Scott Lawrence Is an Urgency Operator

Founder Scott Lawrence may have opened shop during a pandemic, but he’s built a team that was born to operate in a crisis

Del Mar Highland’s Sky Deck is infused with a maritime design inspired by its location in the port city of San Diego. Photo by Rachel Shannon

There’s a good reason Scott Lawrence has maintained the same core team around him—despite moving organizations—for 15 years. The founder and president of Western States CMG understands that treating people well isn’t just the key to getting the best out of his people but also the right thing to do. Even with the backdrop of a worldwide pandemic taking place as he launched his own start-up, Lawrence has kept an even keel in rolling out high-profile projects for his company, projects that have required him to move deadlines due to COVID-19 protocols.

Scott Lawrence, Founder and President, Western States CMG Portrait by Rachel Shannon

As he noted in January 2021, Lawrence is just hoping for San Diego to get out of the “sub-purple” county risk assessment that has sent California into a seemingly perpetual state of lockdown. “There are some nights I just wonder, ‘What have I done?’” the building expert says, laughing. “But I just keep telling my team that this is the time for us to do something great together. I want this to be their company someday, and I believe we’re going to get there.”

The president of Western States has made successes out of difficult situations for as long as he’s been alive. His parents were missionaries who moved him and his brother to Mexico when Lawrence was just five years old in order to run an orphanage for 100 Mexican children. It took a while for the brothers to get accustomed and for trust to be established, “but eventually we were accepted as part of the group,” Lawrence recalls.

Lawrence spent 10 years in Mexico before attending high school in the United States, staying with Christian friends and family who opened their doors to him while his parents busied themselves with establishing Bethesda Teaching Ministries in San Vicente, Baja California, a home for orphans that would later include a school for children with disabilities. Lawrence, who had already poured concrete and built homes by his early teens, also helped build Bethesda Teaching Ministries on a 500-acre former pig farm.

The Sky Deck features an ocean-inspired mural along with other nautical elements for guests to enjoy. Photo by Rachel Shannon

“I think people trust that when I ask them to do something, it’s not something I wouldn’t be willing to do or haven’t done in my own life,” the president says. “I’ve had the opportunity to do the majority of physical assignments on a jobsite to the leadership roles that have grown over the years.”

One of Lawrence’s most transformational roles came at supermarket chain Ralphs, where despite multiple acquisitions of the company, he worked his way from a single distribution facility to a VP role, finishing or remodeling between 80 and 100 stores every year. Lawrence’s team was responsible for the transformations or total construction of 500 stores. Most of his current team members are veterans of that period, and the president believes this gives Western States an edge.

“In the grocery industry, you learn a real sense of urgency,” Lawrence says. “It has made us successful in the developer and asset management sides of the business to the point that we were opening stores faster, more efficiently, and costing less owner money than they had ever seen before. We continue with this same mentality to this day.”

Scott Lawrence (center) reviews blueprints with Directors of Construction Don Armstrong (left) and Michael Osborne (right). Photo by Rachel Shannon

The current crown jewel of Western States’ portfolio is undoubtedly its work on Donahue Schriber’s expansion of the Del Mar Highlands Town Center. The $120 million expansion included additional parking infrastructure and a food hall-influenced sky deck that will bring double-digit restaurant offerings all under one roof. The feel of the sky deck is largely influenced by a Barcelona vacation that Donahue Schriber’s Chairman and CEO Pat Donahue took way back in 2015. Donahue Schriber has outsourced its construction to Western States CMG. “Pat visited a particular food hall called the El Nacional and fell in love with it,” Lawrence says. “That was the concept we started with, and it evolved from there.”

Seated on top of organic grocery chain Jimbo’s, the sky deck experience will include a bar in the middle where patrons can either begin or end (or both) their culinary experience before being seated in the individual restaurant space. It’s not a food hall, Lawrence says. It’s a collection of restaurants with a much less frantic feel, ideal for the San Diego temperament.

While COVID-19 has postponed plans for the sky deck’s opening, it has allowed the signing of the final two restaurant tenants to come on board before the doors are opened to the public, which is slated for late May 2021. It is a stressful year to be the president of a start-up company, but Lawrence and a seasoned team of “urgency operators” still seem to be a sure bet in building a bigger future.