Hala Moddelmog, the first woman to serve as CEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber in its 160-year history, announced plans Tuesday to step down after six years at the helm.
Under Moddelmog, the influential business association confronted social issues of concern to businesses, such as religious liberty legislation; helped rally lawmakers for new funding to address traffic congestion; and invested in attracting young and diverse professionals and startups.
The chamber, whose members include Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, Home Depot and other major companies, shapes a regional agenda that affects virtually every person in metro Atlanta.
“There’s a time for new blood to come in, a younger generation,” Moddelmog told the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an exclusive interview. “I like this idea that the next generation gets ingrained in the business community.”
Moddelmog is a former president of Church’s Chicken and Arby’s and former CEO of the breast cancer foundation Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Moddelmog joined the chamber as president and CEO in January 2014 and will continue to serve until a successor is named.
Cousins Properties Chairman Larry Gellerstedt will lead a CEO search. The region is enjoying record low unemployment and sustained job growth, but the chamber’s new leader will be tasked with tackling income inequality, workforce development and any future economic slowdown.
Moddelmog said she will continue to serve on the boards of publicly traded companies, and she may be a consultant to other businesses. In her next chapter, she said she wants to address economic immobility.
“I’d like to work on one thing in the community and go pretty deep on it,” she said. “Everybody knows a lot of the issues in Atlanta around economic mobility and the things that keep us from being all that we can be.”
The chamber invested in helping existing companies expand and nurtured startups, seeing these two segments as means to grow jobs and investment. The chamber launched Project Plato, a program to expand inclusive innovation and funding for companies founded by women and people of color.
The chamber also launched its ChooseATL campaign to recruit young professionals — first millennials and then Gen-Z — to start their careers and companies in metro Atlanta, leveraging the region’s entertainment, arts, food and culture.
“Hala has demonstrated strong, highly effective leadership and governed with integrity,” Gov. Brian Kemp said in a statement.
‘You have to build these relationships’
When Moddelmog started, the region’s economy was rebounding, but unemployment remained high. Metro Atlanta’s regional ties were being tested by pushes for cityhood.
The chamber also was coming off a pair of bruising episodes that dented its credibility: a failed push in 2012 for a regional transportation sales tax referendum and its support of Atlanta Public Schools’ leadership following revelations by the AJC of rampant cheating on standardized tests.
But the chamber regained its footing, mending ties with lawmakers and other Atlanta area business groups.
The chamber backed a successful MARTA expansion campaign in Clayton County, and voters’ approved an increase in the city of Atlanta sales tax to support billions in future MARTA projects. The chamber also helped shape legislation for the metropolitan Atlanta transit oversight entity known as Atlanta Transit Link Authority.
A business-backed push to expand MARTA into Gwinnett County failed last year, though the matter is likely to go before voters again.
A coalition of business and social groups, including the chamber, helped fend off religious liberty legislation that critics said could be used to discriminate against LGBTQ residents and damage Georgia’s reputation.
A religious liberty bill passed in 2016, but critics helped persuade then-Gov. Nathan Deal to veto the measure. Kemp has promised to support a version of the legislation modeled after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in the 1990s.
Moddelmog said the chamber’s policy team, led by Katie Kirkpatrick, Marshall Guest and Dave Williams, helped strengthen the group’s ties under the Gold Dome. The chamber’s who’s-who board of metro Atlanta CEOs dedicated themselves to make the chamber’s priorities happen, Moddelmog said.
“Larry would say to us, ‘You can’t just go down there when you don’t like something. You can’t just go down there when you’re saying no,’” said Moddelmog, referring to Cousins chairman Larry Gellerstedt. “’You have to go down there when you’re saying yes. You have to build these relationships.’”
The chamber also played key roles in hosting the College Football Playoff National Championship game and last year’s Super Bowl. The city will soon hold the NCAA Men’s Final Four and is gunning for World Cup matches in 2026.
Demographic shifts loom
Looking ahead, the chamber must navigate the broader population becoming more diverse as boomers edge toward retirement, Gen-Xers and millennials take on leadership roles and Gen-Z professionals enter the workforce.
The chamber, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, United Way and the Atlanta Regional Commission addressed regional workforce development, created a student achievement program called Learn4Life and Neighborhood Nexus, a population data tool for the Atlanta region.
The chamber’s next leader “needs to be someone who is a realist about the very positive aspects of this region and about what we need to change and can make better, not someone who pretends these don’t exist,” said Alicia Philipp, president of the community foundation.
Moddelmog said she wants the chamber to build upon efforts launched in recent years to address a lack of support and financing that women entrepreneurs and founders of color receive compared to tech firms led by white male executives.
Russell Stokes, president and CEO of GE Power said he was impressed by Moddelmog’s ability to engage local leaders for frank conversations about inclusion.
Stokes said he hopes Moddelmog’s successor takes up that mantle.
“She’s the glue or the connection between a lot of different groups,” he said.
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