Sunrise Senior Living picks a new CEO with no industry experience. A great or foolish idea?
Today Sunrise Senior Living announced that Penny McIntyre will become their new CEO effective November 18. It is a fascinating choice because she comes to this position with deep experience in the world of consumer products but zero experience in senior living. “Most recently, McIntyre was the president of Newell RubberMaid Inc.’s consumer group, where she lead growth strategy for brands such as Rubbermaid and Sharpie. Previously, she also had long tenures in executive roles at The Coca-Cola Co. and S.C. Johnson & Son.” A Wave of Things to Come? I was fascinated to see this announcement because I am just finishing an article on the need for disruptive innovation in the senior living industry. It is something we need and I think it is unlikely to come from inside the industry.
Being an outsider means she will come to our world with some deficits that include the following:
- This is a 24/7 business and when things go wrong at night or on the weekends they go really wrong and really wrong fast. This is very different than consumer products.
- The decisions and policies as determined by management have a profound impact on seniors’ quality of life and more importantly the safety and security of seniors.
- Choosing to move into a senior living community is much more akin to getting married, having a spouse die, having your first child or losing your job than like figuring out which color and size of sharpie to purchase or which size and shape plastic container you need.
My list of outsider challenges may make you believe I think this is a bad choice. That is not true. I think being an outsider, while bring challenges also brings some huge benefits including:
- A fresh perspective on how we do things. It is likely the consumer product world has some really important lessons we can learn from.
- Most consumer product companies have very disciplined teams that explore what consumers are looking for and what they will actually spend money on and why they make those decisions. This kind of exploration goes way beyond just looking at market demographics. These are the kinds of disciplines that allow consumer product giants to create new rock star products. This kind of discipline could yield amazing insights about our industry.
- Because Penny is new to the industry she will be able to float crazy wild ideas without people thinking she is crazy. She will be able to ask new questions; those that in our darkest recesses we know we should be asking and questions we maybe haven’t even thought to ask.
It will be very interesting to watch out it unfolds. I predict it will go one of two ways, we will see some amazing new things or she will quickly find herself in over her head. My hope is the first and not the second. What are your thoughts, good idea or bad idea? If you like this article it would be a great honor to have you subscribe to our mailing list HERE.
I love your assessment if the pros and cons- very pertinent to her skill sets and experiences.
I agree with you re: the need to ask those questions found in our “darkest recesses.”
It is hard to tell from the brands she’s been involved with what we might see (Rubbermaid does surprise us now and then with more than containers, but Sharpie now seem like Sharpies then….)
Let’s hope to be wowed!
IT is a likely “winner”. I remember at the LTE conference in 2004 when I was asked how we turned around a, what was seen as a hopeless case with a regional provider, and was asked “how did you do it”? When I replied, ” I started bringing people from Home Depot and Walmart”, people looked at me like I had lost my mind, yet the resultant effects was a turn around that put the company not only on a path to great success but developed an operational model that allowed for continuous growth. This method has worked in many industries why assisted living is finally opening it’s eyes to proven practices gives me some hope that the industry will perhaps be prepared for what the industry is going to need to look like as the ability to navigate the market place as to be prepared in advance for the inception of the regulatory requirements even in building design that will be required as the business becomes a true healthcare delivery model. Good job Sunrise!
Steve, I too really appreciate your assessment and objective optimism related to this investment by Sunrise of Penny’s talent, as well as, the stewardship of the deep talent pool which exists at Sunrise Senior Living. I do believe that we can not forget the basic fact that the vast majority of residents and their influencing loved ones come to our industry for a specific need but as an uninformed and first time consumer – so as you mentioned as a ‘fascinating choice’ may hold very true for us, that a melding of consumer product purchasing processes with the emotional ‘placement’ decisions may very well be revolutionary for our industry. Time will certainly tell….
I agree that breaking out of the box is needed to meet the growing demands of the senior population and health care changes. New eyes such as those that come with this bold move at Sunrise may be just what is needed for the existing senior housing industry to be part of the future of housing and care. I wrote an article to this point in the recent Senior Housing Business Magazine.
The time is right, the industry has experience but it must change it’s self view to create the future.
Kathryn Roberts, The CEO of Ecumen, in Minnesota, came from the “outside” world of seniors. I don’t work for them, but from what I see and hear she’s done amazing things for the company. She was the executive director of the MN Zoo for 12 years prior to coming to Ecumen in 2003.
The business acumen Penny McIntyre brings to the industry is a skill and her great strength. Content can be learned, and if Ms. McIntyre is supported by people with industry-specific knowledge her leadership may accomplish the evolution in the industry about which you and the other commentors have spoken.
