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Search Case Study: Senior Director, Architecture & Planning for a Health System

Search Case Study: Senior Director, Architecture & Planning for a Health System

While finding candidates who were experts in healthcare design and codes was challenging, a primary dynamic of this search was the fact that the incumbent had been with our client for three decades and had become part of the healthcare system’s fabric. The successful candidate was selected for her strong technical expertise, as well as her similarly engaging and outward personality of the outgoing director.


Our client is consistently ranked as one of the top ten healthcare systems in the U.S. Representing the institution in prior years, the Director, Compliance & Human Resources and the Senior Vice President, Facilities (SVP) contacted us when their Senior Director, Architecture & Planning (Senior Director) of thirty years was planning to retire. Reporting to the SVP, the Senior Director role is significant within the system’s facilities department as it encompasses architectural design management, project planning, developing the capital and operational budget, and managing all operational and strategic issues surrounding JCAHO requirements.

Beyond these responsibilities, the Senior Director is accountable for:

  • leading project Campus Master Planning and project pre-program planning;
  • directing and coordinating the efforts of the Facilities Architecture and Planning Office during the development and execution of a project; and
  • overseeing all phases of design of major projects, working with senior departmental representatives and hospital leadership.

The system sought candidates who were experts in healthcare design and codes; and in program, capital, and master planning. Beyond strong technical skills, the role commanded exemplary leadership abilities and a collaborative and innovative mindset.  

While finding candidates with all of these skills was challenging, another primary dynamic of the search was the fact that the search didn’t just involve replacing a long-time employee. The retiring incumbent had become a part of the fabric of the hospital and health system as a whole over three decades. He had an outward and engaging personality, was an expert in his field, and was viewed by many internal clients as the “go-to” individual who could solve a variety of problems.  Therefore, the search entailed finding and attracting a candidate who could appreciate the incumbent’s legacy, inherit his team, and drive change.


Helbling’s consultants partnered with the system’s long-term SVP and Director, Compliance & Human Resources on the assignment. Due to the role requiring extensive healthcare expertise, we focused on identifying professionals in similar roles with large healthcare systems and academic medical centers across the country. To expand the talent pool, we also targeted healthcare practice leaders in private architectural firms. We also reached out to architects and planners who were in significant leadership positions within those firms.  


The individual who was ultimately selected for the role was a Principal of a healthcare practice for a private architectural firm that ranks in the top five in terms of healthcare design. The professional has more than 25 years of experience in healthcare planning, design, and construction across the East Coast, and had even worked with our client on select projects in the past.  

She was selected for her technical expertise, as well as her cultural fit.  She was considered unique in that she had a similarly engaging and outward personality of the incumbent.  It was evident that her natural leadership abilities would show respect for and pay homage to the outgoing Senior Director, while also setting up the department to evolve and change going forward. Lastly, she formed an immediate connection with the SVP to whom she would be reporting.

At the time of developing this case study, the secured candidate is eighteen months into her role with our client, and she has successfully reevaluated the departmental structure, made changes where necessary, positioned staff to leverage their strengths, and integrated herself into the team and organization.  

Our client has $1B+ in ongoing projects, both large and small, occurring in the coming years. Therefore, the new Senior Director will also spearhead the planning and design effort on several major projects that will continue to shape the face of the campus. Coming from private practice, she has also taken it upon herself to continue to build strong partnerships with the architectural community. She is championing transparency around capital spending, planning, and project implementation, and advocating how large healthcare systems can avoid challenges on projects by establishing more personal, practical, and honest relationships with third-party project architects and contractors. Due to her impressive background and achievements, she was invited to speak on this topic and her transition from private practice to a large health system at a women’s healthcare event in 2017.