Chris Guay, the founder, and CEO of Vitality Living is with me on today’s episode of Boomer Living. Vitality Living offers retirement living, assisted living, and memory care communities where residents can live purposefully and experience a profound sense of belonging.
With more than 20 years of operations, management, and leadership experience, he has a background from community-level leadership roles to senior executive positions at some of the industry’s largest providers. I’m eager to talk to him today about leadership, culture, and the long-term future of the senior housing industry.
[00:00] Pre-Intro dialogue from Chris
[01:33] Get to know you
[04:43] Introduction to Chris Guay
[05:26] You obviously have a passion for serving the older adults, baby boomers, and the silent generation. Where did this drive come from? Was it from experiences that you had with your grandparents?
[09:56] The meaning behind the name "Vitality"
[11:21] Now you mentioned several reasons, what sets your company apart from the others now? How do you make sure that your customers keep coming back to you or refer you to their neighbors into the relative?
[17:06] You mentioned a little bit about differentiating between senior living and long-term care. Can you give a summary or your thoughts on that?
[19:19] You've spoken about the importance of culture in your communities. Can you provide some example that illustrates that?
[25:54] How do you empower your employees to take the initiative and be leaders of their own projects?
[31:55] Becoming a leader is a journey rather than a destination. Can you share some lessons learned of significant leadership skills that you know, over the course of your career? And then how are you continuing to develop your leadership skills?
[36:03] What effect the strong leadership has on residents in terms of the impact on the community? Do you think they feel that, do they see that?
[38:04] We all know the devastating effects of COVID on the senior living industry in the past year. What do you think will be the long-term impact on the industry?
[41:27] Would you say the future is bright for the senior housing industry?
[43:38] Do you have any other thoughts that you would like to share?
Founder & CEO at Vitality Senior Living
"My inspiration comes from my family and their passion to live life to the fullest. I was blessed with grandparents that played a major role in my life. For as long as I can remember, these wonderful human beings instilled a passion in me to live life to the fullest. From a grandfather who learned how to ski in his 50's to a grandmother who had a dune buggy in her 70's, I grew up seeing that life was not limited by age. This inspired me to build Vitality and create life, energy, and purpose for older adults for decades to come. It is my passion to help everyone, regardless of age and circumstance, fully experience life every day they can!"
Chris has 20+ years of operations, management, and leadership experience in the Senior Living industry. His broad background was achieved through leadership roles starting at the community level through senior executive positions with the industry's largest providers, Emeritus & Brookdale Senior Living. He founded Vitality Living in 2016, a company focused on making a real positive difference in the lives of older adults and those who serve them. He is an innovator in the industry and is committed to creating a company that engages residents, families, and team members in successful aging.
Learn more about Chris here:
Vitality Senior Living: https://www.vitalityseniorliving.com/
And so just watching and knowing that you've got these people that have so much history and so much legacy and so much to still give to me, it's always been a driving passion to create a lifestyle and experience for them. They still feel like they have purpose. And you'll see when you read our mission statement. When I founded vitality in 2016, I wanted to run a good company. I wanted to have a good business, but I wanted to make sure we stayed focused on the things that I felt really mattered. And I think when we talk about older adults, I like too many times the senior housing industry has looked at like the, for lack of better term, the last stop. And I didn't want that to be, it should be a place where people go and get to experience life. And we also honor the folks that have given so much to all of us. That's a little combination of growing up and then just as I've grown up in the industry, really being coming more passionate and more driven to really make a difference. Actually. Where are you? Where is, I think I should know this. Where's the, where are you located?Hanh:
I'm in Michigan. I've been here over 40 years. I'm in, Canton, it's about 10 minutes away from Ann Arbor, which is where university of Michigan is at. So I'm still here, my three kids, my oldest one, she's gonna start medical school at university of Michigan, this July. So I'm excited.Chris:
Yeah, she's worked so hard and I guess that was one positive thing that occurred in 2021, she's been working hard and we were awaiting for this feedback, so.Chris:
Yeah, that's fantastic. But I think so my kids are juniors in high school and then I have a sophomore at university of Kentucky. And it's amazing how resilient they are. They just are already figuring out how to live in the world as is today. And they get frustrated like we do, but they've move on and figure it out versus I feel like we're all stuck. So it's trying to get people out of being stuck in looking forward again.Hanh:
Yeah. Yeah, I think so too. I think, mental health is a big worry for across the board. I think originally we were concerned about the older adults and then I was really concerned about my high school age kids, because I think during that window of time, is that's how they learn? It's the social part of it. Forms and shapes them being in teams, whether it's sports or different clubs and yikes, that socialization, For the high school kid. I think it had a huge impact.Chris:
Yeah. You feel for those kids that missed proms and missed graduations? We are fortunate we're in Tennessee that drive into Nashville. And so it just right wrong or indifferent. The state never shut down to the level of States like Michigan did and States in the Northeast. And so my kids have not missed. They both play lacrosse. They've not missed any part of their season. There's been adjustments as they've been like, I think there's one game that got canceled, but they've been able to stay in sports and then school-wise, they've been able to get back in person and my son's gotten contact traced out once or twice, which is silly the way they do that. But beyond that, they've been able to maintain some of that, which is, I think is I agree with you. It's really helpful. I think it's really tough for school-aged kids right now to be able to cope with learning online and missing all those social pieces that are as important as the classroom in high school and beyond.Hanh:
