Joel McElhannon, center, is broadcast on the JumboTron at Sanford Stadium just before the University of Coastal Carolina game, in recognition of his being chosen as a 40 Under 40 honoree by the University of Georgia Alumni Association.
A scheduling mishap changed the career path of Joel McElhannon.
During his senior year of college at the University of Georgia, McElhannon, a 1991 Heritage High School graduate, was supposed to take a legislative process class with Charles Bullock, a Southern politics professor at the university.
Bullock was unable to teach the class. Instead, McElhannon's class was taught by the man who would become his mentor -- Loch Johnson.
"I found his teaching style, impressive intellect and expansive view of politics to be fascinating and inspiring. In many ways, I felt I had found a mentor," McElhannon said.
"Two years later, as I was wrestling with my first year in graduate school and thinking of a radical change in my career path, I sought out Dr. Johnson."
Johnson suggested McElhannon take an internship at the Georgia State Capitol to see if he enjoyed the political process.
"The political bug bit me, and the rest, as they say, is history," McElhannon said.
From that point on, McElhannon has carved out a career as a general consultant. As a consultant, he is hired to help political candidates with their strategic plan, compiling a campaign team and managing the campaign process.
"Through a lot of hard work and perseverance, and a little luck, I ended up being one of the few campaign operatives in Georgia with a track record that candidates found appealing," he said. "I started up my consulting business and never looked back."
Because of his success, the University of Georgia's Alumni Association named McElhannon one of the 40 Under 40 Alumni. To be chosen as one of the 40 Under 40, an alumnus must have made an influence in business, leadership, community, education or philanthropy, or all of these areas.
Though being a political consultant is not the career path McElhannon envisioned for himself in college, he said he enjoys the fact that his job puts him "in the foxhole."
"Politics is an exceptionally competitive and intense business," McElhannon said. "I really enjoy those moments in a campaign when the whole team comes together, trusts each other, and performs. It's magic."
McElhannon describes himself and his hobbies as "fairly boring." He enjoys reading and watching movies, playing golf with his dad and spending time with his wife and dog.
"I am a huge fan of grand, epic films and old Kung Fu movies," he said of his movie tastes. "I am especially fond of David McCullough's books and just about any kind of well-written biography. I think there's always a little nugget of wisdom or self-improvement that can be picked up from just about any biography."
McElhannon credits his parents with influencing his work ethic and convictions. Though he said he is honored to be chosen as one of UGA's 40 Under 40, he does not define his "success" as necessarily being related to his career.
"In my career, I have experienced great highs and great lows. I have rejoiced in victory and been humbled by defeat," he said. "Because of that, I see success as something more intangible. For me, success is best defined as having the love and respect of those who know me best. I hope to earn it every day."
McElhannon has some advice to share with young people starting out on their careers: be there.
"Be there when it counts. In my view, we all share a common human experience. We will all enjoy life's great victories and suffer bitter losses," he said.
"As I look back on some of those events in my life so far, I find that what gives those moments such meaning, what makes those experiences so profound, and ultimately what makes life worth living, is being there for others when it counts."