Search Case Study: Director of Real Estate Expansion for a Museum

Museum Ceiling

As one of the most recognized museums in the world, our client had many eyes on its $400M+ capital project. It needed a professional who could manage the numerous stakeholders involved in the project from architects and contractors to board members and curators. Due to the museum's tight timeline and the limited talent pool, we assembled a team of three senior search consultants who initiated an aggressive recruitment plan. The result of such plan was securing a professional who had spent more than 15 years with a top-tier commercial real estate services firm and was accustomed to delivering projects on schedule and under budget. She has been commended by our client and its stakeholders for her effectiveness in collaborating with the numerous constituencies as changes were made to the project's design and scope.


Director of Real Estate Expansion

Our client is one the most recognized art museums in the United States and in the world. The museum was embarking upon its first significant capital expansion in more than ten years, which entailed a $400M+ major construction and renovation project. Its plan included expanding and enhancing its galleries and public spaces, creating 50,000SF of new gallery space, and improving and renovating existing space. As construction was being performed, the facility had to remain open, safe, and attractive to the public.

Many eyes were on this project, as well as the museum's entire capital program, including art enthusiasts around the world, and extremely powerful and influential members of the board of trustees. To ensure the program progressed as planned, on schedule, and within budget, Helbling was retained to conduct an executive search to secure a Director of Real Estate Expansion (Director). 

Reporting directly to the Chief Operating Officer, the Director would be responsible for managing all internal and external stakeholders involved in the project (i.e. architects, contractors, developers, agencies, board members, and curators) while ensuring the highest quality delivery and outcome consistent with the museum’s vision and goals. The Director would need to be a talented manager and leader beyond having the necessary technical capabilities. Furthermore, our client sought a professional with high integrity who understood the importance of transparency and proactive management while also supporting its mission to be a preeminent cultural institution.


To address the museum's aggressive seven- to ten-week search timeline, we assembled a team of three senior search consultants who worked collaboratively on the assignment. Together, they structured an outreach that encompassed a variety of talented individuals and influencers within the real estate development, construction management, architectural, and consulting communities, understanding that the pool of appropriate talent who would possess the ability to manage and orchestrate such a highly complex and visible project was limited. They also focused on targeting select corporate, higher education, healthcare, and cultural/museum owners who may have conducted projects of comparable complexity in recent history. 

A direct recruitment campaign was implemented, which entailed reaching out to more than 200 individuals from identified target organizations. To supplement this outreach, they also executed a targeted e-mail campaign that was sent to an additional 200 centers of influence in the engineering, construction, and real estate communities to seek nominations of potential candidates. All of these efforts were done to ensure that we cast the widest net possible.


Working closely with the museum’s Chief Operating Officer and Director of Human Resources, our team was able to attract and secure a professional who had spent more than 15 years with a top-tier commercial real estate services firm. She had advanced to the role of Chief Operating Officer, Energy and Sustainability Services. In this role, she delivered a portfolio that spanned energy management, alternative energy strategies, full building retrofit projects, LEED and Energy Star certification, and sustainability consulting.  

Also noteworthy is the fact that she had earlier served as Project Director with the same organization on a major project for a financial services corporation, building a commercial high-rise LEED Platinum flagship commercial office tower that was delivered on schedule and 12% under budget.

At the time of writing this case study, the first phase of the museum's project has been completed, and the Director has kept the capital program on schedule and within budget. She has been commended by our client and its stakeholders for her ability and effectiveness to collaborate with the numerous constituencies involved in this high-pressure environment as changes are made to the project's design and scope. She is well respected for her ability to manage different personalities, provide her input, and successfully execute the agreed upon plan.

The museum is expected to complete its entire capital plan in 2019, at which time it will make news around the world and people from near and far will flock to see its new look and enjoy its collection.

Contact Marc Datz to learn more about this executive search and our experience in the institutional facilities and construction sector.