Yeah. Yeah. I think for class of 2021, which which is where my son is at, he's graduated, he's 18. He's graduating this year. It's almost like they didn't have last year, especially if they play a spring sport. Cause this happened in March. So forget baseball.Chris:
Now they didn't go back to school until beginning of March. Yeah. Yeah. You see that's I know when I think about it, it just breaks my heart because they didn't have much of a junior year and pretty much none of senior year. And those are really huge years because that's when they are in roles, likely to be like leadership roles, and it's nice to feel like you're all that because you're in an upperclassmen behind the screen nowadays, we're all been impacted.Chris:
Yeah. We all have, yeah, I agree. Great. Thank you. I appreciate the invite too. It's I always like to meet people in the industry, talk a little bit and get a chance to share ideas and perspective, and then hopefully share with others. I'm big on collaboration.Hanh:
All right. Let's get started. On today's episode of Boomer Living Chris Guay founder and CEO of Vitality Living joins me. Vitality Living offers retirement, living assisted living and memory care communities, where residents can live purposefully and experience a profound sense of belonging. With more than 20 years of experience in the operations management and leadership positions, he has a background from community level leadership roles to senior executive positions at some of the industry's largest providers. So I'm eager to talk to him today about leadership culture and longterm future of senior housing industry. Chris, thank you so much for being with me today.Chris:
Thank you for having me, Hanh.Hanh:
Great. So you obviously have a passion for serving the older adults, baby boomers, and the silent generation. Now, where did this drive come from? Was it from experiences that you had with your grandparents?Chris:
A little bit of both. I'll explain. I was fortunate and have been fortunate that I knew first all of my grandparents are three are still alive. My maternal grandparents, my, my grandfather from my mother's side passed away about five years ago. So I was able to grow up and have that experience. I have a grandfather who's 95 who still lives independently and is full of life and energy. And watching people age and age well has been something that I've been fortunate to see. I also knew several of my great grandparents. I had my great-grandmother lived well into her late nineties and was actually able to see my first daughter born and meet her, which is neat to think about that. So a lot of that is just the passion of being around and watching older people age well. And then when I got into the business and it like many of us who started in the industry in the mid nineties, I got into the senior housing industry a little bit by accident. I was looking for a job and ended up finding a real passion. And so just watching and knowing that you've got these people that have so much history and so much legacy and so much to still give to me, it's always been a driving passion to create a lifestyle and experience for them. They still feel like they have purpose. And you'll see when you read our mission statement. When I founded vitality in 2016, I wanted to run a good company. I wanted to have a good business, but I wanted to make sure we stayed focused on the things that I felt really mattered. And I think when we talk about older adults, I like too many times the senior housing industry has looked at like the, for lack of better term, the last stop. And I didn't want that to be, it should be a place where people go and get to experience life. And we also honor the folks that have given so much to all of us. That's a little combination of growing up and then just as I've grown up in the industry, really being coming more passionate and more driven to really make a difference.Hanh:
Yeah, I think it's so important to keep that center right. In caring for the later generation, because it isn't about the end too often. That may be the mindset of folks. But it's not, it's to continue a continuation of living there to their fullest. And I think we all have that responsibility to carry on or uphold their heritage, right?Chris:
It's something that in our culture, isn't as strong as it should be. The heritage of the people who have. Taking care of us for so many years gets lost, especially towards the end of life. We're talking about COVID. We saw that Kobe were how many people passed away, alone in nursing homes. And that's just a sad thought to think about. And I also think, and we work through all the space, the only senior housing space we're not in, and it's really that long-term care space, but everything else we're we operate in and let's take assisted living. For example we, the people who moved to assisted living, they have needs, we know they're not moving to an assisted living because they can live independently. There's something. But I think the industry at times, and I think there's, there's a lot of great operators that are really starting to come out of this. And I think have shared the philosophies that we share at vitality. I'll use my grandfather. He knows he's getting old. He knows he has issues related to aging, but I don't know why in this business, we feel like we have to remind people they're getting old, right? We lead with things like we'll take care of your medicines and we'll make sure you have these things. And I think we need to start thinking more of people. Our residents know why they're in assisted living, so let's not have to remind them. And the example I use with my teams, it's like the wizard of Oz. If you remember the wizard of Oz, everything was behind the curtain on front. Everything was this great, beautiful place. And everybody was where life was good. And behind the curtain, Oz was pulling all the strings. I think we do. We're behind the curtain is, helping people with their medications and helping people with the things they need to just take care of daily living. But in front of the curtain, we need to create a lifestyle experience that when someone goes to assisted living, they have that experience where they feel like they're going there to really enjoy life, not perfect, but have a lot more of a lifestyle experience than what the current state, I think of a lot of. The industry is right now.Hanh:
So basically meet them where they are with whatever level of cognition or physical strength that they're at regardless of how much assistance that they need, but just meet them where they are and be instrumental in, allowing them or providing an environment for them to live vibrantly a blessing, cause I think too often, I think most people, myself included is older. Let's face it biology, we do decline, but I don't want to be reminded of that.Chris:
Yeah, you don't have to be told every day.Hanh:
Hey, I want to be encouraged. Hey, you know what, so maybe you're not this or that, but Hey, what I am, This is where we are and this is what we should embrace at any age. So I love. Philosophy and I love the name also vitality.Chris:
