John lives just southwest of Atlanta, Georgia in the town of Chattahoochee Hills. He was born in Winthrop, Massachusetts, a coastal town on the north shore of Boston.

He is married to Karen Flanders-Reid. They have five children, and four grandchildren.

Their children are John, Jen, Max, Olivia, and Sophia. Their grandchildren are James, Violet, Sage and John Scott. Daughter Jen lives in the Atlanta area with her husband Bryan. Son John lives in Houston.

From left to right (back): Max, Jen, John, Karen, John Harding From left to right (front): Sophia and Olivia​

Flanders-Reid Family at JCR Retirement_20140326

With grandchildren Violet Anne Whitfield and James Patton Whitfield.


Karen and John


John, Karen and their kids divide their time between Atlanta and Chattahoochee Hills, where a hamlet called Serenbe is located. Serenbe is an exciting example of new designs for sustainable living. Find out more about Serenbe at

They support a number of initiatives related to sustainable place-making, including the Serenbe Playhouse. Karen is a Board Member of the Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future. John is past-chair of The Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta. He has served on many Boards in the past, including Duke University’s School of the Environment, Emory University’s Center for Ethics,, The Princeton Review, The Georgia Conservancy, Cross-Cultural Solutions, and the Georgia Partnership for Educational Excellence.

“My grandmother, the first woman to graduate from Tufts Medical School; My grandfather, who taught Mathematics, and – upon going blind – passed the bar after studying the law in Braille; My mother, whose study at Wellesley and her tenacity in graduating from Harvard, made me realize that absolutely anything can be accomplished with navigational skills; my father and his father (my grandfather), whose passion for boats and boatbuilding and all things of the sea, gave me the navigator gene that I still employ today; Christopher Alexander, the great architect and author of “A Pattern Language”, who made me realize that leverage and pattern recognition are pretty much the same thing; MIT’s Professor Jay Forrester, who I interned for at MIT, and whose stunning work in systems dynamics led me to realize that system interconnections have a vocabulary of their own – and leverage goes to those who build languages based on this vocabulary.”

Turning points:
“I was blessed with a full-ride through Brandeis and huge support from my Professors there (I won the Senior Award for best student in Economics) to take my interest in systems design to MIT. The Department Chair actually asked me to intern for the summer after graduation – at Wassily Leontief’s Harvard Economic Research Project, where she was Research Director.”

John grew up outside Boston – in a little town on the North Shore called Winthrop. His brother, father, and grandfather were boatbuilders, so he remarks that it is more than unusual for him to be working on systems issues in huge institutions.

John says, “I was always pulled toward systems, especially information systems. As an intern at Coke, I designed over a summer a prototype decision support system – that was the first of many that followed. Because I was running sales for Coke out of LA, I got wind of Apple, and bought the first Apple !! at Coke! I then learned Basic and designed a promotional tracking system for weekly price-off ads that is now a global standard.”

So why Coke? John didn’t know it then, but his arrival in Atlanta was more than a summer fling. He quickly saw that the consumer dimension, with all of its human and psychological dimensions, was by far more interesting than just data analysis and programming. So all of that curiosity and energy was directed toward the world of the consumer and customer of a massive, complex institution. He found himself always asking – how can we make this experience better?

Public Service:
So why all the public service? He says “I would like to attribute all this to angelic qualities, but I am afraid that is not the case. It really is simpler than that: how do you turn down a Mayor when he calls? A Governor? The answer is – you don’t. It was only when I got there, and starting managing in these exciting, crisis-filled environments, that I realized that these massive institutions had the very same system design challenges – with human interface issues always the #1 concern – that I saw at Coke. I loved the public sector challenges – I just hated the dysfunction.”

And why start-ups? He goes on: “Same story! I began in the world of start-ups when I received a call from Benno Schmidt – who had stepped down as the President of Yale to commit himself to transformational change in K-12 education. He asked me to lead the team at the Edison Project, as COO, reporting to him as Chairman – how does a person turn down an opportunity like that? I don’t know, so I gave it my best shot. Three years later, we had built 30 schools and had 21 new ones in the pipeline – 51 schools in total and the first ever truly national K-12 system of schools in the Country. A fabulous experience with a great team.”

Most memorable non-profit experience? “There have been so many. I guess my most exciting challenge was Cross-Cultural Solutions. The Executive Director sought me out when this non-profit was supporting volunteers in Delhi. His big question was: can we do more? For more people, in more places? This led to my becoming Chairman, during the eight years when CCS skyrocketed successfully into China, Russia, Peru, Guatemala, Brazil, and Tanzania – laying a system’s design foundation that continues to provide service to this day.”

What about leadership? He says “I have spent my life working with teams of leaders seeking to tackle really big issues – both problems and opportunities. The best teams fight the tendency to declare victory. They are all about the journey, not the destination. That tug of constructive discontent motivates me, and I have also enjoyed teams that see this at the heart of what they do.”

I have flown nearly three million miles on Delta. I have worked with colleagues throughout the world- in over 55 cities, and dozens of towns and hamlets.

Many people today think we have a leadership crisis, but I am hopeful. I’m inclined to view issues through a system design lens. My passion has always been to design adaptation and learning into any system from the beginning. Easy to say and very tough to do!”

 I’m convinced that the 22nd century will be the century of well-being. I have advanced a variety of global initiatives in the well-being space.