Trendsetters in Senior Living, A Few Top Executives Reveal Professions in Deadly Seniors
Being a top executive at the senior living business takes more than visionary leadership skills, financial expertise, strategic operational know-how, and a present for organizational direction; it takes passion. And, more often than not, it’s a fire that has been around for a lengthy time.
“Very few individuals simply walk into this place,” says Joe Mikalajunas, president of Greensboro, North Carolina-based Bell Senior Living. Most senior living executives”start in the same place-in a community, serving seniors-and then work their way up the corporate ladder.” But here is the kicker, Mikalajunas adds,”We all have a passion for serving seniors. It’s difficult to be prosperous in this industry if you don’t have that fire.”
Passion is just one of many characteristics Mikalajunas has in common with the eight additional industry leaders-each of whom engaged in exclusive interviews with Assisted Living Executive-who happen to be termed Trendsetters in Senior Living for 2009.
Industry introduction: Though Best technically entered the industry in 1987, his first experiences (in Prudential Insurance Company of America and Holiday Retirement Corp.) focused on the fund of the business. The functional side never looked all that way away, though. “I kept getting pulled in that direction,” says Best, that finally took the plunge in 2001 to handle Horizon Bay Retirement Communities.
Top professional accomplishment:”I am extremely proud of the culture we have assembled at Horizon Bay,” Best says. “It is a culture that is caring, but it is also a pragmatic culture.” It is important to maintain a balance between both, he adds, because”you can not be so bureaucratic that you neglect your day-to-day mission of taking care of your own citizens, but you can’t be focused on customer service that you ignore your margins”
Greatest industry challenge on the horizon:”I believe our greatest challenge will come in new regulations,” Best says. “At both the state and national level, we appear to be in an era where a few people today believe more regulation is far better than less, and that I believe they may attempt to fix the things they believe require more oversight through additional law. This could pose a real danger to the industry.”
Outside the c-suite: Although Best enjoys playing tennis, travel, and studying when he is not in the office, ” he states his favourite off-the-clock action is”spending some time with my two brothers. It provides me a wonderful view on matters, it keeps me humble, and it will help me work in my main weakness: patience”
Newport Beach, CA
Industry introduction: Clark has been working in the senior housing space for three decades. From the early’90s she left the apartment side of this sector to combine ARV Assisted Living. A couple of decades later, she combined two of her former colleagues at ARV, Eric Davidson and Brian Flornes, who, also established Vintage Senior residing in 1998. “I feel like I’ve been in the perfect place at the right time,” Clark states of both alterations.
Favourite part of the project: Because all of Vintage’s possessions are within close proximity of each other,”we’re able to bring all our executive directors together each and every month for training and education,” Clark states. “Being able to find each of their faces and hear every one of their success stories every month is especially great.” These meetings are organised around a cultural environment which workers learn best when they discuss experiences, peer to peer reviewed. Their objective is”to help our ED’s work through their challenges and struggles by talking with their peers,” she says.
Top professional achievement: In 2006, Clark was appointed the 50+ Housing Council’s Person of the Year, a program of the Building Industry of America. “I’ll never forget standing on that stage, staring outside at roughly 200 of my peers in the audience,” she says. “I do what I do because I really like it, but it’s nice to be honored for this, too.” Clark says she recalls the encounter whenever she’s feeling overwhelmed. “I look at this award, take a deep breath, and tell myself, ‘You know what? We’ll undergo this!'”
Greatest on-the-job challenge:”Hiring and retaining the ideal teams,” Clark says. The right evaluation tool might assist her-and her industry cohorts-be more effective at both tasks, she adds,”but right now it seems like we are all using tools that are individual .” In the coming years, Clark says she”would love to see everybody come together to locate the right [tool] for our industry-one that will point us toward the best executive directors, because finding the ideal individuals for those places is critical not just to the achievement of a neighborhood but to our industry as a whole.”
Away from the c-suite: Like many senior dwelling executives, Clark likes to explore the world when she has the time. “I try to expand my horizons figuratively and actually,” she states. Regarding the former, Clark says she often takes time to”see exactly what mature housing appears like in whatever state I am visiting. It is just a look and see, really, but it still gives me a insight into the differences and similarities between our models”
Industry introduction: After spending four years early in his career as the executive director of a board-and-care house in southern California, Cobb convinced his wife that they should market their home and buy an independent living community a few hours north from the San Francisco Bay area. Thirteen other communities finally joined the company called Cobbco Inc., which merged with Summerville Senior Living in 1998 (and which, in turn, merged with Emeritus Senior Living in 2007). “I’d like to say that I’ve been with the same company for 20 decades, but it’s had three different names in that time,” Cobb says.
