Deborah Knupp, Managing Director

Deborah Knupp has worked globally with CEOs, Managing Partners and Professionals (lawyers, accountants, wealth advisors, etc.) as a coach and business executive for 25 years. She has helped these leaders align their people and business objectives to create cultures based on the principles of accountability, integrity and authentic relationships. Her work focuses on making the work environment a place where the best employees want to work, where profitable clients want to buy, and where inspired leaders want to serve a bigger purpose in their communities.

In 2001, Deborah founded Akina, a national consulting, training and coaching firm that helps professionals rethink relationship building to increase sales and organizational effectiveness. Akina has spent the last decade as an industry leader in business development training and coaching for lawyers with over 150 law firm clients world-wide and having successfully trained and coached thousands of attorneys. Akina also serves insurance advisors, financial advisors, accountants and management consultants.

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Prior to founding Akina, Deborah was a front-line sales and human resources executive with Alcan Packaging, Frito-Lay and Pearle Vision. Her diverse background ranges from general management of a $75MM business unit to facilitating strategic global leadership and culture change management initiatives.

Deborah is highly sought after international speaker in business development, relationship building, culture, and leadership having been a superior rated speaker for organizations that includes the Legal Marketing Association, Association of Accounting Marketers, National Conference of Bar Foundations, National Conference of Bar Presidents, American Bar Association, Chicago Bar Association, Association of Legal Administrators, The Coalitions for Women’s Initiatives in Law Firms, Empowering Women Network, Loyola University, IIT – Chicago Kent School of Law, Lex Mundi, Meritas, and USLaw.

Deborah graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with Senior Fellows Honors and a Bachelor of Science in Speech/Organizational Communication.  She regularly provides leadership and staff development on a pro bono basis for numerous non-profit organizations and is a committed thinker and partner to The Insight Labs ( in Chicago.


“I can do all things through Him that strengthens me.”

“Create and play the game that you can win.”

“Performance buys latitude.”

“Competitive advantage is about out-behaving the competition and loving on your clients more than another would.”

“Platinum Rule: Do unto others as they would be done unto (meet people where they are).”

“I describe the world in varying levels of awesome to not awesome.”


For me, starting Akina was a manifestation of two of my core passions – helping people find the best versions of themselves and helping people realize the joy and power in authentic relationship building. It is an absolute privilege to do Akina’s work. I love to teach lawyers and professionals about the fundamentals of business development and leadership development based upon concrete, proven tactics – not cheesy, self-interested manipulation – for success that leaves them feeling infinitely more confident and capable of being effective and growing their practices and teams.


My clients inspire and honor me with their trust every day. They say that I have a way of communicating things that can be easily understood, adapted and implemented. I have been told that through my abundant energy, optimism and positivity, I can tell the truth (in love) to help them wake-up, get out of their own way, and see new potential and possibility where it hadn’t existed in their purviews before. I have enough love and belief to see clients through their journey to success.


In 2003, when I first started coaching lawyers in business development, I was assigned a participant that had applied for the program to, “prove that business development coaching was a complete waste of time and money and that the firm should never do it again.” My work was cut out for me. After six weeks of no progress, we had an “out back behind the shed” meeting (which is Texan for straight talk) where we both agreed that something had to drastically change in our relationship for business development coaching to work for him. That drastic change was trust. Trust the process. Trust the intention. Trust me.

Gratefully, this attorney decided to take the chance to trust. With that came a dramatic shift of effort, execution and ultimately success. So much success, that I received an unprompted call from his spouse alerting me to the “transformation” she had experienced in her own personal relationship with her spouse. Ten years later this lawyer has become a beacon, a bright spot and a rainmaker. He has apologized (numerous times) for the rocky start we had and has said that working with Akina not only made him a better business developer, it made him a better husband and father. Love it.


My first real job was teaching ballet, tap and jazz to children at Happy Feet Dance Studio. I am also a certified quality tester for nacho cheese flavored Doritos and was told that I have impeccable organoleptics (fancy word for taste buds). I have completed 5 Marathons (26.2 miles) and formerly served on the Board of Directors for SuperSibs! and on Board of Operations for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Illinois, where I was named Volunteer of the Year.


My family is my greatest pride and joy; being a wife and mom to three amazing girls is my greatest blessing in the world. I also love working with my church, supporting transformation in the Chicago Public Schools, leading a neighborhood Moms group, and being a thought partner with The Insight Labs – philanthropic think tank.