Pages From Tom Ruscitti’s Playbook

Tom Ruscitti, senior managing director of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank’s project management division, and his team are in the turret, covering their clients’ flanks, clearing paths, and—most harrowing of all—navigating Chicago rush-hour traffic to ensure successful project delivery

For all intents and purposes, the Newmark Grubb Knight Frank (NGKF) project management team’s formal engagement with Kenall Manufacturing ended in early 2015, when the company completed its new, 350,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art light fixture manufacturing facility in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Tom Ruscitti, senior managing director, and Paul Wojdyla, director of NGKF, an international commercial real estate firm, had helped shepherd Kenall through various stages of its relocation from Gurnee, Illinois, to Kenosha. Once the doors opened for business, the men could’ve simply patted themselves on the back and moved on to the next project.

Yet, there Ruscitti was one early December morning in 2015, navigating Chicago’s rush-hour traffic, which turned what should have been an hour-and-a-half commute to Kenosha into a more than three-hour trek.

“While on my way to Milwaukee, I stopped by for a season’s greetings visit with the EVP of operations and to check on the facility,” Ruscitti says. “The close relationship we cultivated is not necessarily atypical, but for Kenall, because this was their only facility, we wanted to make sure that business operations were not impaired by building issues.

“It also allows us to assess the project on a full-spectrum basis, and to finalize our usual and customary project post-mortem, as well as maintain a connection for a company that has been a holistic case study as well as a continual referral for us—it shows that we’re still there for them and that we are true to our philosophy of providing superior client service.”

That kind of extended investment in clients is just one of the ways Newmark Grubb Knight Frank sets itself apart from other commercial real estate companies. Ruscitti says that although competitors might be larger, their hierarchical structures might remove leadership from the business end of a project. NGKF doesn’t have those layers, which allows its team a broader understanding of the marketplace. It also requires leadership to keep a finger on the project’s pulse and an eye on the client’s investment.

“When you’re in presentations, clients pick up on your ability—and long term interest—to deliver,” he says. “We will always be straight-up with our clients. We won’t sugarcoat unpleasant information, nor oversell our ability to deliver a successful project. We strive to make sure that they understand how their project will be delivered, no matter how difficult the message. One thing of which we are confident, with our panoply of processes, procedures, and controls—as well as our years of experience and expertise—we can deploy the properly designed project delivery plan that is scaled to address most project needs.”

In the case of Kenall, that might mean making sure that the air conditioning system is properly operating a year after opening and, if need be, getting the contractor onsite to repair the system. In the case of the new MC Machinery facility in suburban Chicago, it’s helping resolve unexpected site access issues that threatened to delay development. With those issues resolved, the Mitsubishi subsidiary can move forward with its 175,000-square-foot facility, 50,000 of which will be used as a showroom to display precision industrial cutting and 3-D printing equipment.

DEFINING ORGANIZATION 

The organization and attention to detail in NGKF’s work is a product of the company’s project management office, which Ruscitti helped develop “to bring control to clients’ large-scale design/construction programs.”

Ruscitti, whose career includes stints with international companies such as Jones Lang LaSalle and Deloitte & Touche LLP, says that as NGKF continues to expand its global scale, the company is having great success with its Program Management Office (PMO), thanks to the work of key colleagues such as Molly Laurain, director of the Chicago office.

The PMO is set up to help enterprise capital project programs and ensure the optimal deployment and investment of capital around project controls, standardization, processes improvement, and cost-reduction strategies. With the PMO in place, the company has a solid base to help manage projects, whether in the Midwest, or even as far away as Douala, Cameroon, Africa. NGKF’s goal is always to increase savings to its clients—a goal that it backs up with select performance guarantees to provide a certain amount of program savings.

“We have put our fee at risk if we don’t achieve certain key performance indicators,” Ruscitti says. “It’s aggressive. Sometimes we win, and sometimes we’ll do better next time.”

Despite putting its own fee on the line, Ruscitti says NGKF doesn’t constantly pursue the latest and greatest technology or the best available practices and standards to stay on top of the game.

“Project management is not unlike boxing. One is always jabbing, weaving, and blocking to set up for the perfect cross or uppercut—you’re always engaged in something. There’s always a fight going on, and I especially like doing that on behalf of a client.”

Tom Ruscitti, Senior Managing Director

“Everyone in our industry channels best practices,” he says. “Quite frankly, we consider best practices to be the Yeti of program management—much talked about but never seen in practice. We like to say ‘best-suited practices,’ because the former may not be required. Most are an unnecessary expenditure. It may be universally acclaimed to be a best practice, but for a particular client, it may not be suited for their needs.

“I know full well many of these big ERP implementations can go south pretty quickly, consuming vast quantities of the client’s resources in the process. That’s just something that’s unconscionable for us.”

With the savings its clients realize, NGKF can then make recommendations on where the money can be redeployed. After many years in the industry, Ruscitti still seems amazed that major corporations often don’t have their own real estate management officers or teams—a particularly astonishing concept considering that real estate is typically the second-largest expenditure for a company, behind payroll. Once the real estate portfolio is optimized, Ruscitti says, it unlocks capital that can be used “for further reinvestment, acquisitions, or even pay down debt, dividends, and stock buyback. It’s not wasted. There’s just something rewarding about that.”

NGKF also has an array of experience at its disposal. The company’s team includes individuals with backgrounds in fields such as architecture, engineering, contracting, accounting, law, and MBAs coming together to serve a commercial real estate focus. Ruscitti himself studied architecture and business, and is a licensed architect. Even with all that experience and background comprising the office, Ruscitti says he sometimes feels more like famed boxer Jake LaMotta than a businessman.

“Project management is not unlike boxing,” he says of the commercial real estate industry. “One is always jabbing, weaving, and blocking to set up for the perfect cross or uppercut—you’re always engaged in something. There’s always a fight going on, and I especially like doing that on behalf of a client.”