Thank you. That was, yeah, it w it was purposeful because we wanted to put a name out there that we hoped. I'm big on language, right? The words you use define how you think and how you speak and how you move. And so we wanted to create a name and a company that hopefully not only sent a different message, but also when you, everything from our values, everything cascades down to cause the biggest challenge for us in there for someone like myself is how do you take a philosophy like that and get it all the way down to everybody in the organization. And that's a daily works. We're not perfect. We're trying every day, but it's really trying to get everybody organization to rally around. Hey, let's create a sense of belonging and purpose for everybody. And we, and you'll see in our mission statement, we always talk about not just residents, but we talk about team members because I think we've got to attract the right people to care for our older adults, right? When you have the right people caring for those older adults, that lifestyle happens. And then families, because. I take it very personal that families trust me with their loved one's wellbeing every day, when they leave them in one of our communities. And so we can't forget the families of the team members either. When we talk about the big equation.Hanh:
Sure. Sure. I agree with that. Now you mentioned several reasons, what sets your company apart from the others now? How do you make sure that your customers keep coming back to you or refer you to their neighbors into the relative?Chris:
Yeah. It's a great question. If I had the complete answer to that, I'd be retired already. We've already been talking to did their podcast. But I think it, and it ultimately comes down to the experience. And so I think the first is setting a mission and a set of values that the whole organization. Can get behind and value and live in and try to emulate and try to aspire to, but that's only the start of it. Then you've got to work on the culture at the community level. And the example I use in my teams and we're not perfect. I we're a company that is about five years old. That's started small, we're growing fast and we're, we've had our bumps in the road, but we're sticking true. And we're staying focused on our core values and our mission because we think that's what ultimately will drive us to the stip this difference. But I think then it comes down to how do you get like first and foremost, that executive director at each property, right? That's your general manager that runs the property. That person needs to feel connected to the organization and accountable to not only to the financial performance of the business. But the cultural, the MIS mission performance of the business. And so we've been doing a lot of work with how do we get those executive directors to really understand our values and how to, not only emulate, but then hold their teams accountable to those values as well. And then from there, how do you then get that to those? And the example I use with my teams are usually that third shift caregiver. So in our business work 24 seven, 365 day a year business, we've got a third shift, right? These are the frontline workers that, they're giving up their nights. They're making sure that our residents are cared for, but they don't see a lot of our leadership. They don't get a chance to see when I'm touring a building. I try to go in early or late at night, but I don't always get as much connection, much touchpoint. And for me, that's the group. If we can figure out how to get the values and the mission, the culture to them, then you really have it. And from there you should create a better experience for your residents and your families. Which then gets them talking because in our business referrals from friends and family are the most valuable they're worth 10 times. Any other referral you can get because we still are private pay business, predominantly, our residents sign a 30 day contract. So at any given time they can leave us. And so it's important that we try to really create that experience at the building level so that the families and the residents sense it and feel it because that's when they want to refer. I can sit on this pod on this interview with you and tell you about our mission, tell you about our values, tell you all the great things. I expect us to do, but if that doesn't make it all the way down to that third shift caregiver, it's just talk. And so that's the challenge. And like I said, we've got it, some buildings, we've got it down to a science and some we're still working on. And that's why, what I love about this business is it's a business of people serving people. And so you've got this human dynamic that flows into this business. I make makes it very some days it makes it very stressful and add another element of anxiety to it, but it also makes it so challenging and so rewarding when you get it right.Hanh:
Sure. Sure. I see there, there are four key components. This is nowhere in any particular order. They're the four components in my mind, the investors you got to, have it's a business as a caring business, but you have folks that you are accountable for. And then it's the staff, the culture that you're cultivating. And then there's the residents. And let's not forget the families of the residents. The, when those four components are intact or working harmoniously. It's very successful. It's very difficult.Chris:
Yeah, you're right. I look at all of our buildings and I look across the buildings we operate and manage. You can see points where you have that altogether and you can just see the success of the building go. And all four of those key customers are all vitally important to the success of the business. And I think sometimes, and so I do a lot of, I do a lot of discussion with my team about mission and margin. And so you've got to have both. And so sometimes in this business, we end up with this mentality, it's all mission-driven. And we forget about the margins, but we can't do that. We've got to balance with our stakeholders. So our investors, a lot of times you can't make things move forward. So we have to be able to get returns on the business. To be able to make sure we can keep growing the business and those returns and that performance helps us feed the employee pool, right? Not just wages, but we can get it. It's not always about wage. I will tell you it's about the way you treat people. That can be just as powerful as wage, but with better returns and better margins, we can get better benefits. We can do better compensation. We can create better programs. And all of that then translates to your point to the care we give residents, right? The more we are able to create an environment where the team members feel valued and they are really, they feel like they belong and they are proud of what they're doing. That directly impacts the residents lives and their experience. And then if that experience is good, it feeds the family. So they're all important, but it all trickles down in the opposite can happen too. When it gets wrong, it goes both ways. And Easier said than done. I will tell you if I figure out the winning formula that allows it to happen. Every building we operate, then, like I said, it will be, we'll have it all down. But the people factor is what complicates that probably will to the end of time.Hanh:
