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Men of the Year 2017

From an auto titan to a real estate maverick, the men who have shaped Atlanta’s past—and its future—couldn’t be more different in their professions and approaches, but they all share one common trait: a no-holds-barred approach to what they do. Along with actor Ed Helms, we celebrate 11 other gents we deemed Men of the Year.

Jimmy Ellis

Jimmy Ellis

In 1971, Jimmy Ellis’ mother and father leveraged all their assets and opened a Volkswagen dealership in Chamblee. After working there through high school, the young Jimmy took a job in the shop and worked as a technician. Eventually, he went into sales; worked his way up through the family business, proving himself as a top sales associate and sales manager; and eventually took over the Northlake dealership as general manager in 1983. He was 28 years old. “I didn’t really know what I was doing then, but I learned the business,” says Jimmy. “I learned through the school of hard knocks.” Mr. Ellis, as he still calls his dad, is who he credits for giving him the ability to learn and grow. By 1995, Jimmy was named COO of the dozen dealerships the family had opened. Today, he is the CEO and president of over 15 dealerships, with many third-generation family employed and two of his own children who are vice presidents. “We have a real estate company and insurance company I manage as well,” he adds. “I’m doing what I really love doing, which is business development and leading our companies. I can do this for as long as I’m able. I’m not going to find a rocking chair and a fishing pole and there I go.” So could he still fix a car today in the shop? “No,” he says deadpan. “Today, the cars are so sophisticated, and the technicians are savvy. ... It’s not just Goober in the shop changing oil anymore.”

Jimmy Ellis

John Collins

The Atlanta Hawks’ management has implemented an “invest in the future” strategy to acquire younger players and luxuriously remodel the Philips Arena to become the greatest fan experience in the NBA. The centerpiece of the team’s brand marketing plan is versatile 6-foot-10 rookie power forward/center John Collins. Before being a self-proclaimed “sleeper pick” at No. 19 in the 2017 NBA draft by the Hawks back in June, Collins was Wake Forest’s gravity-defying highlight reel. He received All-ACC First Team honors and the conference’s Most Improved Player Award. Collins speaks with poise about the adjustment of his natural pivot position in relation to the “small ball” standard of play in this NBA era. “My ability and athleticism to switch off and guard smaller guys is going to help me going forward,” Collins says. The pressure may seem daunting for the 20-year-old to inherently become the new face of the Hawks franchise, but Collins’ military family background exudes his discipline and determination to responsibly lead by example on and off the court. 

Jimmy Ellis

Matt Clouser

Be it virtual reality, 3-D mapping, laser projection or the next tech innovation right around the corner, Active Production and Design is taking the events industry in Atlanta to the next level. The man behind the magic? Matt Clouser, who has steadily grown his business since 1993—back when it was just him in his Jeep, setting up lighting for small events around town. Now, Clouser sits at the helm of a multimillion-dollar company, producing events both large and small for notable business and charitable functions, employing hundreds of people each year, and serving as the go-to AV resource for numerous Fortune 100 corporate event planners. “The whole thing was an accident,” Clouser says. “I fell into it. But my passion for what I was doing became contagious.” On the side, the self-professed “homegrown Atlantan” is an avid practitioner of various martial arts. He regularly wakeboards and snowboards with his son. And, oh, yes, he’s adding software developer to his résumé. “I’m developing a top-secret program that will help service-based industries distribute information to their employees,” he reveals. There never seems to be a dull moment with Clouser. His company is called Active, after all.

Jimmy Ellis

Johntá Austin

Johntá Austin is an Atlanta-born R&B singer-songwriter with more than 20 years working in the music industry. His extensive résumé includes penning hits for R&B stars including, but not limited to, Tyrese, Chris Brown, Tamia, LeToya Luckett, Trey Songz and the late Aaliyah. Additionally, he has two Grammys from co-writing credits for the Mariah Carey 2005 single “We Belong Together” and the Mary J. Blige staple “Be Without You.” Austin’s latest career high point is his day job as the supervising music producer for FOX television series Star featuring Queen Latifah and Benjamin Bratt. The show’s critical acclaim and ratings for its season two premiere episode were recently greenlit for a five-episode extension by the network. The 37-year-old Austin offers pertinent advice to aspiring artists or songwriters looking to sustain a career in the new streaming world. “You have five or six great artists who still use songwriters,” he says, implying the field has narrowed since the 1990s. “Television has been great to provide new opportunities, but at the same time, music has been consumed the most it’s ever been. You just have to approach it from a different mindset.” 

Jimmy Ellis

Dr. Greg Mackay

On personality alone, Dr. Greg Mackay of Atlanta Plastic & Reconstructive Specialists should be Man of the Year. Engaging and sincere, Mackay brings together the personality of an on-the-pulse industry leader, the heart of a doctor who’s as enthusiastic about pediatric and adult reconstructive surgery as he is about breast augmentation and face-lifts, and a truly world-class bedside manner. Mackay came to his field following five years performing trauma surgery at Grady Memorial Hospital. Along the way, he has made surgical mission trips to the Philippines and Nicaragua, and served as a visiting professor in Brazil and India. It’s expertise over flash at his five-surgeon practice. “Be it your face, abdomen, liver or lung, you want somebody you’re going to be very comfortable with,” says Mackay. “You don’t really want a ‘plastic surgeon,’ but a good doctor first who will be there for you.” Hats off to the good doctor.

