Mark Falanga: Bringing Business Savvy to the Mart

Mark Falanga is happiest being with his family—particularly for dinners and vacations.

He’s also a Kennedy confidant, married to a design maven, and a University of Michigan Ph.D. recipient.

These traits help qualify him for his new job as President of Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc. (MMPI). But, really, Falanga was promoted to the position because he is a savvy entrepreneur, with a long history of finding smart ways to accomplish big goals.

During the last 17 years, Falanga’s vision transformed MMPI from an almost obsolete Chicago real estate rental behemoth to a vibrant multi-city business that brings customers and sellers together through a variety of innovative functions.

Falanga’s savvy was evident even as a graduate student. His dissertation required him to navigate competing views of multiple advisors—normally a tedious, slow process. His solution? Obtain two grants, which allowed him to join Diane, the woman he loved, (and married) in Chicago, and to complete his work away from the politics and potential inertia of Ann Arbor.

He earned his Ph.D. in record time, then jumped into the business world as a boutique marketing researcher in 1989. Falanga quickly proved adept at seeing new opportunities, testing ideas with smart research and successfully launching new products. In less than two years, he also created a new course in product development for Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.

Chris Kennedy, who worked at his family’s business, MMPI, was one of Falanga’s students. Eventually student convinced teacher to join him at MMPI.

During an interview in his MMPI office, Falanga teases, “I often think that Chris offered me the job because he was seeking revenge for putting him through the wringer as his professor.”

Actually, Kennedy offered the job with words that are an entrepreneur’s ideal invitation: We are facing big challenges with our commercial furnishings business, I’ll give you all the leeway you want to do whatever you need to do to fix the business…just don’t mess up.

Falanga’s solution created new ways to connect potential office furnishing buyers to suppliers—large and small—and eventually filled the showrooms.  Soon he was launching other MMPI innovations, including LuxeHome and many art shows.

“Now we own 8 additional properties in other cities and run over 80 different trade or consumer shows,” Falanga explains with pride. “We also have a long history working with nonprofits—giving them a platform to raise money, build membership, promote their cause and gain visibility—tied to our marketing events.”

Falanga also grew a deep friendship with Kennedy and a beautiful family with Diane, who is now a successful decorator, published author and founder of the nonprofit HeartHomes.  His children, Blake, 17, and Bianca, 13, attend New Trier High School and Wilmette Junior High School.  Like Kennedy, Falanga says he settled on the North Shore because of the value residents place on great schools, family and access to the beach and other recreation opportunities. It speaks volumes that people return here to raise their own children too.

One of Falanga’s goals is “to make the Mart even more welcoming and less mysterious to all.” He adds, “We will continue to offer such a wide range of interior products and furnishings that anyone doing a renovation or home improvement project will feel compelled to come.”

Given Falanga’s entrepreneurial spirit, this is sure to mean ever more useful and engaging ways for homeowners to connect with the purveyors of great design and furnishings.