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Metro Atlanta Chamber President Sam Williams to Retire

June 4,2013

Seventeen year Metro Atlanta Chamber (MAC) President Sam A. Williams will retire at the end of 2013, or when his replacement is hired, he told the Chamber’s Executive Committee on June 4.

Williams has served as the Chamber’s president since December 1996, overseeing a wide range of successful initiatives – from helping Atlanta meet the standards of the Clean Water Act to helping attract more high tech, logistics and bioscience companies. Recently, the Chamber was designated as one of the top 10 economic development organizations in the nation according to Site Selection Magazine. But if he had to pick the two things of which he’s most proud, he has a simple answer: “Helping to save Grady Hospital and creating jobs throughout the region.”

Williams, 68, has already served three years beyond the commitment he made in 1996 to serve until age 65. At the encouragement of the Chamber’s Executive Committee, he again has agreed to extend his contract until the end of this year, or until a replacement is hired in 2014. Paul Bowers, MAC’s 2013 Board Chair and president and CEO of Georgia Power, will appoint a search committee, subject to Executive Committee approval, who will retain a search firm to help with the process.

“Since early this year, I’ve been in discussions with our board’s executive officers on the steps we’ll need to take to start a thorough search for my replacement,” Williams said. “By announcing my retirement today, the board will have seven months to identify my replacement while also allowing time for an effective transition.”

Williams helped steer the business community and civic leaders towards a course of creating industries of the mind. He focused on attracting bioscience and high tech jobs, young talent, dubbed the “young and the restless,” and helped spur the Chamber’s more recent efforts around wireless mobility and health IT. During Williams’ 17 years, the Chamber has recruited more than 700 companies to the region, creating more than 75,000 direct jobs.

“I’ve always seen my role as twofold: Helping the business community organize around fixing problems as well as chasing opportunities,” Williams said. “As a chamber, we’ve taken a very active role in some of the city’s most important issues. In fact, I was hired in part to push us in that direction and I think it’s the right role for the Metro Atlanta Chamber.”

Under his leadership, the Chamber has not been a typical booster organization. It has not shied from tackling tough issues. The Chamber’s business leaders helped change the Georgia flag, successfully helped recruit over 25 foreign consuls, passed landmark water legislation for Atlanta’s future and helped lead the effort to pass a regional transportation referendum. “We must create the dialogue around issues that impact our entire community’s quality of life, even if it means tackling unpopular ones,” said Williams. “I’m proud of our track record. I know the Chamber will continue to make Atlanta an attractive place to do business, to live, to go to school and to make a good life.”

Bowers said, “We are so thankful for Sam’s service to the business community. He has overseen many critical efforts, including the 1999 Industries of the Mind Campaign, the Greater Grady Task Force and most recently, the launch of the Chamber’s new five year business plan. Sam’s leadership helped us secure more than $28 million to fund the five year business plan which includes a new partnership between top CEO’s and our universities to bring innovative ideas to commercial success. And, the Chamber’s Economic Development team was just named as one of the top 10 economic development organizations in the country.”

“When I first came to Atlanta, Sam reached out to my wife Mary and offered to help us make the transition to Atlanta,” added John Brock, 2011 MAC Chair, 2013 Chair of the MAC Business Higher Ed Council, and Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. “We immediately connected because of our shared love for Georgia Tech. Then, as I co-chaired the Governor’s Water Contingency Task Force, I saw firsthand Sam and the Chamber at work building partnerships in our community and state and delivering results for our members. I am honored to work beside Sam today on MAC’s new initiative to accelerate job growth and R&D through stronger ties between the business community and our universities.”

Williams joined the Chamber from Central Atlanta Progress, where he served as President from 1994 – 1996. Prior to that, Williams had a 22-year career with The Portman Companies, serving as executive vice president from 1986-1994, and serving for 10 years on the MAC board, representing the Portman Cos. He currently serves on the boards of Emory Healthcare and Grady Hospital. Williams has served as a board member of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, Action Forum (a biracial committee of CEOs fostering racial cooperation), Emory University Board of Visitors, Georgia Tech Board of Advisors and the Corporation for Olympic Development in Atlanta. He helped found the Centennial Olympic Park Area with the Urban Land Institute to create a post-Olympics plan for that area.

Georgia Trend has named Williams to its list of “Georgia’s Most Influential Leaders” for more than 20 years. In 2008, Williams was inducted into the Georgia State University Business Hall of Fame. He recently received awards from the Atlanta Business League and Grady Hospital for his service. A Tennessee native, Williams is a graduate of Georgia Tech and Harvard Business School.

“In retirement, I’m looking forward to spending more time with my new wife Nancy, my daughters and my three grandsons,” Williams said. “I will continue to serve on boards, teach, consult and be involved with the Atlanta community that I love so much and have been proud and humbled to serve.”