Atlanta 500: 2020

The power of 500

As we were putting the finishing touches on this book, I happened to attend the sixtieth anniversary celebration for H.J. Russell & Company at the historic Paschal’s restaurant. The commemorative video panned past many of the construction firm’s major projects, which include Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, headquarters for both Coca-Cola and Georgia-Pacific, 191 Peachtree, Atlanta City Hall, the Carter Center, Ebenezer Baptist Church’s addition, and Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Speakers included Michael Russell (CEO) and his brother Jerome (president), who are, of course, on our 500 list. Along with their sister Donata Russell Ross, their family’s deep legacy is a vivid reminder of how a relatively small number of people have laid the groundwork for the culturally rich city we enjoy today.

Still, selecting Atlanta’s 500 most powerful people was no simple exercise. The process was really more of an art than a science. But we did follow some general guidelines: We started with obvious superlatives, such as CEOs of the largest companies, managing partners of big law firms, current presidents of professional organizations, and heads of top nonprofits, educational institutions, and arts groups. Leaders of government and civic organizations were obvious choices. We also looked for executives serving on nonprofit boards, spearheading programs for their communities, and creating opportunities for other Atlantans.

But there were also subjective factors. We consulted experts across different sectors and sought nominations from the public through social media to identify people who are relatively unsung visionaries. And then our editorial staff and writers met to weed it all out. Some organizations could’ve easily produced a dozen luminaries, but we wanted to cast a wide net. So, if you or your favorite candidate missed the list this year, just look for that “call for nominations” next summer. Betsy Riley

Below is our list for 2020. View the 2019 list here.

The 500

Arts, Sports, & Entertainment


Education & Healthcare

Government & Infrastructure


Real Estate

Religion, Nonprofits, & Advocacy

Restaurants & Hospitality


Favorite restaurants

Everyday: Varsity

Special occasion: Tie: Canoe, Chops,


Favorite songs about Georgia

1. “Georgia on my Mind”

2. Tie: “Midnight Train to Georgia”;

“Player’s Ball”

Favorite domestic travel destination

1. Golden Isles

2. Florida panhandle

Favorite Overseas travel destination

1. Italy

2. Paris

3. Ireland

Top first jobs

1. Paper route

2. Lawn care

3. Fast food worker

College grads

19% ACC grads

26% SEC grads

Atlanta Natives


most inspiring person

1. Mom

2. Dad

Favorite spots in Atlanta

1. Atlanta Botanical Garden

2. BeltLine

3. Piedmont Park

4. SunTrust (Truist) Park

5. Tie: Fox Theatre and Center for Civil

and Human Rights

Nominate a Leader for The Atlanta 500

Nominations for the 2021 edition of The Atlanta 500 have closed. Check back in January 2021 to nominate a leader for the 2022 edition of The Atlanta 500.