Sure. I kept thinking it is a business, it's a business in caring for folks and you do need to make money. You do need to have your return so that you can invest back into your business, which includes the people. So yeah. Yeah, it's very important. Now you mentioned a little bit about differentiating between senior living and long-term care. Can you give a summary or your thoughts on that?Chris:
Yeah. It's interesting for the 20 plus years I've run this business. I think people still confuse the two. In my easy definition, senior living is. When you for folks that need a different living experience environment, sometimes it's lifestyle driven, not need driven, right? When you talk about active adult it's lifestyle driven or independent living, but they're looking for more of a, group congregate living setting, whether it may be are some support services, whether it's experiential support services or some basic medical support services, but they're not needing that clinical it's more lifestyle based than clinical based long-term care is where you get in, where you have a long-term clinical need and you're having it's less lifestyle and more about the medical. So that's your skilled nursing, your rehab, that type of piece you're your senior housing is your memory care, your assisted living, your independent living. And even to an extent, some active adult where it's focused for older adults. So that to me is the biggest definition, right? Our differentiator between the two and the payments scale, I think we're consumers get confused as they come in and they come to assisted living and they want to say, can I use Medicare? And so in the long-term care world, the skilled world you use your Medicare Medicaid benefits to pay for that skilled service in assisted living memory care, senior housing in general. I think it's, I would guess to say in the market 90% or more is private pay. There are some Medicaid reimbursement. There is some long-term care insurance, but Medicare does not reimburse in the senior housing space.Hanh:
you can't group a bed and breakfast was a Marriott.Chris:
Yeah. So it's a different, so it's just different now. There's all kinds of nuances even to the senior housing space too, from still a very fragmented industry. I think the top and the stack changes every year, but the top. 20 largest providers only make up a small percentage of the actual market. So there's still a lot of smaller groups one-offs and things of that nature. So it's very fragmented versus in the skilled world. You've got some of that, but you also have some really big chains that drive that business.Hanh:
Sure. Sure. Now you've spoken about the importance of culture in your communities. Can you provide some example that illustrates that.Chris:
coming out of, we were, when we started this, we were talking about the COVID experience. I've had so many examples over the last year from the culture of caring where, you know we, we started the drive by parades and a lot of communities did this. But we had a building in Victoria, Texas. It's a small town. It's a very connected town when they did their drive by parade. Literally I think half the town came out, the local fire department came out and they made it a real parade. And so our team created that moment by reaching out and really making it some exciting and really looking for a way to bring the community as close to our residents as they could during a time where they were completely isolated. And the examples go on and on about the sacrifices that every day people made. I saw it time and time again, where we had like most of my peers, we had billions of outbreaks of COVID and where you had full dawned and PP going. Yeah. And in working with our COVID residents and doing FaceTime videos with their families to make sure that the families knew, Hey, yeah, mom's got COVID, but she's doing okay. And so it just, there's so much, I've watched so much self-sacrifice in our cohort and our workers really, and our families, I think I look at the culture of the buildings that we've provided. One of the things we did very early on that I think. Helped tremendously. As we started using social media, we started using Facebook live as a real medium to allow families to get updates and get involved and see what was happening. And so we did several Facebook live events, but the communities our teams committed to doing when in the real, in the peak of COVID, when we were really isolated and no one could get in our communities, we're doing Facebook live events every day, where they were bringing residents in and touching base and just working out and just going that extra mile. So I, it's hard to just pin down one thing, but the culture has just watching our folks do the things that they have to keep people engaged and keep people living and keep people experiencing life during a really tough time. It was pretty amazing. We had one in particular. I'll leave on I'll end on this one. During, around end of the year when things were really the lowest of the low, And it was all you were hearing about is all people aren't living at all in long-term care. They're the worst place to be with COVID. We had a building that set up a mock snowball fight for the residents and they took a room and they literally, it was on the news. I'll send you the clip later. And they had fun. Everyone's wearing masks and have a good time, but they're having a snowball fight inside and they were doing it. And it was just a quirky, fun, silly thing they did. But watching the smiles on everybody's faces and that little piece of, Hey, we're still enjoying life. We're still experiencing life didn't stop living. And we had several billings pick up on that and take the steam of light. We, life hasn't stopped living at this building and they were just sending around videos. And it was just a great way to remind us all that, what we'll get through this and that people are still able to enjoy life during a tough time.Hanh:
Yeah. Yeah. Wow. And that the truth globally, We all had to become creative and make, do with what we have. And it's more difficult, with folks who are in the communities and living without their loved ones. I think globally, we all had to be very creative so that we can continue to engage because everybody is, muted shut down. That's what I had to do to reset my mind. And I think that was one of the driving factors. That allows me to be social and connect with folks is through a podcast.Chris:
