Legendary basketball coach John Wooden once said, “A failure to prepare is preparing to fail.” Whether it’s athletics or senior living, planning is a vital component to achieving success. In January, four senior living professionals reinforced that idea during an online conference titled “Own the Future: Key Strategies for Success During Economic Recovery.”
“This was not a theoretical discussion,” said Brian Schiff, Senior Vice President at Greystone. “These were four people representing four organizations intimate with executing growth strategies in today’s market.”
Schiff moderated the conference, hosted by SeniorCare Investor. He was joined by SFCS Vice President Scott Rasner, SantaFe Senior Living President Troy Hart and Methodist Retirement Communities President and CEO Ron Jennette. Each panel member spoke from current experience in positioning for success in a tough environment and executing ahead of competition as the economy recovers.
Ron Jennette stepped in as MRC’s president and CEO in 2008. His first task was establishing that strategic plan and prioritizing opportunities across five existing communities. He laid out a focus and vision for the board. He then traveled to MRC’s campuses and reiterated that same focus and vision. Tough decisions were made and implemented swiftly, including the closing of one community. Once the plan began moving forward, Jennette continuously reinforced the reasons behind this new direction – a practice that continues today.
“We had an executive leadership meeting just this week,” Jennette said after the conference, “and the first thing on the agenda was reinforcing the philosophy.”
MRC’s focus is already paying dividends: The organization has completed construction of a new health services component at Crestview, a community in Bryan, Texas. MRC also started construction of independent living units at Crestview, which are 100 percent pre-sold. During the online conference, Jennette spoke about “staying ahead of the curve” and being prepared as the need for senior housing grows. His vision includes having one new CCRC in the works at any given time.
SantaFe was in a different place when Troy Hart joined the organization in 2009. The organization had just come through a “historic economically positive run.” Then 2008 and 2009 came and SantaFe weathered a period “rife with challenges.”
The key to meeting those challenges head-on was honesty, communication and keeping service to seniors as the organization’s focus. Despite the difficult environment, SantaFe persevered. Since 2008, the organization has done the following:
- affiliated with East Ridge Retirement Village near Miami
- continued with construction and fill up of The Village in Gainesville
- pushed forward with development of The Terraces at Bonita Springs, a $150 million financing now under construction and over 80-percent pre-sold
“I’m sure we trail some organizations,” Hart said, “but we feel like we’re ahead in some regard having grown through the heart of this economic downturn.”
Hart worked closely with SantaFe’s board in moving forward during the challenging period. Scott Rasner and SFCS often work with organizations just beginning a planning period.
“Some boards are frozen right now, and they are only calling after they are in crisis,” Rasner said. “They don’t have a plan in place, and the planning process can be lengthy.”
The task of mapping an organization’s path years or decades into the future can be daunting. So what can conference participants implement immediately?
“The starting point would be an evaluation of the market and current opportunities,” Schiff said. “Ask yourself, ‘How do I fundamentally improve what I have within the constraints of the market?’”
And, as Jennette adds, getting team members to believe in a plan and stand behind necessary changes is absolutely critical.
“We accomplished what we did by first getting the board aligned,” Jennette said. “We also had to be really open and admit the things that were wrong and do something about them promptly.”
Symposia, conferences and other meetings of industry professionals are opportunities to learn and take usable information back to organizations. But inserting new knowledge into an existing plan, or using it to construct a completely new one, requires willpower.
“All too often you get new information and you spend time trying to figure out how it applies,” Hart said. “But you have to have the discipline not to fall right back into what you’ve been doing for months and years.
“It’s important to have a break with the past and act on new information as you get it.”
Scott Rasner is currently working with a number of organizations. In his experience, the providers that understand where they are going and how they envision getting there are the ones poised to achieve.
“It should provide hope that well-thought-out plans are being rewarded,” he said. “There are opportunities out there.”