RICHARD HYATT: Wider range makes Georgia Trend's influence list

January 2, 2014 

Wider range makes influence list

Georgia Trend has published its listing of the 100 Most Influential Georgians and, for the 16th year, the magazine left me off the list.

More serious than that oversight are the names that did make the list, for this year's assortment of the powerful and influential shows a seismic shift away from statewide politicians and button-downed business leaders.

There's room for a chicken fried Grammy winner who has expanded his reach into food and a line of clothing and a keyboard deity who provides the background sound for the Rolling Stones when he isn't growing trees. Any list that puts Zac Brown and Chuck Leavell alongside the governor and a couple of U.S. Senators has to be noted.

They make music, but Lee Thomas helps make films. As director of the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office, she is behind the invasion of "The Walking Dead" and other TV and movie projects.

From the political world, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is Georgian of the Year, but he is not the only city leader cited. Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson is there, along with Dallas Mayor Boyd Austin Jr., Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver and Savannah Mayor Edna Branch Jackson.

For community voices to be included instead of the usual suspects in state government is interesting. It shows that homegrown leaders are becoming as important as those on the larger stages.

There are also a noticeable number of leaders from higher education, including Columbus State University President Tim Mescon. Many of his peers are also mentioned.

Joining Mescon are Ricardo Azziz of Georgia Regents University, Mark Becker of Georgia State University, Bonita Jacobs of University of North Georgia, Jere Morehead of the University of Georgia, Dan Papp of Kennesaw State University and Bud Peterson of Georgia Tech. William Underwood of Mercer University and James Wagner of Emory University represented private institutions.

The importance of teaching and learning was also shown by the inclusion of State School Superintendent John Barge, Georgia Research Alliance President Michael Cassidy, University System Chancellor Hank Huckaby, Technical College Commissioner Ronald Jackson, State Charter Schools Chairman Charles Knapp, DeKalb County Superintendent Michael Thurmond and Board of Regents Chairman Philip Wilheit Sr.

Other local names on the list include Aflac CEO Dan Amos, Congressman Sanford Bishop and Synovus Chairman Kessel Stelling Jr. Amos was on the magazine's first listing in 1999.

In the past 16 years, key leaders such as William B. Turner Jr. and Jim Blanchard have given way to a new generation. The challenge faced by Columbus and the state is to develop those younger voices.

Will they be musicians, filmmakers, philanthropists, real estate developers, business people or elected officials? Will they live inside or outside of I-285?

Only time will answer.

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at

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