Having been an Administrator in senior living for close to 15 years, several years spent at Sunrise as an Administrator, it is refreshing to see someone come into Sunrise without the old “this is how we have always done it” or “we have to maintain a social environment” mentality. As health care for seniors has changed, senior living also has to evolve. As a proponent of progression and making senior livings safer, my building has embraced the ever changing world of senior living and I now have RNs on site (7) days a week, LPNs on site (24 hours a day) and I use only CNAs. While I always loved the philosophy of Sunrise, it was clear to me long ago that there is a way to blend social and medical without losing grace and charm. Good job Sunrise for selecting someone without any experience in senior living. I look forward to seeing some great changes from you!
While I agree with your assessment of pros & cons of bringing in an outsider, this is not new to Sunrise & ultimately worked out well for them. Mark Ordan was brought in as CEO in November 2008 to save them from bankruptcy and prepare them for sale (both of which he successfully accomplished).
Prior to Ordan, the largest assisted living company (at the time) had out grown it’s “mom & pop” ways. Don’t get me wrong, having been a former Sunrise ED and having the privilege of being invited into Paul & Terry Klaassen’s home (as was the practice for all new Sunrise EDs); I believe them to be the most passionate and innovative senior care advocates I’ve ever met.
While Ordan’s tenure started with some really tough decisions that did impact resident care, it was relatively brief and Sunrise quickly returned to being one of the industry leaders. The transformation that Sunrise endured over the past couple years is a great example of needing both “Mission” and “Margin”. You can provide the best care, services & amenities in the world. However, without sound business practices & profitability, you won’t be around long enough to keep providing them.
I suspect McIntyre will be just fine as long as Sunrise keeps doing what they’re doing at the community level.
I think it’s Brilliant! Sunrise, like many others of their size and market-focus; continue to stay ‘stuck’ in the old-school style of long term care. The consumers are changing, their needs are changing and their ability to pay is changing. Having a fresh set of eyes with a consumer-focussed heart, may be just the ‘ignitor’ necessary to see some significant industry shifts. 13 years ago, I too was an outsider when I entered healthcare. Someone took a chance on me. Once I got up to speed with industry terminology, I excelled quickly – thanks to the ‘fresh eyes’ and ‘new perspective’ I brought to the work groups and employers I served. Bravo Sunrise!
Definitely brilliant; not batty. And, our mission will thrive for many years to come.
Kudos to Sunrise Senior Living’s decision to go with the best person. I too come out of the consumer products industry and see far too many talented people rejected by HR, simply because they have no experience in a specific industry. Thinking out of the box is a special quality every industry requires.
Great read i like the fact that they are pushing the limits and trying to move in new directions to improve the overall business..
It’s amazing what one can do when one doesn’t know it can’t be done.
If the board gives her a loose rein, perhaps she’ll make fresh and exciting things happen.
Sunrise seems heavy with ‘corporate protocol’. Let’s see if she generates a more contact-friendly, lighter, can-do attitude throughout the levels of management.
From LinkedIn Groups
Interesting choice indeed.
By Thomas Creager NHA, ALM, MA
I will be very interested to see what happens as we are part of the Sunrise family. My mom has lived at a Sunrise property for 3 years. So far, we have been very pleased so it will be interesting to see what changes might occur in the communities other than just higher level business changes! I will be rooting for her to do a great job as if she does, our loved ones will benefit.
From LinkedIn Groups
I love the idea of bringing in someone who can think outside the box due in part to not having a background in constructing this particular type of box. Hopefully, she will take the time for firsthand observation of each discipline within the senior living spectrum (nursing, therapies, dietary, activities, etc.) to understand how each functions and interacts with the others and what changes can be made for the benefit of the clients. Making new policies and implementing new procedures is counterproductive if knowledgeable consideration is not given, but the senior housing industry has much room for improvement and I look forward to hearing new ideas coming from a fresh perspective.
By Tammy Herro
From LinkedIn Groups
Sunrise Senior Living has made an unusual choice for their new CEO. What do you think?
For more, the most important qualification for anyone working with seniors is their compassion. Too many people have been in the business so long that they have become jaded to the real needs of our seniors. I think it is a great idea. On the same note, I see no reason someone has to have a bunch of degrees behind their name. Their are some of us who have the knowledge, compassion and love for seniors that would make us great in the field, the rules and reulations can be learned, just as this new person at Sunrise Senior Living will have to do. You cannot learn compassion and love. Either you have it or you don’t.
