Setting trends in the lives of seniors, several managers reveal careers in serving seniors


Being a senior director in the business industry requires more than visionary leadership skills, financial knowledge, strategic operational know-how and a gift to the organization’s leadership; it requires passion. And, most often, it is a passion that has existed for a very long time.
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“Few people just take this position,” says Joe Mikalajunas, president of Greensboro, Bell Senior Living based in North Carolina. Most senior living managers “start in the same place – in the community, serving seniors – and then climb the corporate ladder.” But here is the kicker, Mikalajunas adds: “We all have a passion to serve seniors. It’s difficult to be successful in this industry if you don’t have that passion. ”
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Passion is just one of the many features that Mikalajunas has in common with eight other industry leaders – each of whom participated in exclusive interviews with the Assisted Living Executive – who were appointed Trendsetters at Senior Living for 2009.

Thilo Best
Chairman & CEO
Horizon Bay retirement communities
Tampa, Florida
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Debut in the industry: although Best technically entered the industry in 1987, his first experience (at Prudential Insurance Company of America and Holiday Retirement Corp.) focused on the company’s financial side. However, the operational side never seemed that far. “I was still drawn in that direction,” says Best, who decided to manage Horizon Bay retirement communities in 2001.
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The most important professional achievement: “I am extremely proud of the culture we have built in Horizon Bay,” says Best. “This is a caring culture, but also a pragmatic culture.” He adds that it is important to maintain a balance between them, because “you can’t be so bureaucratic that you forget about the daily mission of taking care of your inhabitants, but you can also # 39; t be so focused on customer service that you ignore your margins. ”
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The biggest industry challenge on the horizon: “I think our biggest challenge will be the new regulations,” says Best. “At both state and federal levels, we seem to be in an era where some believe more regulation is better than less, and I think they can try to fix things that they think require more supervision through additional regulation. a real threat to the industry. ”
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Outside the c-suite: Although Best likes to play tennis, travel and read when he is not in the office, he says that his favorite activity outside of working hours is “spending time with my two daughters. a great look at matters makes me humble and helps me work on my main weakness: patience. ”
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Vicki Clark
Vintage Senior Living
Newport Beach, California

Debut in the industry: Clark has been working in the housing sector for three decades. In the early 1990s, she left an apartment in the sector to join ARV Assisted Living. A few years later, she joined her two former ARV colleagues Eric Davidson and Brian Flornes who founded Vintage Senior Living in 1998. “I feel I’ve always been in the right place at the right time,” Clark talks about both passages.
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Favorite part of the job: because all Vintage properties are in close proximity to each other, “we are able to gather all our executive directors each month for training and education,” says Clark. “The ability to see every face and hear every success every month is especially good.” These meetings are organized around a cultural environment where employees learn best when they share their experiences, peer-to-peer. Their goal is “to help our ED deal with challenges and difficulties by talking to peers,” he says.
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The most important professional achievement: in 2006 Clark received the title of Person of the Year 50+, the program of the Building Industry of America program. “I’ll never forget to stand on stage and stare at about 200 of my peers in the audience,” he says. “I do what I do because I love it, but it’s nice to be honored for it.” Clark says he remembers this experience when he feels overwhelmed. “I look at this award, take a deep breath and say to myself,” You know what? We will achieve it! ”
The biggest challenge at work: “Hiring and maintaining the right teams,” says Clark. She adds that the right assessment tool can help her – and her industry cohorts – in both tasks, but “we seem to all use specific tools.” In the coming years, Clark says that “she would like to see everyone meet to find the right solution [tool] for our industry – which would point us to the best executive directors, because finding the right people for these positions is crucial not only for the success of the community, but for our entire industry. ”
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In addition to the c: Package Like many senior living directors, Clark likes to explore the world when he has time. “I’m trying to broaden my horizons figuratively and literally,” he says. As for the first, Clark says he often needs time to “see what a senior citizen home looks like in any country I visit. It’s just a blush and really, but it still gives me some insight into the differences and similarities between our models. ”
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Granger Cobb
President and CEO
Emeritus Senior Living
Seattle, Washington