Yeah. It gives you, it's right. It gives us, we talked about earlier. It gives us a chance to connect. I will tell you though, all the culture there's lessons learned, and man, we learned a lot from our residents. I always thank our families because we had families that were incredibly gracious. Difficult. Like we have families that literally they went and visit mom the end of February, and they weren't able to see mom in person until just recently. So you think about over a year where they were not able to see their loved one. That's hard, that's really hard. And for the most part, our families were so gracious, so supportive. And I just, I value that and I appreciate that. But also, yeah, the perspective that I heard from my own grandparents, as I talked to them through this and through several of our residents, it was hard. They were more open. Like I remember when we first shut down buildings, our fear was all right, let's make sure we send a good communication of residents. Let's do big resident meetings. Let's make sure they're okay. And our residents were who they were, no one liked what we had to do, but they were more understanding about it than I think we were because a lot of them came back and said, Hey, we've lived through. Depressions we've lived through world Wars, right?Hanh:
I was just thinking of that. They've gone through a lot worse off than. Yup.Chris:
Part of it generation hasn't really experienced anything to this magnitude. So we don't have that resilience. And like anything, when you go through something it's, it's just, you go through tough times, it galvanizes you and starts to help you build up how you cope with future bad times. And so that was the feedback, like my grandfather, he would say, I don't like this. I miss everybody. But he's you know what? I was in world war II. And that was really bad. This is something that we'll get through. And yes, it's scary, but we'll get through it. And the resiliency of the people we serve is just amazing to me. And it, it is something about what they've experienced in life and what they've gone through. And it's a perspective that I think we can all learn a lot from.Hanh:
I agree. I agree. You're right about. Our generation I'm in my mid fifties, I think my parents and they've gone through several Wars in having gone through this. My mom has the later stage of dementia. I'm not sure how much she understands, but let's say if she didn't, I would say this is just an, in a huge inconvenience because what they have gone through they're much more resilient.Chris:
Yeah. It makes, it puts it in perspective. And then the opposite end, we were talking about kids, where kids state, they struggled too, but they were so better at this, that the digital connection. That they were able to adapt to that digital connection better than we were to. I've come away with thinking our generation wasn't prepared for this, but the older generation was, and the younger generation was better prepared for it than we were.Hanh:
I agree. It's just us.Chris:
Yeah. We're problem. We're problem.Hanh:
We're the sandwich, right? Is that what you call the Sandwich Generation? Because we're caring for our parents and we got kids that we still care for, even though maybe I shouldn't, because mine is in their twenties, butChris:
Yeah. Just happens. Crazy.Hanh:
It's so true now. So how do you empower your employees to take the initiative and be leaders of their own projects?Chris:
Yeah. That's a great question. And part of it starts with the, with, again, how we speak, we try to keep your organization pretty flat. I talked to a lot of employees, my whole senior leadership team does, and we ask them and so we have five, our values are very simple. They're very direct. We wrote them and created them purposefully because we wanted to make sure they resonated with everybody. If they have a set of values, I should follow them. But so should the third shift caregiver. And so you have to have a set of values that can resonate through. And so our first value is be present. And that's a simply, if you're going to engage with somebody, whether it's a resident, a family, another team member, anyone be present too many times in this world. The, this is where our kids, this generation it's presence is missed. Our second value is see and hear. And so we, that value comes from the fact that you've gotta be willing to listen to everybody. And that's a message that comes from my early experiences in my career, where I saw when team members didn't feel like their voice mattered. That's when bad things happen. When families don't think like their voice matters, that's when they're upset. When residents don't think their voice matters, that's when they just. Disengaged. And so seeing and hearing and actively being, you've gotta be able to really listen and really be open-minded. And then our third value is do the right thing. And so it steps that integrity value of, Hey, so if you're, if you are a listener and you are listening, you're seeing, if you see something that works, let's talk about it. If you see something that's not working, let's talk about it. And creating that kind of do the right thing mentality, hopefully helps people see that voice is going to be heard and mattered. And our fourth value is create solutions because it's okay to pin. I always, when I meet with a group of employees, I say, okay, how many people can tell me what's not going right here in this building. And I get every hand raises. And so I'll wait a minute and I'll Chuck a little bit and I'll say, okay, how many people have a solution for all the problems that you just raised and everybody's hands throughout. It, there's always one person that's smart Smartdoc that says I got a solution. Hire me, make me the boss, right? Like that. But it really is. We wanted to, those core values is set a thought process of it's okay. To recognize where the issues are. It's not okay then not to do something about it. And so that fourth value is really probably the cornerstone value of let's create solutions, wherever it is, let's figure out solutions. And then the fifth value is celebrate life. And it goes back to that mission piece. We're celebrate life for everybody celebrate our family's lives. Our residents lives, our team members lives. So that those are the values. What makes them work then is I press, and I think you have to lead by example always. So if I put those values out and then an employee calls me and I don't listen, that doesn't mean I'm going to tell that employee what they want to hear, but if I'm not listening myself and practicing those values and it all falls apart. And so we do a lot of work of not only telling people about those values, but then. Culminating down through the whole organization. I do a what I call mission huddle. I do want at least every quarter and we invite, I invite all the leadership teams for the building. So now it's probably over a hundred people that get on. We start by, I go through the mission and I go through the values. This is what they are. And then I welcome every new leader in the organization that's joined and for the town of last mission huddle. And then we focus on something that's very value. It's that time where I'll shut off the margin and just focus on the mission for awhile. And it allows that balance. But I think it really starts at the top having a really strong value set and then making sure those values practice all the way down through the organization. Because that's where it really matters. You have to get those caregivers to really feel it because they're the ones that are, I say it all the time, that, that kind of organizational pyramid where the one dot on the top. And it goes down. We need to flip that, like in the two, a resident, I matter very little. They may never know who I am, but that third shift caregiver, that, that person matters a lot. And so we've got to make sure we get them feeling the culture and make it go through. And we're a work in progress. We're not perfect, but I think it starts with how we talk, how we walk in and the way we treat people from all levels of the organization.Hanh:
