Ferry, an executive with the San Antonio Spurs, will replace Rick Sund, Atlanta's GM the past four seasons. Sund, whose contract expires on June 30, could remain with the organization as a consultant.
Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson said Ferry, 45, was the only candidate he interviewed.
"I was not looking to leave San Antonio," Ferry said. "I was very happy there. ... Obviously it's a wonderful place to work. But getting to know Bruce over the past several weeks really made me think and challenge myself. Was this the right time and the right thing for me to do?"
The move toward Ferry is the strongest indication yet that the owners of the Hawks are no longer looking to sell their franchise.
Less than a year ago, the Hawks were nearly sold to Southern California millionaire Alex Meruelo, who would have become the NBA's first Latino owner. But the deal, worth a reported $300 million, fell apart in November during the league's approval process.
Still, many observers believed it would only be a matter of time before the Hawks were sold. But the fact that the team has offered Ferry a six-year deal seems to indicate that the current owners are intent on holding on to the club.
"My discussions have been more about building an organization and how it's going to happen and feeling comfortable with the commitment level that Bruce Levenson has in doing so," Ferry said. "Once I got comfortable with that, I'm ready to go and let's start digging into the roster."
Levenson said he may add an investor but said they're not selling.
"We're very much in control of the team and we'll be in control of the team for a long, long time," he said.
Ferry said he wants the Hawks "to have a value-based identity with good guys who play hard, who play together and share the ball that can be professional on the court."
Just like the Spurs.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Ferry's decision to move to Atlanta should be a positive sign for Hawks fans frustrated by the team's inability to reach the conference finals.
"When they see it's Danny Ferry coming there with his five kids to settle down and make this thing go, he wouldn't be doing that if he didn't feel there was a commitment from ownership to do this the right way," Popovich told The Associated Press.
"You can bet it's a serious move and it does signal a real desire to get this thing done. I think the fans can feel real good about that."
Ferry was the Cleveland Cavaliers' GM from 2005-10.
Meanwhile, after the Philadelphia 76ers broke off their own talks with Ferry, the team decided to put off its search for a replacement for front-office chief Rod Thorn until after the draft. But sources close to the process told ESPN.com's Marc Stein that the Sixers continue to have interest in Sund as Thorn's replacement, which would reunite Sund with Sixers coach Doug Collins after they worked together in Detroit.
"It would have been a great privilege to work with Doug Collins," Ferry said of the 76ers coach. "I think he's really good and smart, a great basketball mind.
"But for me I just got very comfortable with this opportunity as it related to Bruce. I felt a sense of humility but also a sense of intense focus and passion and pride about what can happen here going forward. The resources, the willingness going forward made me very excited about this opportunity and ultimately that's what brought me here today and that's what got me excited about getting to work."
Sund attended Monday's news conference and said, "I didn't want to retire."
"It just came to they've got a guy who makes sense, hopefully for the next 10 years," Sund said, adding Ferry asked if he would remain as a consultant.
"We've got so much going on I just said let's not worry about that until July," Sund said. "I'll be here this month and next month and we'll work together and I'll help you with whatever areas you need as you transition into the job."
Ferry became the Spurs' vice president of basketball operations in 2010. As the Cavs' GM, he led Cleveland through the most successful period in its history.
The Hawks were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Boston this year after advancing to the second round three straight years.
The Hawks have exercised their option on coach Larry Drew's contract for next season but did not offer a new deal. Drew said "it's pretty obvious" the team is looking to capitalize on Ferry's success with the Spurs and Cavaliers.
"We're looking to get over the hump," Drew said. "We've been a team that's knocking on the door and I think we share the common goal. We want to get to the next level and that's going to be our focus."
Atlanta finished 40-26, drawing praise from Sund for an "outstanding job" despite being without All-Star center Al Horford for all but 11 games of the regular season. Horford returned in Game 4 of the Celtics series.
The Hawks will return an experienced nucleus of Horford, six-time All-Star Joe Johnson and Josh Smith, who is entering the final year of his contract. Marvin Williams, point guard Jeff Teague and backup center Zaza Pachulia also are under contract.
The other nine players are free agents, leaving much work to be done by the general manager.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.