Doug Chesnut first met Ben Pisklak over breakfast in Houston. Chesnut hadn't officially settled into his position as senior vice president of investments at Gables Residential when he decided to meet Pisklak, the young development associate who was manning the firm's Houston office. What Chesnut expected to be a casual introduction quickly—and unexpectedly—turned to shop talk.
“Ben showed up with this project [proposal]. I didn't even work for the company at that point, and within the first 10 minutes, he pulled it out,” says Chesnut, who was taken aback by Pisklak's drive. “We still laugh about it.”
A gutsy move, Pisklak's development proposal—Gables Augusta—was something new for the company. A four-story wrap loft project, Augusta was outlined as the densest project that Gables had ever undertaken at the time. Pisklak put it all together after only two years with the company and was looking to get the property approved and under way.
“It was the first project I ever did from start to finish,” says 33-year-old Pisklak, who found the land and designed the product—soft lofts, another first for Gables.
Having worked with Pisklak for the last five years, Chesnut says that his promotion to regional vice president of investments two years ago was a “no-brainer.” “He's got a great nose for deals,” says Chesnut.
That can be credited to his well-rounded background in the industry. Pisklak has been working construction since he was 13. Growing up in Lake Jackson, Texas, he helped build houses with a family friend through middle school and high school. In college he worked as a superintendent for a construction company while getting his degree in accounting from Texas A & M. After getting his master's in taxation, Pisklak made the rounds doing tax accounting for Ernst & Young, some development for Hanover Co., and work with Houston mortgage banking firm Holliday Fenoglio Fowler.
“On the construction side, I had been in the trenches swinging a hammer,” says Pisklak. “I've had a tour of duty in the public accounting world, the multifamily world, and the mortgage banking world.” He considers these diverse experiences invaluable as he is now in charge of roughly 18 projects between Austin and Houston that are in various stages of development.
In his position, Pisklak has worked hard to move forward with Gables' new vision of urban upscale and mixed-use developments. He is the lead developer on the West Avenue project in Houston, one of the most complicated projects Gables has done, with 390 apartments and 175,000 square feet of retail. Integrating the firm's newly acquired Retail Partners into the operation, Pisklak has facilitated steady communication and consensus-building amidst the players. He doesn't hesitate to ask questions and find the right people with answers in order to keep things on track. Genuinely humble, he is extremely proud of his team—and his team members are proud of him, too.
“I would work for Ben forever,” says Jennifer Wiebrand, a development associates with Gables. “He's a great leader.” She says he has a knack for connecting with his employees and making sure they have a personal ownership of every project they work on.
“We're trying to build better cities,” says Pisklak. “I look for people who share that vision. I want them to be very proud about what they do for a living.”