By Steve Moran

While at the Senior Living Innovation Forum in Santa Barbara I had a chance to ask Kris Engskov, the new president of Aegis Living, what it has been like going from Starbucks to Aegis Living. I started the conversation by asking about the 4 or 5 months he spent as a senior living intern (he calls the experience an immersion program). He told me this story about his first day:

“I have to say that I was nervous about the hands on. Coming from Starbucks I’ve been a barista for a long time and so making this change was a huge thing . . . a risk for me.

I remember sitting at dinner with my wife before my first shift at our Madison Street community in Seattle and telling her I was very nervous because these care managers are saints. They’re amazing people. They just have a way of being that is special. I had watched a little bit of that and now I was going to go do that, and I was nervous.

I showed up at six o’clock in the morning and met Helen, this amazing 28-year-old Eritrean woman who came from a family of 22 brothers and sisters, and had only been with Aegis for six months. She didn’t know who I was, or care. She took my hand at six o’clock in the morning and we just started going room to room, getting people up at the right time, getting them out of bed, dressed, taking them to the bathroom, getting him showered, and then holding their hand and walking them down to breakfast.

Within the first hour I knew I was supposed to be with Helen that day. She was my angel; she really took the time to teach me. She showed me. And what I loved about that experience, and it is something I have seen over and over again with our care managers is that the thing they’re so good at is that they’re caring. They are compassionate, loving, and sympathetic. 

They’re all those things that we want them to be, and expect them to be, but, more importantly, they do it from their heart. That was the best part of my immersion experience, seeing those things that are our philosophy in action.” (edited for print)

He went on to tell me that Helen, his angel that first day, was recently promoted to med tech.

The Big Surprise

I asked Kris if there were any big surprises or ah-ha moments. For him, the biggest thing was how complex the jobs of caregivers are. There is this tendency to think about the frontline care managers’ job in a very simplified way and yet, in reality, it is a complex job with lots of responsibility, very different than a frontline Starbucks barista. They have to deal with resident deaths, emotional needs, cognitive challenges, physical needs. It takes a certain kind of mental ability to do it well.

Staying in Touch

I asked Kris how, now that he is wearing the president mantle, he will stay in touch with frontline team members. He said it is pretty simple, lots of time in the communities doing roundtables with caregivers. I particularly liked this quote as a philosophy:

“The people who do the work, who are hands-on every day are, in many ways, the ones in charge. Our job in the head office and our field support structure is to try to make that job easier, better, more fun, more purposeful.”

That covers less than 50% of the conversation. You can watch the entire interview here: