March 1 1992 by Peter Lacey
A sizable chunk of skyline in Atlanta-the bustling business capitol of the South-bears the imprint of construction giant Herman Russell.
The chairman and chief executive officer of H.J. Russell & Co., Russell has left his mark on city sites including the headquarters of Coca-Cola and Georgia-Pacific. When the Super Bowl comes to Atlanta in 1994, it will be played in a stadium built partly by H.J. Russell. But the 60-year-old chief executive pays particular mind to projects in downtown Atlanta. He is a contractor for architect-developer John Portman’s ambitious One Peachtree Center complex. And looking ahead in the Summerhill neighborhood, H.J. Russell also figures to grab a share of projects awarded by Atlanta‘s Olympic Committee in preparation for the 1996 summer games.
“I’ve been working for years to rebuild Summerhill,” says Russell, one of the top five black business owners in the U.S., whose company posted combined 1990 revenues of $145 million. “The Olympics just came at an ideal time.”
In more ways than one: “The construction business is in a deep recession,” Russell adds. “Atlanta is better than elsewhere, but the city is still feeling it. There won’t be a fast recovery.”
Russell dotes on downtown partly because he grew up in Summerhill and started his first business there in 1953, after studying building construction at Tuskegee University. He had been schooled in the business from childhood by his father, an independent plaster and cement contractor.
Russell’s company did well within the framework of Atlanta‘s de facto segregated business community, but real prosperity came with work on public projects in the 1970s. A requirement that minority contractors be joint-venture participants in publicly funded projects, instituted by Mayor Maynard Jackson, gave Russell his first big job: construction of the “people mover” rail system at Atlanta‘s Hartsfield Airport. Big public and private commissions soon followed for Russell.
Like many successful construction entrepreneurs, Russell, former president of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, maintains close contacts with local government officials. Among them: Mayor Jackson, Jimmy Carter and former Atlanta mayor and United Nations ambassador Andrew Young. “If there is a king maker in Atlanta politics, it is Russell,” noted Georgia Trend magazine in a recent article, entitled, “The Hundred Most Powerful People in Georgia.”