Top professional achievement: Cobb says he is most proud of”cultivating collaborative and open communication across all disciplines.” He is also happy that he’s been in a position to make information and systems available to staff that”allow them to make good choices.” Both have been”cornerstones of every company I’ve been involved with,” Cobb says. “I focus on them wherever I am.” “The list of items I must do on any given evening goes on and on, so it could be a struggle to prioritize everything and then find the time to test as many items off this list as possible.” He copes by relying on technology- “my laptop and my iPhone synch up with that which in my office, so I’m connected no matter where I am.”
Away from the c-suite: Cobb lists golf and ski among the activities he loves when he is not working. “Unfortunately, I have not been able to devote much time on each activity the last few years,” he says. “I’ve got two women who are now in college, but when they were growing up, all of us golfed and skied together-along together with my wife. I’d love to get back to all those activities with them. In the meantime, I run a few times a week along with my dog.”
Five Star Senior Living
Industry debut:”Having given care to seniors for many decades, you could almost say I started working in older alive while I was working in extreme care,” says Esposito, who began her career as a medical care nurse before moving into hospital administration. Those encounters are a far cry from those she’s become accustomed to since she joined the assisted living industry a dozen years ago. “Today’s seniors have a greater array of health-care and lifestyle alternatives,” she states. “The dawn of assisted living has led to that in a large way.”
Top professional accomplishment: After Five Star Senior Living was formed in 2000, the goal of its creators was to turn around communities which had just come from bankruptcy. “We were a newly formed team, but we had a unified aim and plan,” Esposito recalls. “Not only did we successfully turn those surgeries around, but we turned into an independent, publicly traded company by the end of the first year”
Greatest industry challenge on the horizon: Because of uncertainty in the present economy, many companies might need to make difficult decisions concerning cost-cutting measures in the months and years ahead, Esposito says. “During this time, it will be more important than ever to maintain focus on our customers’ requirements,” while thinking strategically and not behaving impulsively. Until the market recovers, we have to have the ability to handle external pressures by making the most of our expenses and controlling costs without sacrificing quality or services”
Away from the c-suite:”I like to do anything that requires the sun and sun: swimming, going on long walks, reading a novel, photographing a glorious sunset, or simply collecting seashells,” Esposito says. “For me, work could be a relaxing activity if I could set up my office on a sunny shore.”
G. Michael Leader
Industry introduction: It is not a stretch to state that Leader grew up in the senior living industry, given that his parents began a nursing home business in 1962. “It is sort of like growing up on a farm: Everybody has a role, even if it’s only to obey the discussions at the dinner table.” Although Leader helped out as a youngster, he did not join the family business full time until 1973. Ten decades ago, Leader replaced his retiring father as CEO and now he works together with his brother, David, and his brother-in-law, Ted Janeczek.
Top professional accomplishment:”Among the things I’m most proud of is that for 3 consecutive years, we’ve been named among the best 100 places to work in Pennsylvania,” Leader says. “These are hard jobs, so it is reassuring to know that our workers-which is what we call our employees-enjoy working here.”
Greatest on-the-job question: Leader is not alone when he states he considers dealing with the present economic environment to be his greatest challenge. “we would like to continue to give value and quality to our customers, of course, but quality comes at an affordable price and we need to be sure we price our services so they are affordable to the market we serve,” he clarifies. “It’s especially important not to forget that when individuals are both practically and emotionally constrained by the economy.”
Greatest industry challenge on the horizon: It’s no secret that the senior living industry is going to be bombarded with clients in the coming years however Leader wonders if there’ll be sufficient employees to care for all of these. “We need to find the ideal folks to care for all those customers,” he states,”but these people haven’t been available in abundance in recent years.”
Industry debut: Before being enticed by Chairman and CEO Tom Grape to join Benchmark Assisted Living two years ago, McAneny left her living in the investment management industry, which makes her one of the few executives that are new to senior living. She didn’t sweat transitioning from one sector to another, though. “I’m a firm believer that direction is consistent with all asset classes,” McAneny states. “Regardless of which industry you are in, it’s all about attracting and retaining great talent, being brave as a supervisor, and creating a shared vision”
Favorite part of the project:”I really like the challenge and complexity of conducting and running a business like this,” McAneny states”A lot of components have to be moving in the same direction in order for it to operate and work well.” The former Arthur Andersen auditor does not devote her time contemplating the organization’s operational present and future from her corner office, though. “I go into the communities whenever possible so I can see the wonderful culture we have created here in action,” she adds.
Greatest industry challenge on the horizon:”I think there’s a lack of a differentiated customer experience in our industry,” McAneny answers, including,”I’m not sure our ordinary customer can tell one assisted living provider from another-or can declare what makes one provider better than another.” Of course, she states,”that may be both a challenge and an opportunity.”