Very true. It's it's a cultivating your own family, right? If you have kids from newborn to launching them off at 18 and so forth, so it's very analogist, I think. Because you were near the one person, it's not like you have a different set of character integrity for home life. That's another one for business life. It's the same. SoChris:
Yeah. Yeah. You may turn up or turn down parts of that, Depending on the scenario, but you're right. I think your own personal values always intersect with your business values and if you don't and I think that's an issue, right? Because if you can switch the two, it creates the wrong situation. In my,Hanh:
Right. It's one person with one heart, not multiple where you switch on and off. I've always felt that way. I think I realized much more later on, but twenties and thirties did not, I guess there's some positive as you age, right?Chris:
I will tell you from my personal story, that's ego, right? When you're twenties and thirties, your ego drives you to be it's that competitive kind of, I've got to make it and go as far as I can. And you're right with age come, a lot of battle scars that start to shape and points you down the I think the direction of who you are. So I would agree with that wholeheartedly.Hanh:
And one other thing, is you learn to have a sense of humor about your own weakness, you've got to laugh at yourself all the time and despite all the hardships and bruises, everything that you've gone through and difficulties in your family's health, let's say my mom, my dad, and so forth in me, there's grief, there's denial, there's laws, you go out there and then you've got to laugh and you just got to laugh, find something because I think the laughing part help you heal, laughing and time those two in my mind help you heal. So now becoming a leader is a journey rather than a destination. So can you share some lessons learned of significant leadership skills that you know, over the course of your career? And then how are you continuing to develop your leadership skills?Chris:
Wow. It's, I never saw myself as a leader. I think a little bit of is I think one of the lessons I've learned is having a little humility. Is okay. It's that balance of humility, but also having enough ego to be able to drive yourself, to get outside of your comfort zone. But I think being a leader comes to three core. You've gotta be able to first lead by example, right? You've gotta be able to be a leader that people can relate to. And that doesn't mean that they agree with everything you say or they, but people need to believe in you. No one wants to be led by someone they don't believe in. So if you're going to get that kind of commitment from the folks that you have the honor and the opportunity to lead, you've got to make sure you practice what you preach. You cannot be a leader who says one thing yet acts another. And what's amazing to me, over my 25 years in leadership, I've watched some really smart people, the really bad leaders, because I guess they thought they worked that their employees weren't going to see the true them. Eventually your team, your people will see the true you. So I think the first is leading by example, then you've got to be able to lead the business you're in. You've got to have some kind of skill set and being able to lead the business. You've got to understand the business. I think one of the things that I learned very early on, I was fortunate to get introduced to EEQ right? So emotional intelligence and they had done a study. It was a book out and this 10 years of effort, the name of the book, but it was about how a lot of CEOs end up with a very low IQ because they get so detached and so far away from their business. And I, that always resonated with me and I'm like, okay, I don't, if I ever get a chance to be a CEO, if I'm fortunate enough to do that, I don't want to forget. And so what made me leave big corporate America was I felt that I sensed that I was getting so detached. I was losing my own drive to do it. And so part of my drive to form vitality was the former company that I could. Making the image of a company that was going to be a great company, but also really great to work with and work for and to not forget what was important. So no leading that business, understand what the business is and how you stay connected to it is vitally important. And then you've gotta be you have the ability to lead others. And I think I will use this COVID experience through it. COVID was the toughest thing that I personally faced in my career. Watching, because I've been through two major hiccups in this business recession driven one was overbuilding in the early two thousands, then the recession in 2008 and watched it, really wreak havoc on this business. But both of those experiences didn't really affect people that personally it might've affected residents because they couldn't afford to live in our building, but it wasn't harming them physically. And emotionally COVID was this thing that came out of nowhere. And not only affected our business, but affected the lives of the people we serve in our team members. Yeah. We I've had team members that we've lost. I've had team members that had significant medical. So the emotional toll, all of this was probably something I felt more than I've ever felt anything else in my life, but my role was to make sure people didn't stop moving forward. And yeah, there was days on that. I just, I do my own self check-in and say, how do I come across? Because if I come on Facebook live or I go start talking to team and I am defeated that defeat goes through others. And so as a leader, knowing the scenario in being able to determine how do you change, even if you don't feel it inside, you've got to rise to the occasion and be able to lead the way. And and I don't want to take credit for that in my, I have a fantastic leadership team. That galvanized around this whole thing. And we were able to, I think I'm proud of what we were able to accomplish through the last year and a half. But as a leader, you've got to know how to lead others in the good times and the bad. And I think it's real easy when times are going good. It's when times are tough that you really see the true colors of the individuals who are leading organizations or the people around you.Hanh:
