DDA picks executive search company

January 9, 2012
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Members of the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority have chosen an executive search firm to find a replacement for its outgoing executive director. They’ve also selected a familiar national consultant to help direct the creation of a new umbrella organization instead of hiring a local firm.

Mayor George Heartwell said he thought there were a number of local firms the DDA could hire that were capable of putting together what the board referred to as a “downtown partnership” that would bring the DDA, the Downtown Alliance, the Downtown Improvement District and city administration under a new umbrella-type of organization, similar to the one Kalamazoo has established.

But other board members wanted to stick with Progressive Urban Management Associates of Denver, the consultant firm that helped the DDA finalize its Framework Plan adopted in January. Part of that plan suggested the DDA create the organization because it would be able to leverage resources, eliminate redundancies, improve productivity, create cohesive marketing messages, and strengthen the influence of downtown stakeholders.

“I think there is a benefit to having continuity,” said DDA Vice Chairman Brian Harris.

“If we weren’t losing our executive director, I would go that way,” said DDA member Jane Gietzen of hiring a local firm.

“We think we’ve found (the qualities we need) in Brad Segal,” said DDA Chairwoman Kayem Dunn of the PUMA principal.

The contract with PUMA will cost $30,000 and the DDA agreed to pick up half of that cost.

The DDA also chose DHR International to find a replacement for longtime Executive Director Jay Fowler, who announced in November that he wanted to retire from the post he has held for the past nine years. DHR has 27 offices in the U.S., including in Lansing and Chicago, and 23 additional offices located across much of the globe. The firm says it’s the fifth-largest executive-search company in the country and has been in business since 1989.

According to the company’s website, DHR has filled a diverse variety of executive positions ranging from top executives for national firms like Family Dollar Stores and Gap Inc. to head football coaches at the University of Maryland, San Jose State, Stanford University and Eastern Michigan University. The firm has found directors for downtown organizations, like the DDA, in Louisville and Fort Wayne. DHR recruited Steward Sandstrom for the top post at the Kalamazoo Regional Chamber of Commerce in 2006.

“They have an incredible network of people,” said Dunn. The board agreed to spend up to $50,000 for the search, with $40,000 going to DHR for its services. The remaining $10,000 has been set aside to bring candidates here for interviews and for their accommodations.

The DDA has created a nine-member committee that will work with DHR on the search. The new executive director will be an employee of the DDA. Fowler and his predecessor, Jim Knack, were city employees who served in that role. Fowler initially said he planned to leave the board in mid-February, but he indicated he might be willing to stay on longer on an interim basis.

“We feel they’re familiar with Grand Rapids,” said Dunn of DHR. “I’m committed to moving this forward at a quick pace. We’re hoping by June we’ll have a new director.”

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