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“We’re able to run spas profitably, which is something many [real estate and hotel] operators find challenging,” says Kass

youth football, swimming lessons and a summer camp for kids. Since the university opened last

September, 2,000 people have moved in, but with numbers expected to reach 15,000 over time, American Leisure is signed up for the long haul. “The project has been a massive undertaking and it has tested us, frankly,” admits Johnston. “But we’re proud of the accomplishment and we recognise [as a result] that we’re certainly capable of taking on some big challenges.”

EXPLORING OPPORTUNITIES Inspired by the success of the KAUST project, American Leisure has forged a strategic alliance with Saudi Oger, with a view to offering similar services in real estate and academic developments across the Middle East – especially in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Lebanon. As the global economy recovers, Johnston also anticipates that American Leisure’s international consulting business, which all but disappeared during the recession, will start to come back. Stateside, American Leisure already

has several projects underway on both the east and west coasts. Although funding continues to a big challenge, says Kass, “we are seeing some signs of life”. But while he believes both the hotel/resort and real estate sectors will

recover well, he is less sanguine about standalone fi tness clubs. “That’s been one of the most affected areas; we don’t see that coming back for at least another three years. Unfortunately, the fi nancial institutions don’t understand that business as well as businesses [such as the hotel sector] that have been around longer. Also, businesses that address current trends and have an easy point of entry, such as fi tness clubs, are often over-built and the banks have become very sensitive to that.” Fitness within a real estate or

hospitality setting, however, remains a primary focus for American Leisure, as does the spa sector. In February, the company opened a spa at The Setai, a luxury condo development in New York’s fi nancial district, which it’s also managing. It’s since consulted on the concept and design for a second Setai Spa in New York – at The Setai Fifth Avenue, a condo/hotel development set to open in November – and also worked on the new spa at Manhattan’s Hotel Plaza Athenee, which opened in May.

“We’re moving very strongly into the spa fi eld because it’s an area where we’ve developed a great deal of expertise,” says Kass. “We’re able to run spas profi tably, which is something many [real-estate and hotel] operators fi nd challenging.”

“You need staff who understand that part of their job is to build relationships with people”

july 2010 © cybertrek 2010

ONLY CONNECT One of Johnston’s own areas of expertise, of course, remains the world of fitness. A registered yoga teacher, he is passionate about exercise and keeps abreast of what’s going on through industry contacts, events and

journals, as well as the general buzz in New York City, where he lives. In line with the American Leisure

philosophy of fun and participation, he believes there’s a growing demand for activities that bring people together: yoga, group exercise and small group personal training. “You need staff who understand that part of their job is to build relationships with people, and to connect those people with other people,” he adds. “It’s all about connecting.” This emphasis on people is

also the driving force in how the company chooses suppliers. “We look at the quality of the equipment, but it’s also about the quality of the relationships,” says Johnston, who names Precor, Life Fitness and Star Trac as current partners.

“We’re all about the relationships.” When it comes to building

relationships with his own staff, Johnston looks to his yoga practice for inspiration. “I’m really interested in seeing how I can take what I learn on the mat and apply it to business,” he says. “Yoga is all about alignment, and one of my personal leadership philosophies is that my job is to create alignment within my team. “We’re always going back and checking

that alignment, and making adjustments to ensure we’re all on the same page internally. [As a result] we’re decisive about where we want to go and also, frankly, where we don’t want to go.” From a Coney Island beach to a small

regional operation to a global business to a partnership with one of the most infl uential companies in the Middle East, one thing’s for certain: American Leisure has already come a long way. rhianon howells

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