The former head of the Boatmen's Bancshares capital markets group has gone headhunting.

After a few years searching for the right business to invest in, Cynthia J. Kohlbry decided to buy St. Louis-based executive search firm Grant Cooper & Associates Inc. from Stephen H. Loeb, who will stay on as chairman.

In April, Ms. Kohlbry left NationsBank Corp., which had acquired Boatmen's at the beginning of the year. She now is chief executive officer at Grant Cooper and plans to be an active manager, doing executive searches for leveraged-buyout and venture capital firms.

The career shift made sense to Ms. Kohlbry on a number of levels, she said in an interview. She knew she wanted to return to her hometown of St. Louis, and the highly fragmented executive search industry seemed ripe for growth. Also, Ms. Kohlbry's expertise, which includes corporate finance experience, dovetails with her new career.

"To be good in search is not dissimilar to being good in many corporate finance functions," she said. "You have to understand the business that the company is in. You have to be thoughtful about their strategic direction and make sure that your assessment of candidates will fit with the company's future."

Ms. Kohlbry added that her corporate finance days taught her that finding the right financial structure is important but "at the end of the day, it comes down to human assets."

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