Michael Achenbaum: The Mind Behind the Gansevoort Brand
Outside the Lines : Profiling Stern Alumni in Unconventional Careers
Published: Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Updated: Tuesday, September 21, 2010 11:09
Ironically, Michael Achenbaum's attire is extremely laid back (designer jeans and a sweater) but he is clearly hard at work. There is a tremendous amount of energy in his office. He has his cell phone at one ear and landline at the other and he is staring intently at his laptop.
Unquestionably this is a hectic time, with the opening of Gansevoort South earlier this year, Gansevoort Park (29th and Park Ave, NY) set to open next year, deals for locations in Toronto, Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, London underway and of course managing the continuously evolving "Urban Heaven" that is Gansevoort NYC. He is composed and focused with acute attention to detail on continuously improving the brand he envisioned and is passionate to expand. Generously, he clears his calendar to give us some insight into not only his career path but also to provide some perspective and advice. Having graduated in unfavorable economic times (1998) and experienced the burst of the internet bubble, Michael spoke to us on how to we should respond to this trying economic climate.
L&G: Prior to entering the JD/MBA program, did you know what career you wanted to pursue? Did you always want to work in the hotel industry?
Achenbaum : To do hotels, no but to be in real estate development, yes.
Initially, I explored working at both banks and law firms but very quickly I realized that was not where my interests lied. I was offered a legal position even though they did not really believe me because very few JD/MBAs actually stick out the legal route- most end up going the business route. So I went to, at the time, a very active and successful real estate practice at Humera which was called Capital America. I ended up leaving and going to Bear Sterns but realized it too was not my cup of tea. Simply working in a less entrepreneurial environment, at least an associate level, was not my thing. So I went to work in the family business, which my father had been in for over 40 years.
L&G: Was the Gansevoort Hotel your first big venture?
Achenbaum: I spent 3.5 years on it. It was a real labor of love but also a great opportunity to learn. If it were not a family business I would have never been handed the level of detail and responsibility. It has turned into something that has a tremendous amount of brand equity. We are trying to convert that brand equity into a true brand.
L&G: How exactly are you expanding the Gansevoort brand and could you give us some insight specifically into your upcoming NY location?
Achenbaum: We opened the one in Miami, which is a condo/hotel with a lot of interesting retailers. Simultaneously we are under construction at 29th and Park. This location will have amazing restaurants including Prime 112, the #1 grossing restaurant in the country per sq foot. We are also building a spa so people can have retreats in NYC. Guests will have a hotel stay with core classes and spa treatment. They will get a really unique special experience.
L&G: What do you want people to associate the Gansevoort with?
Achenbaum: Good service, unique product mix, rooftop pools and bars in cities. We want to deliver a high level of service in a stylish fun experience. We are constantly trying to keep ourselves timely but at the same time we feel our room product and our lobbies are timeless. The expectation in the market place is that you do not get them both at the same time. For us to achieve this on a continuing basis is a huge accomplishment.
L&G: What made you go for higher end consumers as opposed to the mass market?
Achenbaum: Obviously there is a certain price point that you want to achieve but the location dictated that we cater to a certain type of client - the stylish, media oriented client. People's perception of us is that we are celebrity driven and while we have a lot of that, our biggest client is Goldman Sachs. So we really do cross that line of being a corporate, business traveler type of hotel. We straddle the great room experience, top-notch service (synonymous with corporate hotels) while providing the option for our guests to experience an amazing social scene.
L&G: Having a trend-setting, social scene really sets you apart from other hotels in your league.
Achenbaum: That is why the rooftop on 29th St (Gansevoort Park) is going to be ridiculous. It has five different rooms, five different environments and a pool area that has really unique features. It will be far grander than what we have done previously in NY. I'm not going to give away the details but there are a couple of really amazing details to that rooftop. It is a 3 level rooftop!
L&G: How involved are you in choosing the details, the amenities etc?
Achenbaum: I do all the choosing. My job involves the acquisitions, the financing, the tenant choices and co-ordination with design. However, I try not to get terribly involved as I have very talented people involved in Operations. I tend to say what I want it to be but not how to get there.
I am not experienced enough to do the operations. But I do know when I am not happy and I do know when I see an unhappy customer or when I see something that a guest should be unhappy about before they realize it. So you will never see me walk across the lobby of the hotel or through my building without picking up lint or trash.
L&G: What is it like to work at the Gansevoort? What do you expect from your staff?
Achenbaum: I want people that work with me to take the same level of pride and ownership that I do and handle things themselves. Although there are times when that is just not appropriate. You have to trust that your staff is responsible enough and intelligent enough. We try to empower our staff to make intelligent decisions but a lot of that comes from strict training.
L&G: You have spoken of the advantages of working in a family run business, what are some of the challenges?