Atlanta's Most Ambitious

I recently listened to a great podcast with Matt Clifford, Co-founder of Entrepreneur’s First, describing the flow of ambitious people in particular cities. The home page of EF’s website declares an appealing statement: “it matters what the most ambitious people do with their lives.”

In the podcast he opines how ambitious people spend their life depending on geography and culture. For example, in the U.K., many of Oxford and Cambridge’s finest go into finance. Or in Singapore, several of the most ambition people go and work within the Prime Minister’s administration. After a decade or two of the most ambitious talent making their way into a specific industry, the exponential results leads to substantive advancements.

The next question: where do the most ambitious people go and what do they do in Atlanta? I believe we find Atlanta’s most ambitious folks in a melting pot of industries. The four that immediately come to mind include: healthcare, real-estate, technology, and Fortune 500 / Consulting (big business).

Healthcare: between Morehouse’s School of Medicine and Emory’s Medical School, there are several thousand students and doctors in the local metro area.

Real Estate: best personified in Tom Wolfe’s A Man About Full, there’s no question why he decided to highlight a modern day cowboy who’s mission was to transform Atlanta’s skyline. There are several people Wolfe brought into Captain Charlie Croker’s character and over the years, folks who’ve worked at Cousins, Dewberry Capital, Portman, and several other firms have great ambitions of leaving their mark through steel and concrete.

Technology and Entrepreneurship: it’s not easy to get into Georgia Tech and thousands of sharp minds find themselves roaming the campus freshmen year wondering what they’re going to build next. Over the past decade, we’ve seen several hundred million and billion dollar businesses get started in Atlanta. The early stage technology industry is starting to blossom. Examples of success stories range from Greensky, SalesLoft, Calendly, IO Education, QGenda, Airwatch, Pindrop, Mailchimp, Terminus and many others have spawned from serious dedication and ambition.

Fortune 500 and Consulting (Big Business): Coca-Cola, Georgia Pacific, Southern Company, Home Depot, UPS, and eleven more Fortune 500 Companies in metro Atlanta hire hundreds of ambitious leaders ready to climb the corporate ladder. Several are eager to make the case for their next promotion. Similar in vein to working in house are the consultants who’s customers are these Fortune 500’s. Bain and McKinsey create efficiency machines ready to solve the most acute problems. Talented and ambitious students across all the universities fight for a coveted spot in their intro program.

This isn’t to say those going into other fields like law, non-profits, politics, or finance are not ambitious, it just feels like the options for several of Atlanta’s most ambitious people take these more popular paths in our city.

One other asset several ambitious Atlantans have access to: hourly flights to New York and other Tier 1 cities. Pre-Covid, thousands of people left first thing Monday morning and came back Thursday night – working in Finance, consulting, or where ever their ambition takes them.

Why does all of this matter?

From Matt’s perspective, they look to partner with entrepreneurs “pre-company.” What he and his team look for are the most ambitious people they can find. I find it fascinating to frame the pool of talented people by one characteristic — and then trace where they flow by geography.

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