By Steve Moran

While at the NIC 2019 Fall Conference in Chicago I got to talking to Jacob Ghel, Executive Managing Director & Co-Founder of Blueprint, about his perspective on the current state of senior living. We talked about how, too often, investors see senior living as being primarily a real estate investment instead of primarily an investment in a business that is real estate dependent.  

His turn of phrase, when talking to investors is this:

You should bet on the jockey and not the horse

This is 100% right. We know there are amazing, beautiful, new or almost new communities that have horrible occupancies and are bleeding cash. We also know of buildings that are older with functional obsolescence that could really use some updating but are at or near full occupancy and generating a very nice cashflow month after month. 

Maybe It’s Both

I happened to end up sitting in front of Cindy Baier, the CEO Brookdale, and Mercedes Kerr, the president of Belmont Village, about this idea and they were adamant that you needed to bet on both. This is a fair twist. There is no doubt that particularly in horse racing, the best jockey in the world can’t win on a broken-down nag.  

And there are likely some buildings that can never be successful because of either the market or the condition of the building. 

But The Point Remains . . .

that the team, the leadership, the culture is the number one ingredient for success. A great team can overcome a mediocre or tough market. They can overcome less modern buildings.  


Over the past few months I have had the chance to chat with a number of asset managers who have buildings that are managed by a variety of companies and it seems so random. You can have two communities operated by the same management company and one is performing crazy good and another performing crazy bad. Normally the blame is laid on the market, the location of the building, the condition of the building, or something else.

But in 100% of the cases I have found the difference to be the quality of the executive director. The person leading the effort on the ground makes all the difference in the world. Right now, what mostly happens is that getting the right executive director is a combination of randomness and luck. But it does not have to be.

Great cultures and deliberate leadership development strategies create spectacular executive directors and attract rock stars.

Why It All Matters

This is not just about dollars. It is about people. It’s about the residents who are living out their last chapters and want to live them well. The families who are coming to terms with their aging loved ones, where often there are no great choices. The frontline staff who are often the most vulnerable of all of the constituencies we serve. 

I would propose that if every single senior living organization put more money on the jockey than the horse every single community would be full and with a waitlist.