“All throughout my life, all I ever heard was, ‘engineer,’ ‘engineer,’ ‘engineer’—never actually knowing what the word meant,” reflects Lakshan Gunaratne, who has been the director of engineering at The Standard Hotels for eight years running.
Born in a family of engineers on his mother’s side, Gunaratne inherited the natural skill and curiosity of the trade—even if he may not have realized it. “Since I was a kid, I was always fixing things. Even in school, I took anything that had to do with working with my hands,” he says.
It was in high school when the idea of becoming an engineer was set in his mind, and, without having any clue about what kind of engineer he wanted to be, Gunaratne enrolled himself at City Tech, New York City’s College of Technology. From the time he got his degree to his roles at Richmond Furnace Air Conditioning and Refrigeration, a nursing home on Staten Island, and New York Yacht Club, Gunaratne’s career slowly evolved into hospitality.
“I got my licensing and my certifications, and, within five years at the yacht club, I became assistant chief and then the chief engineer. From there, I left and became the director of engineering for the Maritime Hotel—that’s when I really got into the hotel industry,” explains Gunaratne.
Standing at 363 West 16th Street in New York City’s Meatpacking District, the Maritime Hotel provided Gunaratne with a view of what was then hotelier André Balazs’ flagship operation for The Standard Hotels. “I used to go onto the roof and watch this monster building come up,” he recalls. “One day, I went on a walk with my family under the Highland, which is underneath The Standard Hotels, and I was telling them, I said, ‘One day I would love to work there.’”
Sure enough, that opportunity would come, but it wouldn’t materialize until later. However, Gunaratne continued working as usual, building a reputation for himself along the way.
“People talked, and I had created a name for myself. Not only did I work for all the top-notch hotels and high-end clubs, but I wasn’t afraid to get my hands dirty,” he says. “I wore a suit and tie, but I talked the talk and walked the walk.” Evidently, the people at The Standard Hotels had heard and called to see him in 2015. Only, this time, their meeting would be quite different.
“They didn’t even want to see my resume. They interviewed me within three days. They said, ‘You have seven days to decide. We want you, and we don’t care how much you’re looking for,’” he recalls. “[In March 2023], I’ll have been here eight years. Before I got here, they had close to eight different directors in and out. I’m the only one that stayed this long, so I must be doing something right.”
However, the buildings Gunaratne works on have been at The Standard quite a bit longer than he has. At roughly sixteen years old, many of his current projects involve building renovations, both in the structural and environmental sense.
In accordance with New York City’s Local Law 97, eyes are on The Standard Hotels to cut its buildings’ emissions, and it’s up to Gunaratne to make it happen before 2025. But, on top of installing energy-efficient mechanics and day-to-day repairs, The Standard Hotels is also expanding.
From Miami, London, Ibiza, and the Maldives, Gunaratne’s to-do list gets longer with each of the hotel’s locations. But, when it comes to successfully managing the big picture projects in conjunction with hospitality’s day-to-day operations, the director of engineering claims that it all comes down to his experience.
“My guys are like my family, and I treat them like my family. If anything goes wrong, you have to maintain a level of respect and technique—and that’s how I supervise, because I understand,” says Gunaratne. “I didn’t automatically get to this position; it took hard work. But, if you haven’t gotten into the mud and don’t understand what it feels like, it’s very hard to lead somebody else through it.”
Trane is proud to partner with The Standard Hotels and Lakshan Gunaratne. Like the Standard Hotels, we are committed to helping our customers create exceptional and memorable experiences by creating indoor environments that are comfortable, sustainable, and energy efficient. We accomplish this through our broad array of industry-leading heating, ventilating, air conditioning systems and controls, digital technologies, and services. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of your mission.