WORDS ANGELA COWAN
PHOTOGRAPHY LIA CROWE
Donna Verlaan has worked in the design industry for more than 20 years both as a designer and in senior management positions, and recently she combined her greatest strengths and her love of people into a private consulting firm that rebuilds and restructures fast-growing businesses.
“I have a reputation for rebuilding when things are in a bit of a negative spiral, and specifically within [the design] industry,” she says. “I tend to get brought into companies when they’re struggling with their next steps.”
Now billed as a transformative change designer, Donna does everything from rebuilding company culture to designing new business strategies to restructuring sales teams and more, all while injecting a strong foundation of positivity and encouragement at every step.
“I’m passionate about marketing and branding,” she enthuses, “and especially the teams of people I’ve worked with. I’m passionate about bringing out the best in people and aligning their strengths with the goals of the company. It’s a win-win.”
Born and raised in the Lower Mainland, Donna grew up watching her father, who was a real estate developer and also founded and grew one of BC’s largest auto insurance agencies.
“I loved spending time in my dad’s office watching him develop his business, and especially watching him with his employees and staff. I always really admired how he treated them with kindness and how they responded to that,” she says. “It made an impact on me from a young age.”
She adds: “My education is in business. But I also had a very strong passion for design. I started working in millwork design, doing custom millwork, and quickly moved into management positions.”
It didn’t take long for her natural people skills to propel Donna into business development, and she “started spreading [her] wings there.”
Helping companies redesign from the ground up has also afforded her the opportunity to further her own commitment to bettering the world through business.
“In 2019, I was introduced to B Corporations and studying the practice of using corporations for good,” she explains. “I really believe in the idea of using business as a force for good. We can still have profitable business while doing good for people and the planet.”
In the design world specifically, she says, “I see a huge shift in renewable materials and local materials. There’s this huge over-consumption of design materials. It’s fast fashion for furniture. It would be great to see a return to reusing or repurposing materials.”
The 7 Sins
Whose shoes would you like to walk in?
Livia Firth, the co-founder and creative director of Eco-Age. I envy and I’m highly impressed with what she has done in the fashion industry, bringing global brands and businesses to a more just and sustainable standard. I would love to see—and be a part of—a similar platform of change and awareness in the interior design and build industry.
What is the food you could eat over and over again?
My pantry is never without organic dark chocolate (90 per cent). Just a little goes a long way.
You’re given $1 million that you have to spend selfishly. What would you spend it on?
Property or real estate that I could completely re-design. To give a property a new life, enhancing its best features and bringing it to its full potential.
Chronic negativity. Constantly complaining about a situation or circumstance doesn’t change anything. I find inspiration in taking a different perspective, helping define what is truly desired to then take the steps to create that new opportunity.
Where would you spend a long time
Definitely on or by the ocean. I always find the water to be completely soothing and relaxing. I like enjoying the sun while getting lots of good negative ion energy.
What is the one thing you’re secretly
I get a strong sense of pride from the positive feedback I receive from the employees I have worked with and the teams that I’ve helped to create. I am extremely proud to repeatedly hear the word “kindness” to describe my leadership style.
What makes your heart beat faster?
Great design, especially Frank Lloyd Wright architecture. I love and feel inspired by its clean design and organic lines, as well as the incorporation of nature and building to enhance the surroundings. That look and feel thrills me and always keeps me motivated and excited.