Q&A with Steve Laski, Acumen Development Partners

Nearly 10 years ago, Steve Laski established Acumen Development Partners, a third-party project management and development company. With more than 25 years of construction and development experience, he now oversees field operations of all Acumen projects.

Prior to Acumen, he founded DCMI, a hospitality-focused project management firm. He has also held various leadership positions at Hyatt Hotels Corp. and Noble Investment Group.

Hotel Business caught up with Laski to learn more about what went into developing Acumen’s identity, company initiatives for 2019 and where he sees himself in the next ten years.

What should the industry know about Acumen Development Partners? Our company was established in 2009, and we went through a rebrand with the Acumen name in 2015. We have executed on more than $1.5 billion of development projects. We have completed projects both in the United States and the Bahamas. We have four office locations: New Orleans, where our company began; Atlanta; Chicago; and our newest location in Las Vegas.

What went into developing Acumen’s identity? When we went through our rebranding in 2015, we were looking for a logo that would catch the eye, stand out and that people would not only remember us by, but know how it related to the company. (Acumen is the ability to make good judgments and quick decisions in our domain.) We used a symbol of a bull for our logo. This bull represents a species that is steady, consistent and full of strength, everything that our team at Acumen is. Acumen takes the bull by the horns and solves issues and drives performance.

What in the industry has piqued your interest? What are you paying closer attention to in 2019? I love hotels; the market is always evolving, which creates the need for new, innovative ideas. No two hotels are alike. For instance, we just completed the first tri-brand Marriott in the country. The innovative ideas and opportunities on this project were remarkable. This year, we will be paying closer attention to new market opportunities and locations, as well as partnering opportunities. 

What makes Acumen different from its competitors? The Acumen team is made up of highly talented professionals who are doing what they love. The team works together closely to find solutions—not just facilitate the process. It is our responsibility to make the best possible recommendations to our third-party owners. We are able to do this given the history that each of our team members have with outside firms, from architects, to interior designers, to general contractors, and purchasing agents. We pride ourselves on delivering the best project possible from start to finish.

Where do you expect to expand your portfolio geographically? It seems to be focused on the eastern part of the country. In 2018, we opened our fourth location, in Las Vegas, so that we can begin to have a larger presence for our western-region clients and projects. We have done projects in the past in the Midwest and are looking forward to branching out to the West Coast and surrounding areas. There are several areas that are prime for new development in the western part of the country, and Acumen is focused on being well suited for those opportunities.

What are Acumen’s initiatives for 2019? 2019 will be the year that Acumen really starts focusing on development opportunities while continuing to grow our third-party project management portfolio. Acumen plans to focus on growing our relationships with existing developers and new developers in markets that are off the beaten path but show great potential. For instance, St. George, UT, is a gateway between Las Vegas and Zion National Park, and is well positioned to be the next Scottsdale or Sedona.

How do you go about maintaining a work/life balance? My family and friends are in this business or in a related business, so we interact all the time. We connect at dinners, events and plan small getaways. The work/life balance, honestly, works as well as it does, given that everyone understands that, unfortunately, in this business there is no natural balance. The truth of the matter is this is a seven-day-a-week business. There are deadlines and schedules that don’t always fall during the natural 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday schedules.

What advice would you give to someone looking to get into the industry? I would recommend they understand their long-terms goals and what success looks like for them. That is a picture that is different for everyone. I would also recommend that they talk to several people who have been in this industry for 20-plus years. Make sure that they have the right team behind them. The strength of your team will help determine your success in this industry.

How have you seen the industry evolve over the years? Over the last 35 years, technology has driven productivity and the path at which we perform. A lot of very knowledgeable, very seasoned talent has left our industry that has now been replaced by new generations of very talented younger professionals. This evolution has brought in many new, fresh ideas and great creations. The forward thinking of the new generation continues to add to the value of experience in this profession.

Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years? Our industry is always growing and reinventing itself; we will continue to stay focused on growing with it. We will continue to focus on where we can add value through proven processes and new ideas. I am just one of a very special team, which I believe will afford us great opportunities to be party to some really special projects. HB

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