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Atlanta’s Martin Tilson Jr. (’88) supports Leadership Birmingham because it inspired him to become an education advocate. 

Tilson’s 1988 study group (left to right): Wayne Gillis, Ordrell Smith, Tilson, Phyllis Weinstein, Mark Myatt, and William O’Malley.

How do you describe your Leadership Birmingham experience?

“I was in an early Leadership Birmingham class when I was in my early 30s. I had just moved back to Alabama from Washington, D.C., in 1986, having worked for Sonat Corporation, and I was starting up the UAB high-tech incubator, the Office for the Advancement of Developing Industries.

“Leadership Birmingham was a stimulating business and personal experience. It provided a keen understanding of the full Birmingham community. For me, one strong outcome was a recognition and commitment to make education available at all levels and continue to adapt as future skills change. Professional educators and schools need advanced technology in order to equip their students.

“Leadership Birmingham was a gift at an important time in my life. I have contributed to the program every year since 1988 because I want it to continue to serve as a powerful activity for future generations.”


How did you build a career upon the discoveries you made that year?

“I was active in the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce at that time, pushing for growth. After my experience in Leadership Birmingham and at UAB, I was recruited to Atlanta in 1991 and was a partner at a top-three law firm managing and growing the technology practice. Drawing from the Birmingham Chamber and my Leadership Birmingham experiences, I eventually became a board member and vice chairman of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce—one of the largest in the country.

“My commitment to education has resulted in my serving on boards for the Emory University Goizueta Business School, the University of the South, the Emory Winship Cancer Institute, the Georgia Tech College of Computing, the Atlanta International School, and the Technology Association of Georgia, among others.”


How does your work impact the Southeast region, including Birmingham, today?

“Currently I am chairman of the Southeast Investor Group  (SEIG), which has 22 venture capital funds, two corporate venture funds, and 20 investors and family officers. We invest in growth-stage technology companies in the $3 million to $15 million raise amount. Education is a big theme of SEIG, which provides six scholarships for a two-year MBA fellowship drawing from the Emory Goizueta Business School and the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business.

“My visits to Birmingham to see family and friends paint a remarkable picture of how Birmingham has continued to make itself an attractive place to live.”