As a child when such projects as the John Hancock Tower and Sears Tower were changing the Chicago skyline, Mark Kruse recalls how his engineer father and interior designer/homemaker mother impressed upon him the imagination and foresight involved in creating such landmarks. Years later, that interest turned into an educational pursuit for college-bound Kruse when he obtained a Bachelor’s of Science in Architecture and a Master’s of Architecture, Design Option, from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.Today, as assistant vice president, Real Estate Project Management, Corporate Real Estate, at Chicago-based CNA Insurance, Kruse’s design background and years of working with corporate clients have been instrumental in improving the firm’s facilities infrastructure. More importantly, such spatial expertise and an ingrained problem-solving and far-sighted business sense will help Kruse and his managerial staff of 20 reach the company’s 12-month restructuring goal to consolidate approximately 190 locations into 75 for greater real estate efficiency and profitability. Currently, that portfolio covers approximately 6 million square feet of some owned but mostly leased space. Post-restructuring will shrink the numbers to under 5 million, notes Kruse. An even longer-term challenge, according to Kruse, will be “to continue managing the portfolio so it doesn’t start to proliferate back to its existing state of multiple offices in certain locations.”Oversight is being directed by Corporate Real Estate’s three teams: Two consist of project managers and move coordinators, who do the planning, construction administration, relocation, and furniture ordering with the company’s dealers and other outside vendors, along with transaction people, who do the negotiation with brokers on the buildings. A third team, called Technical Services, manages the organization’s CAD and space management systems, which track leasing, design/drawing, and asset management – extremely important during the restructuring, as these provide an accurate measurement and reporting system of current space from which to evolve. “Another step in the aggressive consolidation schedule,” says Kruse, “is to re-emphasize corporate guidelines or standards.”Approximately 15 percent of existing space is in private offices; the remainder, on average (with the exception of the firm’s legal operations) is in systems furniture – all supplied by CNA’s “standard” manufacturer. “We had a large inventory in place when we changed [furniture] manufacturers last year,” explains Kruse, noting the process involved providing the company’s furniture standards, price points, and requirements for service agreements and guaranteed deliveries with the existing supplier and four others. “We also bid out the dealership,” adds Kruse. “Previously, we had been somewhat hand-tied to the same dealer and manufacturer and wanted the latitude to keep both – or fire one and stay with the other – based upon how well they are able to keep meeting our needs.”Such decisions show not only how accountable Corporate Real Estate is to best practices, but also its long-term expectations toward suppliers – and each other. “In becoming even more consistent, our senior management is in line with decisions that are business-driven and rational, and less capricious in terms of local whims and wants,” says Kruse.Implementing and communicating creative solutions, notes Kruse, is extremely rewarding, whether it is from his direct design input or through mentoring a project manager. His advice? “Try to be informed, educated; and ethical when conducting business. Building credibility takes years. To get into a position where you’re respected as a resource takes time and is difficult, but it’s worth doing because it eventually makes your life easier.”Linda K. Monroe ([email protected]) is editorial director at Buildings magazine.