A visit to Lucy’s Psychiatric Help booth cost a Peanuts comic strip character five cents.
While growing up with three sisters in Kildeer, Alyssa Quinlan—a budding entrepreneur since Minute 1, “because I was born wearing business attire,” she claims—charged only one cent to help a sibling solve a problem.
Such a bargain-basement fee, collected occasionally from a … basement.
Her mother and father, Kathi and Dean Frelk, provided the overhead—the roof, actually—for their youngster’s venture.
“I’d give advice or help one of my sisters find her socks at home,” recalls Quinlan, the Frelk couple’s second-oldest child.
“On my best day, I think I earned a dime.”
Chicago-based Hindman Auctions generated more than $100 million (too many piggy banks of dimes to count) in total sales in 2022, marking a record revenue for the second year in a row. The 40-year firm also grew significantly across the company to a total of 16 offices and presented major collections for sale.
A certain former highly affordable, in-house advice disseminator served as a gale-force leader behind that resounding success. Quinlan, 47, was Hindman’s chief business development officer at the time.
Today she is Hindman’s CEO.
“My father was a huge influence on who I am today,” Quinlan says of the late Dean Frelk, an industrial engineer before becoming a real estate developer. “It’s difficult for me to imagine taking my children (Caroline, 13, and Patrick, 11) to meetings with me, but I recall dressing up and joining Dad at meetings or appointments and just observing him or listening to conversations.
“I noticed his strong work ethic when I was young, and I’d like to think I adopted that work ethic.”
In her new capacity since early January, Quinlan, a Lincoln Park resident, oversees strategy and day-to-day operations for Hindman, which specializes in providing full-spectrum appraisal and auction services to private collectors, estates, and cultural institutions. Client-centric Hindman, featuring a talented team of 175 professionals, conducts more than 140 live and online auctions annually in all major fine art and luxury collecting categories, connecting buyers in more than 70 countries with unique collecting opportunities.
Quinlan’s enduring professional mentor, Leslie Hindman, launched Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in 1982; it became Hindman Auctions after merging with Cowan’s Auctions in 2019.
Quinlan first worked for Leslie as an account executive.
“Leslie taught me everything I know about auctions,” says Quinlan, who, before returning to the auction industry four years ago, had spent years in the private banking and wealth management fields. “I’d studied English Literature and Economics (at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana), as opposed to Art History like many others had. After sitting through my first auction and seeing Leslie at the auctioneer podium, I was hooked, intrigued, and grateful for the opportunity to learn a new industry that I’m still passionate about today.
“There is nothing like the adrenaline rush that you get from taking an auction,” adds the finisher of 10 marathons, including Boston, and former Lake Zurich High School tennis player/track athlete. “I love the excitement of being on stage, and while I still get nervous about the outcome of various events, as soon as the microphone is in my hand and the light shines down, the nerves dissipate quickly and I channel that energy into trying to raise as much money as I can for the organizations I’m representing.”
Charities hosting auctions—The Salvation Army and The Woman’s Board of Rush University Medical Center, to name a couple—have sought the must-have services of Quinlan, the passionate and professional and positive-to-the-bone auctioneer. An item up for auction that doesn’t have a compelling story attached to it is, well, just a run-of-the-mill item to Quinlan.
And tell, tell, tell.
Hindman’s mission, more or less.
“Our buyers love hearing stories of collections, and we’re always excited to tell them,” Quinlan says. “A World War II pilot came to us with silverware and ceramics and books not too long ago. How could you not get excited about discovering the stories behind those items and then telling them to others? When I tell people that it feels like I’ve never worked a day in my life at Hindman Auctions, it’s because I love everything about it, especially the storytelling aspect.”
Quinlan has guided auction fans on behind-the-scenes tours and delivered talks, including “Demystifying the Auction Process.”
“I am constantly asked by friends and advisers if they can buy at auction, and I always tell them that everyone is welcome to bid,” she says. “It’s a fabulous way to purchase unique items for your home, stunning jewelry, couture, or any other category we offer.”
Her leadership style starts and ends with empathy. In between?
“Although I never envisioned myself working in sales, many of my positions were in business development or relationship management, and whether I’m working with external clients or I’m engaged with our internal team, I try to put myself in others’ shoes so I can best address whatever opportunity or challenge is presented,” Quinlan says.
Alyssa first met her future husband, Hoffman Estates native and Fremd High School graduate Brian Quinlan, at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Barrington. Both were young’uns during the encounter, probably either running around the undercroft or raising their hands simultaneously to answer a question in Sunday School.
The courtship began years later, post-college, when both were working in New York.
They got married in 2004.
Alyssa Quinlan’s favorite pastime is spending time with Brian and their two children. No. 2 on the list might be spending time with family and friends under the stars and atop a blanket at Ravinia Festival in Highland Park. She’s on Ravinia’s Women’s Board.
Concerts had drawn a young Alyssa—a pianist/violinist—to the iconic North Shore venue back in her Kildeer days. Back in her “Penny for Your Thoughts” days.
Hindman Auctions, 312-280-1212, is headquartered at 1550 West Carroll Avenue, Suite, 106, in Chicago. Visit hindmanauctions.com for more information.