Bob Olson, president and founder of Irvine-based R.D. Olson Development, lives on Newport Beach’s exclusive Balboa Island in a home he built to emulate a grand Nantucket aerie. Just across Newport Bay sits its jumbo-size doppelganger: Lido House Newport Beach, Olson’s latest development, which was designed in the image of his private residence. “The model for it is my personal home. Literally, the finishes, the concept – everything has been brought into this hotel [to achieve] a very residential, Nantucket feel,” he says.
Despite his penchant for Cape Cod architecture, Olson’s roots are more blue-collar than blue blood. Growing up in Northern California, he apprenticed for his carpenter stepfather, skipping college to start his own woodworking business at 23. “College was not an option for me,” he says. “Working with my stepdad, I learned everything from finished carpentry to concrete work. And I started off on my own before I knew any better.”
In the early ’80s, Olson moved to Southern California for his first major construction project: a West Hollywood eatery started by Sonny Bono. While the aptly named “Bono” restaurant was short-lived, Olson’s brush with the ’70s icon proved auspicious; like Bono, who went on to govern Palm Springs, Olson would become a force in L.A. suburbia, going on to establish R.D. Development in Irvine and build over 300 restaurants and 25 hotels across the western U.S. and Hawaii.
Along the way, he also conquered higher education. At 34, Olson enrolled at USC, earning his MBA a decade after founding R.D. “I don’t recommend that as a way to go, but that was what I did,” he says. “That really put me on a course to start my development company.”
In 1997, R.D. Olson Construction became R.D. Olson Development, branching out from bricklaying to land acquisition and architect scouting, and becoming a go-to collaborator for hotel mega-corporation Marriott. In late 2017, R.D. Olson cut the ribbon on the $120 million, 271-room Marriott Hotel at the Irvine Spectrum — a high point in the fruitful partnership and a symbol of once-dormant Irvine’s rapid rise.
“Our focus is [on] what the market wants – to fill what we call the ‘donut hole’ – or what’s missing in the market,” says Olson. Next up, he’ll break ground on two new hotels in Hawaii (“Yeah, I have to travel there. It’s hard,” he says with a laugh). But for Olson, the project that’s closest to home, quite literally, is Lido House. “I am involved in a lot of decisions that I normally would not be because I live in Newport. It’s more personal than most,” he says. So will he be stay-cationing there once it’s complete in early 2018? “Oh yeah,” he says. “I’ll be there quite a bit.”