thank you for that. Now, what effect the strong leadership have on residents in terms of the impact on the community? Do you think they feel that they do they see that?Chris:
I don't I don't think it, I know it. I know it every day. And again it's interesting because hindsight is always 2020. I have, I can look at communities where I have strong leaders before COVID strong executive directors who run the building and leadership teams around them. And those buildings, they had the same issues that every other building had. As far as the visitation restrictions outbreaks in their buildings, managing staffing issues related to this diseases pandemic, yet they were able to run through and the residents still had great experiences. The residents still remained as positive as they could be. And so that leadership directly correlated the experience, the residents hat versus buildings, where I didn't have a strong leader where I was in flux. That's where we had our issues. That's where residents didn't feel as supported. So I know because a lot of times in our business, what happens is the residents become so connected to the leaders in the business. When you have the right leader, it's the same thing, as I just said, they're leading by example. And that gives whenever the situation isn't, COVID such an easy example for it, but in the COVID world, it gave a sense of calm. It gave a sense of We're going to get through this two residents. And so the residents had more hope and were just more engaged and that was a direct impact on the type of leader or the leaders we had in the building. And unfortunately we have some great ones that did amazing jobs through this.Hanh:
Yeah. Yeah. I wholeheartedly believe that. I think the folks they feel like you said a sense of calmness, still engaged to whatever guidelines that they have to stay within. They feel safe, secured, and in so many ways be creative so that they can continue to thrive. And I think that's all due to the culture from the staff, Despite the adversity and all the guidelines that we had to stay within. So that's great. Now we all know the devastating effects of COVID on the senior living industry in the past year. So what do you think will be the long-term impact on the industry?Chris:
Yeah, that's a great question too. I am fascinated by the way people think right? The way the society thinks people think what COVID was definitely an unexpected, significant bump in the road. It was a major disruption for the last year plus, and it'll still be a disruption probably for the next six plus months, if not beyond it disrupted our ability to grow our business, right? Because we were limited on how many people did not necessarily want to move. We're limited on tours, limited on visitations. It was a definite headwind on employees, getting good people to come work in this industry because let's face it, frontline workers, all the risks they were taking. But through that, the demographics and the, all the tailwinds that existed prior to COVID, didn't go away. And so the industry still has. The same bright future and opportunities. It had pre COVID. Now I think through this, there have been some things that have changed. I think you'll see maybe some folks with all the in-home technology that's come out of the COVID kind of experience. There may be some folks that decide to stay more in a traditional home setting, but the aging population is still there. The baby will restart aging into our, need base here in the next two to five years. There's an incredible opportunity still to utilize that piece. And so we've got this great big boom in the older demographics, That are coming our way. We've got all the opportunity to still build. There's a need still for good senior living, whether it's active adult, independent living, it's all still there. That hasn't changed. It's just the fundamentals that drive the economics. Maybe a little bit delayed and there may be some expense inflation based on labor costs that are going to maybe driven up because you do have an industry that may there's little more fear-based around it. There may be some increased expense costs because you've got some technology that it makes sense to have now post COVID, right to protect us, hopefully from anything future that is like this, I think some lessons learned, but the demographics, the opportunities the aging population that we know is a significantly larger customer base that we currently have. Those are all still there. So I think the opportunities haven't changed, it may look a little different. I think one area is you might have some investors that aren't as open to jump into this industry because there's some fear and understand and misunderstanding around it. So maybe there's some issues from an investment standpoint, but I think overall, we'll see, 2021 will still be a tough year of recovery. But I think in 22, we'll start getting back to the same tailwinds we had in this industry. And I think we'll be stronger for it. I think I have, I'm fortunate to have a lot of connections with some really great operators. A lot of them the same size regional operas, they're doing great things. They're thinking about great things beyond this. And so I think we'll also see a little bit of resurgence on smaller operators who are able to be a little more nimble, but also really connect with their customer base. A far deeper level than maybe a big large corporation could.Hanh:
Very true. I echo that. Would you say the future is bright for senior housing industry?Chris:
I think the the universe is expansive. And what I mean by that, there's so much opportunity, not just in the traditional bricks and mortar, but there's other opportunities and, home care and how technology helps us reach older adults sooner. Because I also believe if we're able to get to people sooner in the aging process, we can have a bigger impact if we're able to get to them before, traditionally what happens in assisted living, some event occurs, right? A fall, something happens. There's a change in medications and all of a sudden I can't live independently. So I've got to find a different service level. I think if we can connect to people sooner, whether that's through using technology Google at homes and things of that nature, private duty, home care different forms of services that we expand our kind of universe a little bit. I think that'll allow us to get people engaged sooner, which hopefully helps them make a decision at the right time. Versus if it needed time, right? Sometimes the needed time is the right time. But if you can make the decision just a little bit earlier, a little bit sooner.Hanh:
You have more options when you think about it sooner.Chris:
You have more options.Hanh:
But when youChris:
And you've got-the-ability,Hanh:
wait too late, you're limited and it's often it's a crisis.Chris:
