstanding warrants and the recovery of a stolen handgun, are among the latest examples of the challenges of sprucing up the city’s southern business district.

This section of downtown Atlanta remains a place of competing objectives. The planned billion-dollar redevelopment of the gulch and neighboring area may spark a restoration of Atlanta’s historic urban core, even as an underground economy seems to thrive in the current environment.

The pedigree of one building where drug arrests were made highlights part of the economic tension. The building was purchased in 2009 for a sum higher than may be expected in the recession: 175 percent of the value assigned by Fulton County’s tax assessors.

helene gayle

CARE USA’s Helene Gayle of Atlanta to join board of the Coca-Cola Co.

By Maria Saporta

Just one day after the announcement that two legendary Atlanta directors were not standing for re-election to the Coca-Cola Co. board, it was announced that Dr. Helene Gayle, president and CEO of Atlanta-based CARE USA would be joining the board at the company’s annual meeting in April.

Gayle, 57, leads one of the world’s leading international humanitarian organizations whose poverty fighting programs reached about 122 million people in 84 countries last year, according to the company’s press release.

Appetite for groupon to farm-to-table cafe shows demand for organic foods

The farm-to-table movement has reached the point in metro Atlanta that today it is attracting buyers in a deal-of-the-day internet coupon.

Sweet Potato Cafe, in Stone Mountain, is offering a half-price deal for brunch, lunch or dinner through Over 100 deals had been sold by mid morning.

Georgia’s movement of sustainable agriculture also marks another milestone: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, has signed on as the keynote speaker of the Farm Rx conference sponsored in February by Georgia Organics.


Atlanta-based Hardin Construction being sold to DPR Construction

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Friday, January 18, 2013

Longtime Atlanta builder Hardin Construction Co. is being acquired by DPR Construction, a national technical builder based in California.

The two companies will focus on expanding their operations in the Southeast and Texas, where both firms already have a local presence. The two companies have signed a letter of intent, and the acquisition is expected to close in March.

Invest Atlanta to use view from 29th floor offices to spur job creation

Atlanta’s development authority, Invest Atlanta, is open for business in new office space that offers a panoramic view of the city and region.

Invest Atlanta now fills the 29th floor of the Georgia-Pacific Center. The modern architecture is a far cry from the exposed brick-and-beam look of the old space, so popular among start-ups at the end of the 20th century.

The new space is all about gleaming fixtures and views that intend to convey a confident message about Atlanta’s future. The look speaks to the agency’s renewed focus on creating jobs, as opposed to incentivizing development.

Southern misperceptions tackled in Decatur author’s “Eat Drink Delta”

So much of the South is misunderstood by outsiders, and a trustworthy guide like Susan Puckett helps the rest of us understand where we live. Her new book, “Eat Drink Delta: A Hungry Traveler’s Journey through the Soul of the South” (University of Georgia Press), takes readers on a trip into the complicated culture and food of a strip of Mississippi often maligned for its poverty, obesity and backwardness.

Her ground-level stories of the people and crops, their traditions and dishes, bring to life the coexistence of different races and classes in one of America’s most fertile areas. The Delta is synonymous with blues, and Puckett, a Decatur author of six previous books who served as food editor for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 18 years, explored the connection between the hard stories and soulful food.