Industry debut: After four years at the beginning of his career as executive director of a nursing home in Southern California, Cobb convinced his wife that they should sell their home and buy an independent community living a few hours north of the San Francisco Bay Area. Thirteen other communities eventually joined Cobbco Inc., which merged with Summerville Senior Living in 1998 (And which in turn merged with Emeritus Senior Living in 2007). “I like to say I’ve been in the same company for 20 years, but it had three different names at the time,” says Cobb.
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Top professional achievements: Cobb claims to be the most proud of “supporting open and collaborative communication across all disciplines.” He is also happy to be able to provide employees with information and systems that “allow them to make good decisions.” Both were “the cornerstone of every company I was involved in,” says Cobb. “I focus on them wherever I am.”
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The biggest challenge at work: “Time management and reassessment of my life,” says Cobb. “The list of things that I have to do every day is long and long, so prioritizing everything and then finding time to check as many things on this list as possible can be a challenge.” He’s doing well based on technology – “my laptop and my iPhone sync with everything in my office, so I’m connected no matter where I am.”
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Outside the c-suite: Cobb mentions golf and skiing among activities he enjoys when not working. “Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to spend much time on any of these activities over the past few years,” he says. “I have two girls who are now in college, but when they were growing up, we all played golf and skiing with my wife. I would like to come back to this class with them. In the meantime, run a few times a week with my dog. ”

Rosemary Esposito
Five stars for seniors
Newton, MA
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Debut in the industry: “Taking care of seniors for many years, you can almost say that I started working at an older age while I was still working in the intensive care unit,” says Esposito, who started her career as a surgical nurse before working in hospital administration. These experiences are far from those she has become accustomed to since she joined the housing industry decades ago. “Today’s seniors have more healthcare options and alternative lifestyles,” he says. “The emergence of assisted life has contributed significantly to this.”

Best professional achievement: When Five Star Senior Living was created in 2000, its founders were to reverse the communities that had just emerged from bankruptcy. “We were a new band but we had a unified goal and strategy,” says Esposito. “Not only were we able to reverse these operations, but at the end of the first year we became an independent listed company.”
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The biggest industry challenge on the horizon: due to uncertainty in the current economy, many companies will have to make difficult decisions about cost reduction measures in the coming months and years, says Esposito. “At this time, focusing on the needs of our customers will be more important than ever,” while thinking strategically and not acting impulsively. Until the market comes alive, we must be able to deal with external pressure by fully utilizing our expenses and controlling costs without sacrificing quality or services. ”
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Apart from the c-suite: “I like to do everything that is related to the sun and the beach: swimming, going for long walks, reading a book, photographing a wonderful sunset or just collecting shells,” says Esposito. “For me, even work would be relaxing if I could set up an office on a sunny beach.”

G. Michael Leader
President and CEO
Country Meadows Retirement Communities
Hershey, Pennsylvania

Industry debut: It’s easy to say that Leader grew up in a senior industry, given that his parents founded a nursing home in 1962. It’s a bit like growing up on a farm: everyone has a role, even if he listens to table discussions. “Although Leader helped as a young man, he joined the family business until 1973. Ten years ago, Leader replaced his retired father as CEO, and today works with brother David and brother-in-law Ted Janeczek.

The most important professional achievement: “One of the things I’m most proud of is that for three straight years we’ve been recognized as one of the 100 best jobs in Pennsylvania,” says Leader. “It’s hard work, so we encourage you to know that our colleagues – that’s what we call our employees – enjoy working here.”

The biggest challenge at work: A leader is not alone when he says that he believes that dealing with the current economic environment is his biggest challenge. “Of course, we want to continue to provide quality and value to our customers, but quality has a price and we need to make sure that we value our services so that they are affordable for the market we serve,” he explains. “It’s especially important to remember that when people are practically and mentally limited by economics.”

The biggest industry challenge on the horizon: It’s no secret that the senior industry will be flooded with clients in the coming years, but Leader wonders if there will be enough employees to take care of them all. “We need to find the right people who will take care of all these customers,” he says, “but in recent years these people have not been available in abundance.”

Deborah McAneny
Assisted Living Benchmark
Wellesley, MA

Debut in the industry: Before two years ago, McAneny encouraged President and CEO Tom Grape to join Benchmark Assisted Living, she lived in the investment management industry, making her one of the few people who are a bit new in seniors’ lives. However, she wasn’t worried about moving from one sector to another. “I firmly believe that leadership is consistent across all asset classes,” says McAneny. “Regardless of the industry you’re in, it’s all about attracting and retaining great talent, courage as a manager, and creating a shared vision.”

Favorite part of the job: “I love the challenge and complexity of running and running such a company,” says McAneny. “Many components must go in the same direction for it to work and work well.” Former auditor Arthur Andersen does not, however, spend all his time thinking about the present and future of the company in his office. “As far as possible, I enter the community to see the amazing culture that we created here,” he adds.

The biggest industry challenge on the horizon: “I think our industry lacks diverse customer experience,” says McAneny, adding: “I’m not sure if the average customer can distinguish one help provider from another – or can tell what makes one provider better than the other. “Of course,” he says, “it can be both a challenge and an opportunity.”

