Newsletter | Sep/Oct 2003

A Nontraditional Career

by Kathleen Cruise
Yesterday, as she waited for me to finish my workday, my actor-daughter Emily, who had just flown in from Hollywood, sat engrossed in the final chapter of The Fountainhead. Seeing Emily so enthralled carried me back to my first reading of Ayn Rand's novel, and to the sense of amazement I felt that someone not only understood, but also powerfully articulated what I envisioned for my life as the architect and master builder. In grade school, we were asked to record what we wanted to be. Even though I couldn't even spell the word, I noted that I intended to become an architect. Unlike my peers, I never wavered in terms of my professional ambitions.

Fascinated my entire life with everything about the built environment, I have pursued all aspects of design, construction, and facility operations. Underlying every challenge I undertake is an unflagging commitment to sustainable approaches. Quite some time ago, I refocused my career strategy, shifting from upward mobility as the primary goal toward a continuous search for interesting and important opportunities, which support both my professional and personal growth and development in settings where I could make a significant difference. This approach resulted in an unusual, and unusually rewarding, career.

In 1979, after the first fifteen years of my career, during which time I advanced from intern to principal in the private sector, I accepted a position with PG&E in San Francisco. During the fifteen years I spent with PG&E, I had the opportunity to design and manage a substantial body of work.

In 1994, Stanford University recruited me to manage its Utilities Division, a position I held for a year until I became a principal in Proven Alternatives, an international energy-management company. Then, five interesting years later, I was recruited by the Microsoft Corporation, which had zeroed in on my deep infrastructure experience and sustainable design expertise. However, I left Microsoft after two extremely instructive and productive years to join a European start-up company that quickly fell victim to the 'dot.bomb.'

Back in the Bay Area, since December 2000, I have been Director of Facilities Management and Client Services for the Fort Mason Foundation ( I am responsible for all aspects of facility management and client services for the Fort Mason Center, a thirteen-acre 350,000-square-foot cultural center in a National Historic Landmark District campus on the bay in San Francisco�s Golden Gate National Recreational Area. Our mission is to create and preserve a cultural, educational, and recreational center that reflects the unique history, talents, and interests of the people of the Bay Area in partnership with the National Park Service. It is my responsibility to improve the conditions for the forty nonprofit tenant organizations and the client experience for the 1.5 million national park visitors that attend the center�s 15,000 events annually.

At the time I accepted the Fort Mason position, I had some very attractive alternatives. Lifestyle was a key consideration in charting the next stage of my career. Not only did the opportunity with Fort Mason bring me home to San Francisco, where my heart truly is, but it provided me with a great office with a lovely view, a "bike-able" commute, big sailboats outside my window, which I race on, great people to work with, and amazing events to enhance my discretionary time. In accepting the facilities management position, I traded equity for legacy. Instead of thinking in terms of stock options, I now focus on rehabilitating and preserving the center for another century of service.

Fortunately, I grew up in a household where there were no judgments or expectations based on anything other than performance. It was not until quite late in my career that I discovered, to my horror and disgust, that some people have a strange way of thinking, and, as a result, have a problem with the concept of a "woman architect." By the time I first encountered such narrow thinking, my own sense of competency and confidence helped to offset the small-mindedness of others. However, I remain, unfortunately, part of a generation that has been adversely affected by the limited perspectives of those who, for whatever reason, cannot think BIG. For the sake of our daughters, I hope we are able to substantially diminish, if not eliminate, that problem.

In addition to a most rewarding career, I have two wonderful children: Dylan and Emily Mills. A lifelong athlete, I now love to sail and boogey-board. Last year, I started participating in triathlons and placed third in my age group in each of the two that I entered and I am now a mentor in a local triathlon training program.

My first introduction to the Organization of Women Architects (OWA) came thirty years ago, when I first came to the Bay Area. While I studying for the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) and at my first OWA exam study group, I obtained more useful information than in the years I had spent interrogating every man I encountered who had taken the exam. Over the years, the OWA has provided me with lots of information and entertainment, but, most importantly, it has connected me to colleagues and friends who have enriched my career and personal life. Some years ago, I adopted the motto of a colleague: "If it ain't fun, it ain't worth doing." I highly recommend this approach. The OWA is fun, and it is worth being a part of. It is important to give back to others from time to time, and we all must make a point of doing so. It is an honor to serve on the OWA Steering Committee for the third time in as many decades. Let me know what we can do for you, and think about what you can do for the OWA.

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