Photo by Leah Overstreet 

Jimmy Ellis

John Wieland
Real Estate

His eponymous company, John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods, has been a leader in the Atlanta real estate industry for almost 50 years. Wieland, 80, started his career selling homebuilding materials in Carrollton with the support of his wife, Sue. “Back then, you could go to a hardware store, get a hammer and be a builder,” recalls Wieland. “There was no licensing, no Home Depot; it was a cottage industry.” Now closing in on 30,000 homes sold, Wieland’s award-winning innovative urban boutique homes and neighborhoods are a testament to his philosophy of service first. “Atlanta’s one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country,” he says. “Now most of the big national real estate companies are here. So, you have to be better, pick and develop your niche.”

Photo by Sarah Dorio

Jimmy Ellis

Martin Dawe

“I did a drawing in kindergarten that looked like Abraham Lincoln. ... I’ve been told I was very good at art ever since,” says Atlanta artist Martin Dawe. Such was the spark that propelled the South African native to receive a fine arts degree in sculpture at Georgia State University and go on to study for eight years under noted sculptor Julian Harris. Today, Dawe operates the custom figurative sculpture studio Cherrylion, where he and his apprentices have earned a reputation for creating numerous large-scale public art installations and life-size portraits. His defining moment of 2017? Seeing his bronze statue of Martin Luther King Jr. come to life at the Georgia State Capitol. “The timing ended up being very interesting and impactful because of the national conversation around public portrait sculpture,” he says. Coming up, look for Cherrylion to complete yet more projects, including the potential for another important civil rights sculpture.  

Jimmy Ellis

Tim Hobby

Atlantans who find themselves brushing their hands over the elegant European-styled couches or gazing up at Italian-imported lighting inside Minotti by HA Modern’s ADAC showroom can tip their hat to interior designer Tim Hobby for his professional—and posh—sense of style. Pushing aside his finance degree to pursue his passion in modern furniture and design, Hobby’s handshake with a hiring manager at Atlanta Innovations in the early ’90s ultimately launched his 22-plus-year career in the industry. National acclaim from lauded publications like Elle Decor and House Beautiful, which named him one of the 15 top rising interior designers in 2003, proved Hobby’s credibility, landing him major projects across the country, from New York City to Aspen, Colo., to San Francisco and more. Now, the city’s design-savvy set can spot Hobby roaming ADAC with business partner Jennifer Astrop sourcing accessories, textiles and patterns for their latest projects.

Jimmy Ellis

Pano Karatassos Sr.

Few individuals have helped Atlanta become a world-class food destination the way Pano Karatassos Sr. has. The beloved figurehead of the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group (Bistro Niko, Chops Lobster Bar, Buckhead Diner, Kyma, Pricci, 103 West, Atlanta Fish Market and Corner Cafe locally; with outposts of Lobster Bar Sea Grille in Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Chops Lobster Bar and City Fish Market in Boca Raton) has enjoyed thriving restaurant success for more than three decades and built a network of engaged, enthusiastic employees—some of whom boast more than 25 years in his service. He has passed down his need to feed the well-heeled masses to his family; one of his sons, Pano Jr., is the company’s culinary director and a renowned chef in his own right, while his other son, Niko, is the president of the company, and daughter Anne Symbas is the company’s executive payroll manager. “I couldn’t be prouder as a father,” says the elder Karatassos. Yet his pride extends beyond his biological children. For Karatassos Sr., the secret to his success has been in establishing and maintaining relationships that stand the test of time. “The people who work with us maintain a great sense of pride in everything they do,” he says, “and we ensure they, as well as their families, feel cared for. They are the backbone of our success.”

Jimmy Ellis

Randall M. Kessler

A few years ago, during a break in a child-support trial in front of a jury, boxer Evander Holyfield started shooting the breeze with family-law attorney Randall M. Kessler and his partner, Marvin Solomiany. Soon enough, Holyfield was demonstrating a boxing technique, playfully throwing shadow punches that came within a hair of Solomiany’s face. “You’re not going to hit my partner, are you?” Kessler jokingly asked the pugilist, to which Holyfield responded, “I don’t hit anybody for free.” Here’s the thing: They were opposing him in court. “It’s been my experience that these celebrities have thick skin,” Kessler says. The lawyer’s personal practice involves about 25 percent high-profile athletes, rappers and other celebs. He’s represented more than a 100 NBA and NFL players, and gone up against Michael Jordan, Usher, Jerry Stackhouse, Josh Smith, T-Pain and many others he can’t reveal. He maintains collegial relationships with many of these men—sometimes even goes to games with them. Kessler fights against the stereotype that divorce cases have to be bloodsport, and that he’s out to eviscerate the opponent. “My job is to motivate the other side, as well as my client, to get matters resolved out of court in a fair way,” says Kessler.

Photo by Zach Porter

Jimmy Ellis

Timothy Sheehan

“I like to say, ‘Give first to get more,’” says Timothy Sheehan, referring to discussions with his clients about philanthropy. “I love helping people.” In his role as the senior director business development for BNY Mellon Wealth Management’s Atlanta office, Sheehan’s job is to protect and grow wealth. He also happens to lead the country in bringing in new business to his firm, which is one of the leading wealth-management outfits in the world. We’re talking clients whose net worth is generally in the tens and hundreds of millions. Billionaires too. Depending on the client’s needs, Sheehan’s office can have as many as 11 people—from portfolio managers to tax lawyers—working on an account. But his sweet spot is philanthropy. “My clients aren’t really about what we call check-writing philanthropy,” he says. “And long gone are the days when the primary motivation for the really rich was to get their name on a building. They want to roll up their sleeves and get involved, evaluate whether they want to be on the board. They also want accountability.” 

Photo by Jennifer Stalcup