Away from the c-suite: Together with spending time with her family, McAneny says,”I love to ski, and I really like to bicycle, and I really like to travel. Basically, I find my peace from the hills in winter and I find my peace about the bicycle trail or in the ocean in the summer.”
Bell Senior Lives
Industry debut:”I have always had a passion for helping individuals,” Mikalajunas says. Later, while working in Harbor Retirement Associates, Mikalajunas fulfilled with Steven Bell about an opening in Bell Senior Living. “I was not looking. He agreed to the interview,”expecting nothing more than to bring some new friends to my Rolodex. I knew it had been a place I could call home.”
Favorite part of the job:“I like seeing the look on somebody’s face whenever they do something that they thought they couldn’t do- that look of serendipitous surprise once they realize,’Wow, I really did it!'” he says. Mikalajunas laments not having the ability to enter the communities these days but enjoys building the teams that do. “I don’t have to spend as much time with the residents as I use to when I had been in a neighborhood. But at least I’m still able to do this through my groups. That’s what it is all about at this level-building the teams that go out there and make a difference in people’s lives”
Greatest on-the-job question:”Not allowing complacency to set in,” Mikalajunas answers. “I think getting folks excited about doing exactly the exact same thing today that they did yesterday, and also to a higher level of excellence, is the most difficult thing you have to perform in this position.” How can he accomplish that? “I get them to look past the task at hand to check at the bigger picture, which is to care for individuals and make a difference in their own lives,” Mikalajunas states.
Away from the c-suite:”I’ve received more ridicule for this than anything else in my career, but I’m going to fess up to it anyway: I am an avid online gamer,” Mikalajunas states. He started playing games such as World of Warcraft years ago as a way to connect with his kids while he was on the road for work. “I could sit at a hotel room 1,000 miles away from home and spend time with them,” Mikalajunas states. He keeps at it now because”it helps me clear my thoughts. I can go to a game without having any obligations. I can just have fun”
Sunrise Senior Living
Industry debut: A tour of Sunrise Senior Living’s community in McLean, Virginia, was all it took to convince Mark Ordan to say goodbye to his own 25-year career in the retail industry. “It had been the first time I’d ever been at an assisted living area, and I was astounded by what I saw,” says the former founder and CEO of Fresh Fields Markets Inc., a chain of natural foods stores he finally sold to Whole Foods. “I found a level of attention and devotion I had never previously seen in a business atmosphere.”
Favorite part of the job:”This is the very first time in my career that I’ve been able to direct a business that at its core is all about service to others. I’ve never been part of something quite like that,” Ordan states. “I am guessing a great deal of people who’ve been in this industry for a very long time have almost gotten used to that by now, but I still feel like pinching myself.”
Greatest on-the-job challenge:”My biggest challenge is figuring out a way to steer this company through a very difficult financial environment while also finding a way to take us to greater levels of care and service.” The latter can not suffer at the expense of the former, he adds, because”why Sunrise exists is to serve seniors. We can not forget that even when we are going through rough times such as we are now.”
Away from the c-suite: When he is not working, Ordan transactions his territory legs because of his sea legs. “I love boating,” he states. “I guess you can say being on the water takes me away” He does not get to feel the wind in his hair as often as he would like these days, but that is OK. “I’m so thankful to be where I am,” Ordan states. “After 25 years of running a vast range of businesses, it’s nice to find myself at one with this wonderful core sense of function.”
Brookdale Senior Living
Industry debut: Although creators Thomas Frist Sr. and Jack Massey persuaded him to combine American Retirement Corp. (which merged into Brookdale Senior Living in 2006) back in 1984,”I will never know exactly why they believed [the senior living industry] are a good match for me personally,” says Sheriff, who previously worked for Ryder System Inc.”I’m happy they did, however. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the previous 25 decades.”
Favorite part of the job:“I love the people- serving-people facet of the senior living industry,” Sheriff states. “That’s what attracted me to it in the first place and that is what I’ve appreciated about it ever since.” Another favorable:”In this business, it is not tough to feel as if you’re making a difference in people’s lives daily, because that is exactly what you’re doing. That is amazingly rewarding.”
Greatest industry challenge on the horizon: Sheriff considers a challenge that has long been an issue for the senior living business will continue to be a challenge well into the future. “We have to keep to refresh our product,” he states. “We have to continue to take an old asset and ensure it is consistent with the evolving expectations of our customer-and we have to take action while also continuing to introduce innovation into our marketplace.”
Greatest on-the-job challenge:”We are facing extreme occasions and ailments,” Sheriff says of the planet’s economic woes. “It is now and will continue to be extremely hard for individuals in this and every other industry to deal with what is going on, but I believe if we can stay focused on our mission such as we are now, we will succeed in the long term. The chances that come out on the other side will probably be important.”