These guys may very well be the first senior living or post-acute organization to prove scale actually works.

By Steve Moran

The first time I “met” John Moore, the CEO of Atria, was . . . using the most charitable of all possible descriptions . . . unsettling.   

I have this almost obsessive-compulsive goal of meeting as many senior living leaders as possible and confess to being particularly driven to meet significant thought leaders in our sector. This drive frequently forces me into a bifurcated decision tree where both decisions are hugely uncomfortable.

The first is to not walk up and introduce myself to someone I want to meet, which when I give in to this temptation, I beat myself up for being a coward.

The second is to make the approach, knowing that at every conference these thought leaders are inundated with people who want to meet them, which means they have developed a lot of appropriate defense mechanisms to deal with these unwanted approaches.

The Big Risk

The risk, of course, is that if my approach is seen as illegitimate and/or unwanted I will be subjected to those defense mechanisms. And . . . I am super thin-skinned about this. I can have 99 great encounters, followed by 1 rejection, and the rejection completely kills me for hours or days. This is not rational or reasonable; however, emotional responses never are.

Some caveats:

  1. I absolutely get that these approaches can be a pain for leaders and believe that it is very legitimate for them to be cautious. So I am not complaining about this happening.

  1. I always try to be respectful in doing this. Meaning if I see someone I want to meet in what appears to be an intense or serious conversation I will walk on by.

  1. This is only very rarely a problem for me today since I have worked hard to earn my stripes as someone worth knowing.

Back to the Story

John was standing with a group of other leaders, most of whom I knew or had met, but none of whom I had much of a relationship. Before I even got to the group, he looked up at with me and with a big grin said, “We better watch out, here comes the press.”

Instantly intimidated.

I went ahead and introduced myself, which was followed by a super uncomfortable silence, followed by my backing away, not quite knowing what to think, say, or do.

Fast Forward Several Years

This morning, I walked into the front door of Atria Senior Living in Louisville and spent some time touring their support center. I was able to talk with John and Regan Atkinson about all things senior living and Atria Senior Living.  

Here are some of the high points of my tour and conversation:

  • They have taken a very measured and business excellence approach to senior living. As I was heading back to the airport Regan described it this way:

    “Love + Math = Atria

    The big idea is that you have to have love in all you do for residents, team members, family members, and prospects but you cannot let the love part become so dominant that it overrides good business sense.   

    They are hugely systems driven, to the point of it looking like and feeling like they have stripped executive directors and even regional directors of much autonomy. But it turns out this is a grossly simplified way of looking at it.

    A better way to look at it is that they are taking away certain decisions from executive directors because it allows the executive directors more time to actually do the people stuff, that at the end of the day is the very most important part of being an executive director.

  • Their approach to technology is to mostly build their own tools with the singular goal of making those technology tools something that reduces staff workloads, while at the same time ensuring great care.

  • They are hugely data-driven, using data to refine just about every part of the operation of their communities from pricing, to quality assurance.

Atria currently has about 235 communities and they continue to grow. They may very well be the first senior living or post-acute organization to prove scale actually works.