These innovators are leading the change, powering us all forward to level up Atlanta.
Kat Cole; photo by Steph Grant
President, COO and board of directors, Athletic Greens
Kat Cole started her career at age 15 working in malls, then, at 17, she became a hostess at Hooters, soon graduating to waitress. At 19, she started opening franchises around the world for the corporation, by 20, she dropped out of college, and by 26, she become a vice president in the Hooters corporation, where she stayed a member of the executive team for six years, growing the business to around $800 million in revenue. At 31, Cole joined Cinnabon as COO and three months later became president, turning the business around after the recession. Just four years later, she became the group president of Cinnabon’s parent company, Focus Brands, and within the next two, Cole was announced as COO and president of Focus Brands. Ten years later, Cole has taken on her new role as president, COO and board member of one of the fastest-growing nutrition companies in the U.S., Athletic Greens (athleticgreens.com). To say Cole is a force is an understatement, as she has and continues to take leadership to the next level with whatever endeavor she takes on, believing in the product, the people behind the product and the customers above all else.
Tell me about Athletic Greens, for those who are not familiar with the brand.
Athletic Greens (AG), with its core product AG1, pioneered the foundational nutrition movement 10 years ago. AG1 is a comprehensive nutritional drink with 75 of the highest-quality ingredients that covers what is in over nine common nutritional products: multivitamins, probiotics and prebiotics, phytonutrients (greens), adaptogens and more. Health ownership and foundational nutrition are movements that have been growing gradually, and now seemingly suddenly, as many of us look to build and stack simple, healthy habits.
What are your goals as the president of Athletic Greens?
Aft er advising the company and its founder and CEO, Chris Ashenden, for a good bit of the year, the opportunity to join the company was just too exciting to pass up. Now is the most important time in history for consumers to focus on products that support immunity, gut health and their overall nutritional foundation. Getting more humans—especially women, our parents and a broader community—to invest in foundational nutrition—beyond the athlete audience that helped make it popular initially—is a powerful chance to make an impact. Getting to bring my whole self to a company built for the future (versus one struggling to transition from past to present) fills me with gratitude.
What are some things you have already accomplished that you are proud of?
I’m so proud of all the people I’ve had a chance to work with, develop and impact their careers and lives. I’m proud of being able to put my family first while being deeply committed to my professional endeavors. I’m also proud of constant reinvention—shifting industries, building diverse and beautiful relationships around the world. I am a different and better human on a continuing journey each year.
What do you think are the most important characteristics of a leader?
Humility, curiosity, courage and confidence. Leaders at any scale company are navigating growth, organizational change, culture shifts, hiring sprints, hybrid work, changing social dynamics, new channels, crisis du jour and other hallmarks of these wild times. This makes it imperative to build more modern leadership muscle and help other leaders in our firms, funds or companies do the same. These times require us to level up to make the most of the opportunities and challenges in front of us, and to better serve, develop and guide our teams and positively impact our communities.
Jerome Foster II; photo by Rebecca Hale/National Geographic
Jerome Foster II
Environmental justice activist; executive director, OneMillionOfUs
A 19-year-old Black graduate of Washington Leadership Academy, Jerome Foster II is an environmental justice activist. His work is focused on the intersectionality of all movements that fight to advance common liberation. Achieving environmental activism to him means restoring indigenous and Black sovereignty over pre-colonial land, and fighting at the foundations of justice; without clean air, clean water and survivable environment — he believes justice can not prevail. Foster has become the voice for millions of young people around the world who want a better future, officially founding the OneMillionOfUs (@onemillionofus) organization. He also sits on the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, making him the youngest active member of the Biden administration. This year, the wave-maker is being honored at Captain Planet’s 30th anniversary gala alongside Jane Fonda and Bill Nye.
From where does your passion for activism stem?
One thing, which is never understood, is that we’re fighting to save our future and the planet. Climate striking and activism serves as a means to raise our voice and unite as humanity against the systems of oppression.
What advice/call to action do you have for America’s youth?
Young people have been calling elected officials to action for four years now. My generation is united in the understanding that our elected representatives must do what it takes live up to their, so far, empty words. I don’t have advice for youth. The youth has advice for impartial adults that remain complacent as our future continues to erode. Our advice is if you really want to see change, vote your values and don’t make excuses, buy with morals: only support companies that aren’t actively killing our planet. It isn’t enough to promise to buy a hybrid vehicle someday in the distant future. You need to stand firmly on the side of moral clarity and environmental justice which requires a level of urgency that my generation is still waiting to see.
What do you hope this generation accomplishes?
I hope my generation finally gets to breathe. I hope my generation gets the chance to feel like the weight of this morally corrupt world isn’t always pressing on their shoulders. I hope that my generation gets a chance to feel like they don’t have to accomplish impossible odds to feel heard. I hope that my generation can finally stop latching on to hope like a lifeline that no one ever pulls. I hope that my generation has the chance to live and enjoy life; to live and accomplish equity and common justice for everyone. I hope that the young girls born today in the Middle East aquire equal education. I hope that the young children born into poverty today accomplish everything they ever dreamed of. I hope this and more comes true at the hands of the powerful adults, who decided to reevaluate their priorities and tune into the outcries of my generation. I hope that we all achieve empathy for others and inner joy because that is what the world needs.
What are the qualities of a good leader and what does leadership mean to you?
A good leader can be anyone, it is the passion and commitment to others that matters. The qualities of a good leader is someone that is kind and a good listener and empathic and wise. Leadership means doing what you say. Leadership is to promise everyone around you that they can rely upon you to achieve the goals set out. Leadership must be a selfless act to advance the group before yourself.
Chambless Kalka & Mallory Atkins; photo by Casey Sykes/Courtesy of Cake for Dinner
Chambless Kalka & Mallory Atkins
CEO and founder, and director of design and product development, Cake For Dinner
When Chambless Kalka went shopping for her teenage daughter and rising tween, she couldn’t help but realize the process of finding appropriate clothing for her daughters— that they would actually wear— was exhausting. Aft er much trial and error of her own, Kalka ended up calling SCAD Atlanta and was connected with Mallory Atkins, a young designer who recently graduated from the university. Aft er speaking on the phone for hours, the pair got to work designing silhouettes that allow for growth—styles that can be carried into adulthood. The end result was Cake For Dinner (cakefordinner.com), a brand with a youthful outlook via versatile styles that celebrate this age of young women through fashion.
Why did you create Cake For Dinner?
CK: Young women have so much access to and knowledge about fashion these days, and they all want to wear the luxury brands and the beautiful styles that are trending. Cake For Dinner is a brand made just for them. Young women guide us in the creation of our styles, and we make the pieces they love using the best-quality fabrics with thoughtful and handmade details. Being a young woman is hard enough, and we want our girls to feel beautiful and empowered in a beloved brand designed to meet them where they are.
What does Cake For Dinner mean?
CK: Cake For Dinner is a celebration of young women. We want to focus on the positive, fun aspects of this time in their lives with an uplifting and lighthearted approach to getting dressed. To do so, we knew we needed to create a seat at the fashion dinner table for these young women and include them in the conversation. Young people are driving fashion trends right now and they should be able to participate and feel good in what they wear. We want girls this age to celebrate, feel beautiful and have their cake for dinner!
Mallory, can you speak a bit on the designs themselves?
MA: The designs from our first collection and upcoming spring collection offer a range of silhouettes and fabrics from cottons to knitwear. You’ll see specialty eyelet, fringe, handmade tie-dyes, lace and ruffle details. Being in the South, the clothing is wearable almost year-round, but we also offer the soft est knitwear for those extra-chilly days. We collaborated with talented local artist and print designer Caitlin Alderfer, who hand-painted our blooming floral watercolor print and designed our detailed Desert Toile print.
What do you wish you could have said to your teenage selves?
CK: Rethink that outfit! But truly, I’d say, dress in a way that helps you feel your best and gives you confidence.
MA: That this time should be fun! To be kind to everyone around you and lift up your friends because you never know who needs to hear that they are amazing, smart, kind and loved. I would’ve told myself to spread more joy and not worry about what other people think!
Lisa S. Jones; photo by Holland Reid Photography
Lisa S. Jones
Founder and chief EyeMail officer (CEO), EyeMail Inc.
When Lisa S. Jones got a phone call one summer morning that her mother suddenly passed, she decided then and there to live her best life every day, and she set out to create a legacy in her honor. A graduate with both an undergrad and master’s degree from Alabama A&M University and an advanced certification from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, Jones knew she wanted to create a business that was inspiring, global and created value. She thought back to how that one communication of her mother’s passing changed her life and the importance of communication in our modern society. Aft er subscribing to 150 brands to study their email communications, it became abundantly clear to her: What if email could have personality? What if email could be brought to life with automatic video? And from there, EyeMail (eyemailinc.com) was born. Since this initial thought, Jones has put together a technical and leadership team that has created an impressive patent-pending marketing communications technology, which has gotten the attention of TBS/ WarnerMedia—its very first client— followed by Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, Porsche North America, Microsoft , Harvard University and many others. Jones, who is also currently enrolled at Harvard Business School while sitting as CEO, is excited for the future of EyeMail, aiming for its mass adaptation in the global marketplace.
Can you explain EyeMail for those not familiar?
We at EyeMail believe your messages deserve to be seen, heard and felt. An EyeMail full video (up to 60 seconds) plays automatically inside the email and mobile to increase customer engagement and conversions. It delivers at 15K in size with no downloads and performs with all email service provider systems. We have an iconic formula that helps brands extend their video storytelling to the email inbox to capture attention, engage audiences and inspire action to increase open and click-through rates and build a stronger bond to brand offerings.
What does EyeMail do for the community?
It empowers and stimulates growth to many sectors of business to our home city of Atlanta, and also globally. EyeMail was a member of the first cohort accelerator at Atlanta Tech Village, the nation’s fourth-largest tech hub. As EyeMail may be created in any language and delivered in seconds, the impact is vast, as any industry that sends out communications to internal and external stakeholders is an opportunity for an EyeMail to bring the communication to life to build engagement.
What are your future goals for EyeMail?
We want to align with more early adopters and market leaders in multiple industries globally, who are excited to explore new and innovative ways to communicate and engage with customers. These forward-thinking progressive brands seek to stand out from the inbox clutter and deliver experiences that inspire action. Additional future goals include the mass adoption of EyeMail in the global marketplace. I’m looking forward to video in email being the standard of personalized marketing communication for external customer-facing communications and internal employee engagement communications, and one day hearing, ‘Did you receive the EyeMail I sent today?’
Susannah Darrow; photo by Steven Thackston
Co-founder, Purpose Possible
Susannah Darrow is a modern leader and the co-founder of Purpose Possible (purposepossible.com), a consulting firm that specializes in fundraising and creating meaningful connections for the Atlanta community. Her résumé includes her service as District 2 arts and culture advisor to Atlanta City Council member Amir Farokhi and her selection as one of the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 40 Under 40 for 2021. As her résumé continues on with leadership qualities and achievements, her work with Purpose Possible is what sets her apart from others as a cultivator of the next wave of Atlantans. By building awareness of the arts as a means to develop a more culturally engaged community, Darrow is helping voices across the city and beyond be heard. “One big dream is to expand our footprint outside of Georgia, and that step one of this expansion plan is launching this month with the opening of our mid-Atlantic office based in D.C. led by our dynamic new partner, Starsha Valentine,” explains Darrow. We wanted to know more about Purpose Possible’s journey and sat down with the trailblazer to find out exactly what is needed to become a modern leader today.
When did you create Purpose Possible? What was that initial journey like?
We took a leap of faith and started our business in the middle of the pandemic. Our services were needed more than ever, as many nonprofits in metro Atlanta were facing enormous staffing and budget crises. Some days it feels like we are still building the plane while flying it, but that’s the fun in launching a business.
What characteristics does a modern leader possess?
Leaders today need to champion the diversity of voices and perspectives, but, beyond that, create a safe and supportive environment that everyone can truly thrive in.
How does Purpose Possible affect our Atlanta community and the surrounding areas?
Through a meaningful work environment, enabling organizations to increase their capacity and expand their reach and leverage our influence within the philanthropic community on systemic inequities, we provide positive impact.
Why did you create Purpose Possible, and who does it serve?
We empower mission-driven organizations, such as nonprofits and corporate social responsibility departments, to overcome roadblocks that prevent them from making their purpose possible.
Kevin Gillespie; photo by Ed Carter/Visual Renaissance Photography
Chef and founding principal, Red Beard Restaurants; culinary director, MeatEater
Georgia boy Kevin Gillespie grew up in Locust Grove and started his culinary journey early on, first learning his love for cooking from his grandmother. Since his orign, you have seen him reach fame on shows like Top Chef and around his successful restaurants Gunshow, Revival and Cold Beer under Red Beard Restaurants (redbeardrestaurants.com). Most recently, the Atlanta chef has taken on the title of culinary director for Steven Rinella’s MeatEater hunting show, podcast and overall media outlet (themeateater.com). Here, we talk with the chef about his new role, his new foundation working to solve food insecurity in our city, and finding your link in the food chain.
How do you think MeatEater has changed the media’s outlook on hunting?
Well, first Steven Rinella has changed the face of the modern hunter. He is a very articulate and extremely educated individual, and his team includes men and women from a variety of different backgrounds. Thus, opening the door for everyone to be included in the sport, not just the one-off groups of guys who fit the stereotype. Secondly, Steve highlights the deep respect an animal deserves through all phases of its life cycle, reshaping the reasoning behind why people pursue this field. I also think the show also was one of the first hunting programs that was transparent about the realities of hunting. Instead of the former version where everything was always made to be successful, Steve was willing to show that most days in the field you come home empty handed.
What is the field-to-table culinary ideology?
Field-to-table is not so different from the widely recognized farm-to-table movement. It preaches the same idea of traceability and accountability for the food you are consuming and takes it one step further, allowing you to play the role of harvester. There is an integrity in the way that Steve and the MeatEater crew approach food and the outdoors, especially during this time post-pandemic when we have seen and experienced the fragility of our food systems. This movement advocates for anyone who eats meat to embrace the reality of life being lost, to feed another. I advocate for people to see the culinary value of animals, rather than the trophy value.
Tell me a little about Defend Southern Food Foundation.
A lot of people don’t realize that I own my restaurants with a partner, Marco Shaw. He is a Black man and together we’ve always wanted to do something to give back to his community through the avenue of food. When the pandemic happened, kids who were dependent on school lunch lost that meal. Marco and I created a program to reinstate this meal and more. Working alongside Maynard Jackson High School, we buy all ingredients hyperlocally, cook in our restaurants and supply about 500 families a day with meals. And over this past year, the nonprofit has grown exponentially, expanding our reach with 90% of the donations actually going to feeding these families. It is truly everyday people making donations that is keeping us moving for such an important cause. This spring, we are working on a renovation with the old Cold Beer space to be somewhat of a tangible place for this foundation in the public sphere.
Meisa Salaita; photo courtesy of Science ATL
Co-founder and co-executive director, Science ATL
Growing up, Meisa Salaita always wanted to be a scientist, and for whatever lucky reason, she never felt as though she wasn’t good enough to be a scientist because of her gender. Salaita graduated from Northwestern University with a PhD in inorganic chemistry, and aft er taught chemistry and sculpture at a high-school level before switching to science in the public forum. From there, she began doing chemistry outreach under a National Science Foundation grant, did some science writing for HowStuff Works, reported and produced radio stories about chemistry, and even hosted a few TV shows about science. Today, Salaita shares a role as executive director of Science ATL (scienceatl.org)—an organization that brings the love of science to a regional level, sharing with people of all ages the appeal of the scientific field, and promotes diversity and inclusion. Here, Salaita tells us what we can expect from Science ATL and her role in making these things happen.
Why are you passionate about women in science?
When I hit grad school and was pursuing my PhD in chemistry, I found myself at one point being one of only two women in a research group of 50. I never want girls to feel like science can’t be for them or that they aren’t good enough. I hope through the work that I do I’m able to help girls see that they can do anything—science or otherwise!
How about diversity in science?
Once again, this comes back to the idea that no one should feel as though science isn’t for them. Science impacts everyone’s lives—regardless of race, background, gender, finances, etc., and as such, everyone should feel that they can participate in it. But this is hard when you rarely see anyone who looks like you acting in scientific leadership roles. At Science ATL, we strive to make sure that kids of all backgrounds and races in Atlanta get to participate in our programs and go to our events, and that when they do, they see scientists and engineers that look like them.
What are some exciting initiatives you are working on within the organization?
I am always, always excited about the Atlanta Science Festival. Each year, the festival is infused with new life from the wonderful ideas of our partners. Beyond that, I’m so jazzed about the public science events we are producing throughout the year. The festival is a time where so much is happening from a logistics standpoint that our team doesn’t have as much space to be creative and think big. But the months outside of March allow us to do just that. For example, just some of the loose plans for right aft er the festival include an exploration of Martian soil and a scientific river tour.
What are you doing to make science a part of Atlanta’s culture?
People often think of cultural activities as synonymous with arts events. I work really hard to extend this definition to include science as well. There’s no reason we can’t be inspired by a science event, or learn from the nature around us, or be encouraged to think by an introduction to some scientific topic. With that in mind, I work really hard to put those science-related experiences into everyday life.
Eight to Watch
Adam Wexler; photo courtesy of Prize Picks
Adam Wexler, CEO, Prize Picks
A graduate of the University of Georgia, Adam Wexler is leading the market with the closest alternative to mobile sports betting, PrizePicks (prizepicks.com). Says Wexler, “PrizePicks was born as we noticed a gap in the daily fantasy sports ecosystem. Sports fans were looking for a product that was not only fun to play, but also simple and not overly time consuming. Over the past four years, our team has been laser-focused on creating the best possible complement to the sports viewing experience and building toward a six-star customer experience. With a workforce of over 100 primarily based in Atlanta, we take great pride in the culture we’ve built and look forward to bringing a major B2C success story to Atlanta in the years to come.”
Brady M. Henderson; photo by Shakila Henderson-Baker
Brady M. Henderson, BMH & CO.
A maven in the realms of talent public relations, luxury brand promotion and all things fashion and entertainment, Brady M. Henderson (@bradymhenderson) is one to watch. “Atlanta is fast becoming the premier destination of all things fashion and entertainment,” says Henderson. “BMH & Co. stands at the center of the city’s creative evolution, helping the established continue to thrive and the rising stars reach their potential.”
Adria Marshall; photo by Jaxon Photo Group
Adria Marshall, founder, Ecoslay
Adria Marshall could not find hair products that worked for her hair type, which feels somewhere in between white curly hair and Black relaxed hair, so she created Ecoslay (ecoslay.com). Says Marshall, “In 2021, Ecoslay ditched plastic bottles for sustainable pouches and refillable jars. This eco-aware approach combined with our vegan-friendly products is a refreshing change within the haircare industry.”
Eric Tomosunas; photo by Ashley Rogers
Eric Tomosunas, CEO, Swirl Films
Swirl Films (swirlfilms.com) has been a pioneer in the entertainment film industry, putting diversity and opportunity at the core of what they do. And at the head of it all is producer Eric Tomosunas, who sees a bright future for Georgia as a film epicenter. Recently, Gray Television expanded its investment with Swirl in a deal designed to provide Swirl with more resources to produce series and made-for-TV movies, and in turn give more opportunity to talent who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to prove themselves.
Palek Patel; photo by Adam Milliron
Palek Patel, chef and owner, Dash & Chutney
Since opening her new restaurant Dash & Chutney (dashandchutney.com), Chopped champion and Beat Bobby Flay winner Palak Patel is still paving the way for diversity in the kitchen. Most recently, the chef has added a couple of new menu items at Dash & Chutney, including Chik’n chopped salad—inspired by the popular Indian salad kachumber and made with the chicken curry recipe that beat Bobby Flay (but with vegan ‘chicken’)! All of Patel’s dishes are heavily influenced by her childhood in India and her time working in the south of France, San Francisco and New York—and with her new resto, she is sharing her heritage with our Atlanta community.
Richard Scalesse; photo by Lawrence Klein
Richard Scalesse, co-founder and CRO, 100Group
Having recently rebranded to better serve its clients and business owners at large, 100Group (100group.com) is a luxury business service concierge program changing the effectiveness in which Atlanta companies do business. Richard Scalesse, alongside Jeff Brodsly, provides cutting-edge B2B and B2C payment acceptance and technology solutions to businesses small and large.
Sabrina Coombs; photo courtesy of Epicurean Atlanta
Sabrina Coombs, executive pastry chef, Epicurean Atlanta
Another amazing woman in the culinary space is Epicurean Atlanta’s newly minted executive pastry chef, Sabrina Coombs. London-born, Atlanta-raised Coombs applies European techniques to the diverse flavors of Southern baking, using her extensive experience from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts to guide her dishes. Not only is Coombs wowing people with her talents in person, but she also recently competed on the eighth season of Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship, where she was a top-three competitor during the finale.
Wells Maley; photo by Candy Maley
Wells Maley, founder, Swells of Splendor
Wells Maley is a poster child for just going for it. As a graduate of the University of Georgia with a degree in fashion merchandising, Wells found that after college, her internship opportunity was no longer available due to the pandemic. Instead of taking it as a loss, she decided to turn her passions to creating a personal Instagram and mood board, which ultimately turned into designing her own textiles. And so, Swells of Splendor (swellsofsplendor.com) was born—the ultimate destination for printed on-demand products with original artwork full of heart and joy.