The Metro Atlanta Chamber has expended massive amounts of money and CEO time to set an agenda that affects virtually every metro Atlantan. Now the nonprofit has selected a new president who hints she will carry on a tradition that has extended well beyond business basics.
Hala Moddelmog was announced Thursday as the first woman president of the chamber, the voice of established local big business. The organization has tackled issues as varied as the design of the state flag, leadership of Atlanta schools and the failed effort to pass a regional transportation sales tax.
In an oft-balkanized region hungry for jobs and growth, Moddelmog is portrayed as a “team-builder” who has led diverse organizations, from big national fast-food chains (Arby’s and Church’s Chicken) to one of the country’s best-known cancer charities (Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure).
Her career put her close to small businesses, at the helm of multinational corporations and in the offices of foreign government leaders. Moddelmog’s life and work have crossed both sides of the Perimeter. She lives in Buckhead but worked OTP much of her career.
Starting Jan. 6, she will take day-to-day leadership of a nonprofit with a budget of more than $13 million in 2011.
The former Arby’s Restaurant Group president will be the chamber’s first new president in 17 years, taking the reins from Sam Williams. The move comes at a time when regionalism and regional ties have been tested with announcements like the planned move of the Atlanta Braves to Cobb County, and the failure last year of a multi-county transportation sales tax largely heralded by the business community.
Local governments also are becoming increasingly involved in economic development as persistently high — if improving — unemployment rates weigh on the region’s vitality.
People who know Moddelmog don’t expect the profile or activism of the 154-year-old business coalition to shrink under her watch. The chamber under Williams has been a driving force in key issues like changing the state flag and helping to save Grady Memorial Hospital.
Moddelmog said those are excellent examples of the roles beyond typical business issues that the chamber will continue to play.
“At the end of the day, not only were those the right things to do on many levels, but we know full well those things translate into economic growth,” Moddelmog said.
She offered few hints of her plans. She said her top priority is to implement the chamber’s $30 million-plus Forward Atlanta strategy to create jobs by focusing on the growth of existing companies, boosting entrepreneurship and marketing the region as a hub of global commerce.
Recruitment of companies from elsewhere will still be important, but the chamber sees cultivating local business as a faster path to job growth.
The chamber is funded primarily by corporate memberships. It works with governments to recruit companies and speaks for corporations on a variety of issues.
Williams, a 40-year fixture in Atlanta business, departs after two bruising episodes: the chamber’s support of Atlanta Public Schools leadership despite a cheating scandal, and the failed chamber-led campaign last year to promote a transportation sales tax in metro Atlanta.
Moddelmog declined to address how the chamber will re-engage on APS or transportation, but Williams said new policy ideas on those topics could come from the chamber early next year.
Paul Bowers, president and CEO of Georgia Power, said the chamber started with 250 candidates, a list eventually narrowed to eight finalists who were not named.
Moddelmog stood out both for her corporate experience leading the turnaround of two fast-food chains, but also in leading Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a top breast cancer charity that Moddelmog, a cancer survivor, helped turn into a fundraising powerhouse. (She left the charity well before a controversy over the organization’s decision to cut grants to Planned Parenthood.)
“She’s dealt with heads of state. She has tremendous experience,” Bowers said.
Chamber officials declined to disclose Moddelmog’s expected compensation, but said it would be comparable to Williams’ pay. His compensation in 2011, for instance, was $778,419, including a base salary of $412,500.
Moddelmog, 57, holds degrees from Georgia Southern University and the University of Georgia.
The Hartwell native was named in May 2010 as president of Arby’s Restaurant Group, where she started her career, before leaving in October. She also ran her own private equity firm where she helped food service and retail companies get off the ground.
“Atlanta is so well-suited for that with our higher-education (system). People move here to do startups,” she said.
Moddelmog said the chamber also will be more aggressive in promoting women in the corporate world and as entrepreneurs. She said more women in leadership roles has been shown to improve the business performance of companies.
“If women were contributing to the economy at the level that we are capable of, that would do a lot to getting us back on the growth trajectory that we need,” she said. “And why can’t Georgia be first?”
Ellen Hartman, a former spokeswoman for Atlanta-based AFC Enterprises, which previously owned Church’s Chicken, called Moddelmog a collaborative spirit.
“She knows business and national leaders around the world, and she brings those resources to bear for the city of Atlanta,” Hartman said.
Invest Atlanta President and CEO Brian McGowan said the metro Atlanta region is rich with groups with sharp ideas about regional economic development, and “the real challenge for (Moddelmog) is to bring them together in a collaborative manner.”
Williams, the outgoing president, said he recommended the search committee find a business executive familiar with Atlanta and who understands how to manage people, recruit volunteers and raise money.
“Hala has done all of those things,” he said. “That gives you tremendous credibility in the business community.”
Staff writer Katie Leslie contributed to this article.
RECENT METRO ATLANTA CHAMBER PRESIDENTS
Sam Williams, 1996-present
Gerald Bartels, 1983-1996
Tom Hamall*, 1974-1983
*Held title of executive vice president, which is equivalent to the chamber’s current position of president.
Source: Metro Atlanta Chamber; staff research
MEET HALA MODDELMOG
Family: Steve, husband; Ty, son; Kiersten, daughter
Work experience includes: president of Church’s Chicken (1995-2004), president and CEO of Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure (2006-2009), president of Arby’s Restaurant Group (2010-2013)
Past and present civic experience includes: Women Corporate Directors, International Women’s Forum, Brand Atlanta Campaign, Atlanta Police Foundation Board, Georgia Southern University Foundation Board of Trustees, Clark Atlanta University Board of Trustees, Atlanta Committee for Progress
Source: Metro Atlanta Chamber