Photographs by Martha Williams
Leadership in the time of covid
If ever there were a time to ponder the meaning of leadership, it is now. Of course, the topic is always a hot issue during a presidential election season. However, the pandemic presented every leader—from CEOs to school principals—with unprecedented challenges. Companies were suddenly reinventing procedures and products to keep employees safe and, in many cases, enable them to work remotely. Cash flow and supply chains became unpredictable. Projections became impossible. The situation called for leadership by improvisation.
2020 also became a year of soul-searching about our nation’s persistent racial disparities. In the last six months, many organizations have launched initiatives to remove barriers and open doors for underrepresented communities. It remains to be seen whether this momentum will lead to permanent, systemic change, but at least some reforms have begun. It was particularly humbling for Atlanta—which has long prided itself on its civil rights legacy—to recognize the work yet to be done.
These challenges were top of mind as we sorted through this year’s record number of nominations for our annual Atlanta 500. It’s easy to assemble one of these lists if all you do is grab the names that are highest on the organization charts of the largest companies. But, especially this year, we went looking for other types of superlatives too—Atlantans who are the most creative visionaries, who inspire others, who take initiative and propel an organization or a cause forward. The cool thing is that, in a city as diverse as ours, stepping beyond stereotypical definitions makes for a much more fascinating mix of honorees. I guess it depends on how you define power, whether it derives from position or perseverance. Some of our new honorees aren’t in the C-suite, but I’ll bet they’re on their way there. —Betsy Riley
Below is our list for 2021. View the 2020 list here.