And then in a crisis choice gets limited versus if you're proactive, right. It's that classic, proactive versus reactive. And so I think there's an opportunity for us to engage sooner with folks. One of the areas that we're stepping into is active adult, where it used to be called 55 plus, but let's face it like pod. You said you're in your mid fifties. I don't see you retiring and going to live in something. Active adult community, right? I think that age doesn't really matter, really active adult for us. We're finding are people in their seventies mid to late seventies, but who are very independent and just want a lifestyle play, but that's a chance to still show them that living in a more communal setting creates a social experience. That's really healthy for people. And so the more we can reach folks, I think that's the opportunity to really introduce more people to what we're trying to do and expand that net to hopefully get people sooner, to engage with us. So they have better aging experiences.Hanh:
Thank you so much. Do you have any other thoughts that you would like to share?Chris:
No So I've gone through quite a, quite a few.Hanh:
Oh, it's great. Lots of just optimism and your leadership and how that's shown through the whole adversity. So I think it's great. I think hopefully folks who are listening, will be inspired. There's so much to learn. There's so much to engage with folks and, you got to just press forward and have an open mind, Cause I think sometimes we're stuck what might've worked for us before COVID and we're trying to still do it the same way and not consider whether it's technology or another means of communication Having an open mind. It's so important,Chris:
Yeah, I agree. I would just say that's the one thing I would say is for all the negative lessons that COVID taught us, there's a lot of positives. That I think if we can just get beyond the scars and the wounds of the pandemic, which are fresh for people, I don't want to diminish that. I know I know people who are going to be listening have family loved lost family members and loved ones to this horrible pandemic. And so I don't want to diminish that, but there are some lessons that I think we can take through. It's about human connection and communication and how we need to treat others that hopefully make a positive impact as we go forward, after this.Hanh:
thank you so much. It's been a pleasure and honor to have you join me and share your journey. So I really appreciate that.Chris:
Thank you for inviting me. It's been a real pleasure and honor to be part of the podcast.Hanh:
if there's anything I'd like to stay connected, if anything else I can help I appreciate this medium to try to get a chance, to get people, to hear as much positive, because I do think right now there's unfortunately some negative stereotypes and negative kind of sense of our industry coming out of COVID because of what was portrayed. If you watch the media and the start of this, it was like, this is the worst place you can live. They didn't differentiate between long-term care and senior living everybody's lumped us in,Hanh:
everyone that I know and I talked to, there were just some of the greatest leaders with such a heart. And that's one thing I want to, I didn't mention earlier, but I feel wholeheartedly about is that I think we can give folks all the trainings and the textbooks and experience, but I think what's the key component that none of that can give you is a heart, right? Because you've got to have someone that's very centered and truly cares. And then you reap all the benefits of, the, you call it work, but really you caring for the, your parents and grandparents. So that's really important.Chris:
Yeah. No, I mean, it is, I think it's balance between mission margin and you got to stay focused on the mission. You can't forget it all cost. It's you can't forget the margin. It's still, it's such a delicate balance.Hanh:
yeah, no, I know I reach out to you one or two months ago and I'm so glad that, you hit you, you agree to do it. I'm just curious, like what trigger you to wanting to do it?Chris:
So I, I am not the best LinkedIn followup person. I get LinkedIn all the time and I just caught and I read about what your podcast was doing and what you, and I think I w I watched one of the episodes. I just, I think this medium is so important, right? Again, it's how do we get. Some positive out there for people to really see and reflect and hopefully educate themselves more. So it, for me, it was, it looked like everything I read about you, what you were doing was positive. And I, anytime I get a chance to talk about our industry and get some more opportunity to really put some of my thoughts out there, I just, I welcome the opportunity more to share. Cause I'm about, I want this industry is knowing there's no secret sauce. Nobody's doing anything that's so different that we shouldn't be sharing and helping because the more we share it should positively impact their employees in the lives of the residents and the families. And for me, it's just a motivation to give more and try and give back as much as I can.Hanh:
Yeah. Yeah. And I appreciate that. And I'm so glad that you replied. But surprisingly there's some that don't, I don't know, maybe cause I just wanna stay private. I think there's so much to share and bring the positiveChris:
No, you're right. Part of my motivation is I've been in this business a long time. There are some groups and leaders that are non-collaborative who just take this approach where we're just going to run it our way. And I don't think that helps the industry. And unfortunately right before I started this podcast, I have a group there's 12 of us. We're all CEO's and COO's of, good sized companies for the industry, but not huge players, Were all regional players, probably the biggest company has 50 buildings. And the 12 of us started talking in the beginning of COVID just to share, just to find a place where we had a safe space to just talk. And it really developed into this collaborative. And it gives me a lot of hope because we are open. We don't hold things back. We talk about things that are really going on in the business and it's. It's refreshing to have that. And I'm, we're trying to invite more leaders to that type of forum because in an effort to try to break this and try to create an environment where people know they can talk and share and it'll benefit everybody. And so what you've experienced unfortunately, is something that's industry. I don't really know where it came from, but it's something that I think I hope we're starting to change with some of the people that are joining the industry.Hanh:
some people may not appreciate being vulnerable because let's face it. I had to learn, I had to overcome being vulnerable.Chris:
Yeah. That's a real, that's a real point.Hanh:
so I appreciate you accepting, and I really appreciate this conversation.Chris:
I hope that's why I hope things like this help someone who's really scared about making this life choice or this career choice. Think second and thinking again about it, so.Hanh:
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Thank you.Chris:
You're welcome. It was great to meet you and great to have this conversation.Hanh:
All right. Take care.Chris:
All right. You too.