Outside the c-suite: Together with spending time with McAnena’s family, he says: “I love skiing, I love cycling and I love traveling. Basically, I find peace in the mountains in the winter and find my peace on the bike path or in the summer by the ocean. ”

Joe Mikalajunas
Bell Senior Living
Greensboro, North Carolina

Debut in the industry: “I’ve always had a passion for helping people,” says Mikalajunas. After working as a mental health specialist, he moved to an elderly company when he joined the Senior Senior Living program in 1996. Later, while working at Harbor Retirement Associates, Mikalajunas met with Steven Bell about the opening at Bell Senior Living. “I wasn’t looking. I was happy where I was, “Mikalajunas recalls. He finally agreed to the interview, “expecting nothing more than adding new friends to my Rolodex. Instead, I was impressed. I knew it was a place I could call home. ”

Favorite part of the work: “I like to look at someone’s face when they do something they think they can’t do – this look of an unexpected surprise when they realize,” Wow, I really did it! & # 39; “He says. Mikalajunas regrets that nowadays he is unable to get into the community, but he likes to build teams that do it.” I don’t spend as much time with the residents as I usually did when I was in the community. However, at least I still I can do it through my teams, what is it all about at this level – building teams that go out there and change people’s lives. ”

The biggest challenge at work: “No complacency,” says Mikalajunas. “I think getting people excited about doing the same thing they did yesterday and to a higher level of excellence is the hardest thing you have to do in this position.” How does he achieve this? “I make them have to look at the task at hand and look at the wider picture of caring for people and changing their lives,” says Mikalajunas.

In addition to package c: “I got more jokes about it than anything else in my career, but I admit it: I’m an avid online player,” Mikalajunas says. He started playing games like World of Warcraft years ago as a way to contact his children while he was on his way to work. “I could sit in a hotel room 1000 miles from home and still spend time with them,” says Mikalajunas. He’s sticking to it today because “it helps me clear my mind. I can enter the game and have no responsibilities. I can just have fun. ”

Mark Ordan
Sunrise Senior Living
McLean, VA

Debut in the industry: Visiting the Sunrise Senior Living community in McLean, Virginia was enough to convince Mark Ordan to say goodbye to his 25-year career in the retail industry. “It was the first time I was in a helping community and was amazed at what I saw,” says former founder and CEO of Fresh Fields Markets Inc., a natural food chain that eventually sold Whole Foods. “I saw a level of care and dedication that I had never seen in a business environment before.”

Favorite part of the work: “For the first time in my career I was able to run a company that is at the core of my service. I’ve never been a part of something similar, says Ordan. “I’m guessing that many people in the industry have long since become used to it, but I still want to pinch myself.”

The biggest challenge in the workplace: “My biggest challenge is to find a way to manage this company in a very difficult economic environment, while finding a way to take us to an even higher level of care and service.” The latter cannot suffer at the expense of the former, he adds, because “the reason Sunrise exists exists is to serve seniors. We must not forget that even when we are going through difficult times, as we are now. ”

Outside the c package: When not working, Ordan replaces land legs with sea legs. “I love boating,” he says. “I think it can be said that being on the water takes me.” He doesn’t feel the wind in his hair as often as he would like today, but that’s OK. “I am very grateful to be where I am,” says Ordan. “After 25 years of running a wide range of companies, it’s nice to be in such an amazing sense of purpose.”

Bill Sheriff
Brookdale Senior Living
Brentwood, TN

Debut in the industry: although the founders Thomas Frist Sr. and Jack Massey convinced him to join American Retirement Corp. (who merged with Brookdale Senior Living in 2006) In 1984, “I will never know exactly why they were thinking [the senior living industry] it would be right for me, “says Sheriff, who previously worked for Ryder System Inc.” I’m glad they did. I’ve enjoyed it a lot over the last 25 years. ”

Favorite part of the work: “I love the aspect that serves people in the senior sector,” says Sheriff. “That’s what attracted me and I have liked it ever since.” Another positive: “In this industry it is not difficult to feel as if you are making a difference in the lives of people every day, because that’s what you do. You do it ; It’s extremely satisfying. ”

The biggest industry challenge on the horizon: Sheriff believes that a challenge that has long been a problem for seniors will remain a challenge in the future. “We still need to refresh our product,” he says. “We must continue to take the older resource and adapt it to the changing expectations of our client – and we must do it while introducing innovations in our market.”

The biggest challenge at work: “We are facing unusual times and conditions,” says the sheriff about the world’s economic problems. “It is now and will continue to be extremely difficult for people in this and every other industry to deal with what is happening, but I think that if we can focus on our mission as it is now, we will be doing well in the long run perspective. The opportunities that will appear on the other side will be significant. ”