People

Alison P. Ranney

Managing Partner and Partner in Charge, Chicago

Board of Directors, CEO/President/Executive Director/Head of School, Managing Directors, Nonprofit and Social Impact, Practice Leaders

Alison P. Ranney specializes in leading CEO, Board, and C-Suite searches for mission-driven clients in the private and philanthropic sectors across the country and around the world.   

Alison is the Partner in Charge, Chicago; leads the CEO Practice for Diversified Search Group; and has served on the firm-wide Executive Committee.   

She partners with a broad range of mission-driven clients, including public and private companies, cultural institutions, foundations, and a wide variety of other institutions. 

Her Board practice serves both corporate sector and nonprofit clients with a focus on identifying and recruiting women and leaders of color. 

Alison’s work has been featured in numerous publications over the years. In a cover page profile, Crain’s described her efforts to strengthen and diversify senior-most leadership: “Alison Ranney is remaking what leadership looks like across the country.”

With almost two decades in the search industry as well as experience as a corporate attorney, Alison has deep expertise in partnering with boards around issues of leadership, succession planning, corporate governance, and other key topics.  She particularly enjoys advising clients that are at critical inflection points around how to achieve aspirations and have a greater impact with exceptional leadership. 

Koya Partners is considered an industry leader in identifying and recruiting women and leaders of color. In 2022, close to 60% of Koya’s placements were leaders of color; 66% were women.   

Alison and her teams focus on leadership qualities, skills, and characteristics critical for success instead of prioritizing qualifications.  This serves to ‘open the aperture’ with impactful results. She has placed the first women and first leaders of color at many clients, including at the largest nonprofit globally and organizations working at national, regional, and local levels.     

Selected clients in philanthropy include the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Fidelity Foundations, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the San Francisco Foundation, Polk Bros. Foundation, the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, the Hudson Webber Foundation and Builders Initiative in addition to community foundations such as the Chicago Community Trust and others nationwide. She advised the Obama Foundation in its startup phase and recruited members of the Foundation’s senior team. 

In arts and culture, representative clients include the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Science & Industry, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Speed Art Museum, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Seattle Art Museum, Harvard Art Museums, Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University, and the Cantor Center for the Arts at Stanford University, among others.  

In social services and related fields, Alison has partnered with the American Red Cross, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys & Girls Clubs, Catholic Charities, Easterseals, Feeding America, YMCA, and the United Way, among many other clients. 

Alison also has deep expertise in Higher Education, having led searches for the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, Harvard University, Stanford University, Northwestern University, and the University of Pennsylvania, among others. She has also worked with educationally oriented youth programs, college readiness programs, and clients focused on K-12.  

Alison’s clients consistently note three themes about working with her and her teams: 

  • Their proactive recruiting and proven expertise identifying and recruiting exceptional candidates 
  • Their search process that is crafted to each client and results in efficient, successful appointments 
  • Their deep, ongoing partnerships with clients. 

Alison first joined the field of recruiting at Russell Reynolds Associates, the global executive search firm. At Russell Reynolds, she worked with private-sector clients on senior leadership and corporate board searches. She also led the development of the firm’s Nonprofit practice in the Midwest while serving clients nationally and globally. She was honored to receive the firm’s inaugural award for Excellence in Client Service.   

Alison moved her practice to Koya Partners in 2014 to focus exclusively on mission-driven search and build a team of dedicated experts. During her years at Koya, the firm has experienced significant growth and earned a reputation as the leading boutique in the sector. After Koya joined Diversified Search Group, Alison assumed leadership of the CEO Practice across the family of firms. She also leads the Chicago Office, one of the firm’s largest offices.   

She began her career at Skadden, Arps, as a corporate attorney with a focus on mergers & acquisitions. Alison later served as an executive with AT&T Wireless where she specialized in joint ventures and as Vice President at the real estate development firm responsible for Prairie Crossing, the award-winning conservation community. 

Early in her career, Alison lived in Guatemala, where she taught 250 schoolchildren, and Mexico City, where she worked in communications and public relations.  

An experienced corporate director, Alison has served as a Director with Wintrust Financial Corporation for almost two decades. She is currently on the Board of Directors of Wintrust Bank where she is active on the Compensation & Nominating and Audit Committees.  

With a strong commitment to civic involvement, Alison has served on numerous boards nationally and locally. She has been a director of World Business Chicago, the Founding Board of City Year Chicago, Forefront, Ryerson Woods Conservation Area, and the Goodman Theatre.  

A believer in the importance of high-quality journalism, Alison served on the Board of Directors of WBEZ/Chicago Public Media for 12 years and Chaired the CEO Search Committee for a highly successful CEO. She also served on the Executive Committee and Chaired the Nominating & Governance Committee of Public Radio International/PRI which affected a successful merger with PRX, another leader in the public media field.  

For her alma maters, Alison has served on the Visiting Committee of the University of Chicago Law School and the Alumni Council of Phillips Andover Academy.  

She is a member of The Commercial Club, The Economic Club, and The Chicago Network. Earlier in her career, she was selected as an Emerging Leader by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.  

Known for her candid, pragmatic style, Alison is a frequent speaker on leadership and talent. She was profiled as a case study of “real life stories of lawyers who have left the law” in the book Life After Law: Finding Work You Love with the JD You Have.  

Education

JD
University of Chicago Law School

MBA
University of Chicago Booth School of Business

BA, Urban Studies – magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa
Brown University