Founder Returns to Lead Gaines International

May 1, 2018 – Founder Donna Gaines has returned to Gaines International as managing partner to lead the Chicago-based executive recruitment firm. Gaines International, which serves the architecture, interior design, engineering, construction and real estate development industries, was acquired by top 40 management consulting firm Allen Austin four years ago.

“The growth in the AEC sector in the last several years has opened the door for new and exciting possibilities,” said Ms. Gaines, who left the firm two years ago. “I am thrilled to return home to Gaines International and Allen Austin, and to begin focusing on new initiatives and strategic growth for the company. The opportunities available today for both organizations and individuals are unique and dynamic, and I look forward to furthering the success of the talented people in this creative sphere who ultimately shape culture and society.”

Since her departure, Ms. Gaines has been providing transition coaching services to design firms, assisting in setting up ESOPs, advisory boards, value acceleration programs, valuations and more.

‘The Godmother’

“Donna is affectionately known as ‘the godmother’ in the AEC industry for her ability to acquire the highest-caliber talent, as well as strategically place individuals in positions best suiting their goals and expertise,” said Rob Andrews, chairman and CEO of Houston-based Allen Austin. “Her success is truly unparalleled. We are excited to welcome her back to a leadership role, and know that as the AEC market is booming, she will once again play a significant role in talent acquisition, career advancement and bottom line success.”


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Ms. Gaines started the firm in Atlanta in 1981. With a passion for creative arts and design, she found a niche in the architecture, design, engineering and construction industries and subsequently relocated the firm to Chicago. Gaines International soon became a leading firm, executing more than 3,000 search engagements from project managers to C-suite executives. After three decades at the helm, Ms. Gaines sold the organization to Allen Austin, then stayed on to provide her experience in accounting, research, organizational structure and database management to help expand the firm prior to her transition.

Ms. Gaines is charged with leading the firm as it begins a new phase of strategic growth in the AEC and related industries. She will split her time between the Chicago, Houston and the East and West Coast offices while serving clients domestically and internationally.

Active in the Field

Ms. Gaines is active in a number of industry organizations including AIA, IIDA and Women in Planning and Development. She also completed an intensive entrepreneur program at the University of Illinois-Chicago School of Business and is a certified professional coactive coach. Ms. Gaines frequently writes and gives presentations focused on strategic hiring and management practices within the fields of executive search and design.


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“We are thrilled to have Donna back,” said Mr. Andrews. “In addition to being one of the sector’s favorite consultants, she has more passion for the creative arts, design, engineering and construction than anyone else we know.”

Ms. Gaines is not the first founder and leader of an executive search firm to have dived into coaching. Earlier this year, Rob Tillman stepped down from his role as president and CEO of TillmanCarlson, ceding the top job to business partner Kelly Carlson and directing much of his attention to launching the firm’s executive coaching services. Mr. Tillman, too, trained as an executive coach.

Also this year, Mike Marino stepped away from his job as president and CEO of culture-shaping firm Senn Delaney to focus on executive coaching and business strategy implementation. Mr. Marino had been with Senn Delaney for 25 years, including five years after the business was acquired by Heidrick & Struggles. His New York-based firm is M. Marino & Associates.

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Will Schatz, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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