Features

Abby Sacunas – GMH Associates, Inc.

Innovating communities—and a decades long legal career

In 2020, as the entire world changed, Abby Sacunas decided to make a personal change.

After 15 years at Cozen O’Connor—an international law firm where she served as a partner—she decided to join GMH Associates as a senior vice president, general counsel and compliance offer. She’s the first woman to hold the role at the real estate and venture capital investment firm.

Within a year of being hired, Sacunas helped build out the company’s first diversity, equity and inclusion program, which has been one of her favorite parts of the job. As part of the program, she and a committee of executives engaged a DE&I specialist, who focuses on recruiting a diverse group of candidates from various backgrounds for positions throughout the company.

Abby Sacunas | Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Compliance Officer | GMH Associates, Inc.

Abby Sacunas | Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Compliance Officer | GMH Associates, Inc.

Sacunas adds that, over the past two years, GMH has also implemented diversity training for all employees; an expert consultant facilitated the training. Currently, the DE&I committee is developing new training opportunities alongside workforce engagement initiatives to attract and retain individuals from historically underrepresented groups.

This year, the company celebrated Black History Month, creating volunteer opportunities for staff to support and work with local Black-owned businesses. From September to October, the focus was on Hispanic Heritage Month and related volunteer work.

“I love working here because we truly function as a team and treat each and every person involved within GMH with kindness and respect,” Sacunas says. “We cherish our diversity and various perspectives; we have no closed doors.”

Opening doors to life science housing

Sacunas wasn’t just attracted to GMH because of its DE&I initiatives; she says she was also drawn in because of its success in creating new market opportunities, which cater to previously untapped markets and residents—think student and military housing. Since it was established, GMH has invested in over 300 properties, which represent more than $8.5 billion in asset value.

“GMH has successfully separated itself from competitors because it invests in niche industries and builds them out, creating a new space in the market,” she says. “Our latest venture is housing within life science hubs, called Innovative Living.”

This year, GMH opened ANOVA uCity, which became the first completed project in the Innovative Living plan. The 330,000-square-foot residential complex, which has 462 apartments, is located in Philadelphia’s uCity Square, a university neighborhood with one of the nation’s fastest growing life science cultures.

Abby Sacunas | Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Compliance Officer | GMH Associates, Inc.

ANOVA will cater to those who work third shifts or nighttime hours—graduate students, researchers, nurses and others—and will provide 24-hour services like dry cleaning, dog walking and programs for residents to meet and network. The community is also home to 14,000 square feet of retail shops and grocery stores on the ground floor as well as 12,500 square feet of resident amenities, like pools, soundproof office pods, a podcast studio, fitness centers and co-working space.

“We want to provide a comprehensive, effortless lifestyle so that third shift workers can still rent cars or get dry-cleaning services at three in the morning,” Sacunas says. “Even networking events will be held at 8 am instead of 6 pm to accommodate alternative schedules.”

She says GMH plans to open several new locations by the end of 2024. These include Aggie Square in Sacramento, California, and Central Station in Phoenix, Arizona.

“The brand’s rapid expansion signifies the unmet demand for residential offerings in life science clusters and knowledge communities, custom designed for the busy, odd schedules of those in the industry,” she says.

Building on experience to construct a strong future

When working on a project like ANOVA, Sacunas draws upon her diverse background and skillset, which gives her the chance to be creative in negotiations. It’s the same with any of GMH’s ventures, like recent ones into healthcare, substance abuse treatment centers and media technology.

She says she can identify unique businesses solutions, like various warrant insurance. Her efforts are focused on ensuring that the buyer, seller and bank are all comfortable enough to proceed—and that she’s helped each party meet their objectives.

She’s also responsible for all operating companies’ mergers and acquisitions, contracts, joint ventures, intellectual property, trade secrets, labor and employment—and even litigation when it arises.

Abby Sacunas | Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Compliance Officer | GMH Associates, Inc.

Her experience working for several years in private practice, where she acted as outside litigation and general counsel, has also come in handy. She says it allows her to warn GMH about potential risks, liabilities and future potential disputes—so they can be avoided.

“This may mean more work upfront, but it generally guarantees smoother sailing for the rest of our projects, from construction to opening and ongoing business operations,” Sacunas says.

A surprising turn of events

Sacunas’s career is also something that was an ongoing project. While she’s proud of her achievements, she’s also navigated some unexpected turns.

She planned on taking over the family business, but the furniture store was sold while she was in college. Undeterred, she took elective classes and fell in love with constitutional law and political philosophy. She graduated cum laude in 2002 from Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship with a bachelor’s in political philosophy.

“I loved the historical aspect of everything I was learning and felt that law made perfect sense as a natural progression,” says Sacunas, who went on to graduate magna cum laude from Syracuse University College of Law in 2005.

Abby Sacunas | Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Compliance Officer | GMH Associates, Inc.

She adds that she truly enjoyed her time in law school where she was a legal writing teaching assistant, worked for the New York State Attorney General, was a member of the Order of the Coif and snagged the coveted, competitive position of notes and comments editor for the Syracuse Law Review.

Upon graduation, she joined Cozen O’Connor, helping the firm grow from roughly 150 associates to over 800 by the time she left. To help retain and draw in new talent, she developed a network of coaches and mentors to train and develop associates. She felt that her work and dedication to the development of young attorneys was a natural fit because of how she was raised.

“Volunteer work and helping others is part of my fabric,” Sacunas says. “I bring that to work at GMH every day and love its similar focus on family, community and giving back.”

Published on: November 10, 2022

regions:

categories: ,

Showcase your feature on your website with a custom “As Featured in Vanguard” badge that links directly to your article!

Copy and paste this script into your page coding (ideally right before the closing tag) where you want to display our review banner.

Testimonials

The piece highlighting my company, Bob Baker Enterprises, Inc., came out fabulous. Our company is in the new and used car sales and service industry. Everyone was great to work with and extremely professional. They produced a high-quality product and have provided expert assistance and guidance post-production of the article.
– Wade Poulson, General Counsel, Bob Baker Enterprises Inc.
I was honored to be the subject of an article. I enjoy reading Vanguard articles and seeing how other attorneys got to their positions and see their jobs. It's also interesting to see how different law firms partner with the subjects of the articles.
– Henry Marquard, in-house counsel, Stanley Consultants Inc.
It was a great honor to be featured in Vanguard Law. Working with every member of the team, from the initial interview with Erin Clark, through production with Victor Martins, writing the article with Taryn Plumb and creating the final content with Dave Gushee, was a true pleasure. Everyone was very professional, enthusiastic and supportive, and their creative approach and positive attitude clearly came through in the final product.
– Kevin C. Rakowski, Senior Vice President, Deputy General Counsel, Compliance with Radian Group Inc.
As promised in advance, my feature in Vanguard has increased my visibility within the profession and prompted more than a few people I have not communicated with recently to reconnect. One of the Italian law firms I have used in the past is now in the process of interviewing me for an article on their website and tweeting out the feature story. Activity and the number of people connecting with me on LinkedIn has soared, which is great. The Vanguard writers and editorial staff were great to work with—highly professional and made the effort to make the experience both fun and rewarding (they were also respectful of the time pressures and demands all lawyers face). I was very pleased with the experience and the final outcome. Needless to say, I have been very pleased. All in all working with Vanguard has been a very positive experience which generated good publicity for both Shawcor and myself. My sincere thanks.
– Tim Hutzul, General Counsel, ShawCor Ltd.

LATEST EDITION

Fall III 2022

READ NOW

GET VANGUARD IN YOUR INBOX.

  • * We’ll never share your email or info with anyone.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.