Congressman Sanford Bishop

Representing the 2nd District of Georgia

Six from Columbus area make list of '100 Most Influential Georgians'

There’s an Army general and a U.S. congressman on Georgia Trend’s annual list of “100 Most Influential Georgians.”

There’s also a university president, a company recruiter and two CEOs from the insurance and banking worlds.

The thread that runs through that diverse group is that they all are from Columbus, some having lived here for decades, others for just a few years.

The six local people, who appear in the January edition of Georgia Trend magazine, are Aflac Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Dan Amos, U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, Maj. Gen. Robert Brown, The Valley Partnership Executive Vice President Becca Hardin, Columbus State University President Timothy Mescon and Synovus Chairman and CEO Kessel Stelling.

“Individuals on the list -- some who are very much in the public eye and some who choose to work behind the scenes -- are selected for the power and influence they wield. These are the people who affect the lives and livelihood of all Georgians in one way or another,” Georgia Trend said in the preface to its 14th annual list that includes a mix of lawmakers, educators, entrepreneurs, elected officials and heavy hitters from the corporate sphere.

For many, the recognition is old hat, with their having appeared on the list a number of times.

For some, it’s their first moment in the “Most Influential” spotlight. That would include Mescon, who came here in August 2008, leaving Kennesaw State University in Atlanta to take the helm at Columbus State University. Georgia Trend noted enrollment has grown sharply under his tutelage to 8,300 students, while new doctoral programs have been created.

“I’m really humbled by the recognition and hope it can deliver some positive benefits to the university,” Mescon, 57, said Friday. “Those of us who are natives have a tendency to forget there are almost 11 million people in Georgia now. It’s a very big state. And there’s a lot of competition for top-of-mind recognition. So anything we can do to raise our awareness is great for the community and great for the university.”

Hardin, meanwhile, was one of only 17 females to make the list, and it’s her second time on it. An economic development executive with the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce, Georgia Trend noted her work with The Valley Partnership. Specifically, it pointed to her hand in Fort Benning’s expansion and the success with growing the supplier base around the Kia auto assembly plant in West Point, Ga.

On Friday, however, Hardin, 46, said her work with helping land the NCR automated-teller assembly plant in Columbus is her greatest accomplishment.

“They have been a benchmark model in bringing manufacturing jobs to the U.S.,” she said of NCR, which has committed to employing 870 locally and is now up to about 450 on its payroll. “They’ve had tremendous success here in Columbus and have committed to us that as their business expands they’re going to continue to grow here.”

Others on the “100 Most Influential Georgians” list include Amos, 60, who was lauded for his quick response to the earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan -- making a $1 million donation -- as well the company’s contributions to childhood cancer programs through the years, which have topped $67 million.

Bishop, 64, is from District 2 in the U.S. House of Representatives, based out of Albany, although his area includes south Columbus. The publication noted the Democrat is in his 10th term and has a key seat on the House Appropriations Committee, essentially acting as a buffer against cuts to the region, along with new projects. That includes the new Martin Army Community Hospital under construction at Fort Benning.

The military connection to the list continues with Brown, 54, who is the commanding general of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning. Although the post’s expansion was well under way before his arrival, his responsibilities are now huge, Georgia Trend said. It includes overseeing the training of 145,000 soldiers and civilians at the post, as well as large construction projects that will continue through 2016 amid a downsizing military.

For Stelling, 54, it has been a roller-coaster ride in which he took charge of Synovus in 2009 as it was bleeding red ink and trying to get a grip on loan losses while downsizing the bank’s work force by 2,000 positions. But the company posted its first profit in three years in the third quarter of 2011, with stock-market analysts projecting a full-year profit in 2012. Georgia Trend quoted him from a speech at the University of Georgia in which he described the current financial era as ”the most challenging times I’ve seen in more than 30 years in the banking industry.”

Georgia Trend said it compiled its “Most Influential” list through much of 2011, whittling the final selections down by last fall. It noted that women are slowly seeing more of a presence on it, while the number of minorities are trending higher.

It also said most elected officials this year are from the Republican Party, a turnabout from a few years ago when Democrats dominated it.