By Carol Horned-Dering
From LinkedIn Groups
Fascinating. Wonder if the idea will spread to other aspects of the healthcare community? Fresh blood and the ability to turn things on their head would be welcome.
By Kathy Wire
From LinkedIn Groups
This could go really well or really bad. Time will tell.
By Jerald Black
From LinkedIn Groups
It never hurts to have a fresh perspective. When Apple hired John Scully as CEO, he didn’t know how to turn on a computer and had never used a mouse. But . . . he brought a ton of consumer products experience from Pepsi. Of course that was before he foolishly fired Steve Jobs.
By Jim Donovan
From LinkedIn Groups
The article brought up a lot of good pros and cons. One challenge that was missing from the list is the fact that she now is CEO over a population and not a product. A recall is no longer an option after a mistake; a mistake that may cost someone’s life at that. I do hope she is prepared both emotionally and mentally for this leap and that she is able to bring a fresh perspective that will benefit that community.
By Leah Korkis, BSN, RN
From LinkedIn Groups
I’d be curious to know her answer
to the question
“So why do you want this job?”
By Helene Simon
From LinkedIn Groups
There are a lot of people working in elder care who have backgrounds in other industries. So, I’m not surprised. Are you?
By Lorie Eber
From LinkedIn Groups
Like you said disruptive innovation in the senior living industry. Sometimes the freshest ideas come from out the industry. Look at Ford… Nicely done Steve.
By mark medeiros
Great read! I agree with your assessment of the pros & cons about bringing in an outsider. One of two things will happen and I certainly hope that McIntyre will bring a fresh perspective to the industry and excel at meeting the growing demands of the senior population and health care changes. This will be a challenge for an outsider… The healthcare industry is about the livelihood and care of loved ones (people) vs. a consumer product which is a complete different mindset. I do believe as well that we can not forget the basic fact that the vast majority of residents and their influencing loved ones come to our industry for a specific need.
That being said, as others have said, content can be learned, and if Ms. McIntyre is supported by people with industry-specific knowledge her leadership may accomplish the evolution in the industry, once she is up to speed with industry terminology. Only time will tell….
As cliche as this is, it is always good to “think outside the box”. It seems that Sunrise wants to continue to push through into a new frontier of senior living and perhaps senior options. As long as government doesn’t over regulate the industry all things are possible. I wish Penny McIntyre and Sunrise success because the residents (our seniors) deserve to live their remaining days in a stress free and safe environment.
Thanks for making us stop, think and gut-check our biases. Myexperience is that any leader with the desire and ability (excellent transferable skills and deep diverse experience) can take over any organization and achieve their goals regardless of the industry. More important question to me is to Sunrise not to Ms. McIntyre–do they have the culture and ability to allow a diverse and dynamic leader like Ms. McIntyre go beyond the reasons why they hired her? And to say she has no experience in senior living is most likely dubious–over 90% of the callers our agency receives are female and an “adult child”–not an administrator nor a senior.
I understand the advantages of a fresh perspective and sincerely hope this is successful, but my gut feeling is one of caution and concern. These are not commodities. This business is about care for real human beings, all of whom have something wrong with them or they would not be there.
I promise I am not going off on a tangent and will tie these thoughts together in the end, so please bear with me: There is a lively discussion on another LinkedIn thread titled “To lie or not to lie” in the Alzheimer’s Association group. It poses the question of the ethics of being completely honest with Alzheimer’s patients if we know the answer will upset them. For example, if a resident is asking for a family member who is deceased, do we tell them honestly this person died and allow them to freshly grieve, sometimes multiple times a day?
There was a response from a Regional Director at Sunrise that surprised me, “I understand the sentiment, but surely being honest and then providing appropriate care and support is the best way.” Seriously? I responded with, “Anyone who believes it’s always best to be honest and then provide support after the patient gets upset at the honest answer, has I doubt have spent much time caring for people with Alzheimer’s….or at least I hope not. Causing unnecessary pain and suffering in the name of honesty is cruel and pointless…”. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but my thoughts are that anyone who would have that policy, especially in a management position is inexperienced and has probably never taken any dementia care training courses, or is lacking in compassion.
Looking back on my own experiences, I find my perceptions are very different now than when I first was learning about senior care and housing. I made a commitment to learn as much as possible, and will never be finished. There are details I notice now that I would have been oblivious to in the past, and my thinking has evolved. I have made mistakes and am acutely aware that even with the best intentions, every error is potentially affecting someone’s quality of life.
The business and the buildings are important, but if the priority in the business of senior care is not about the seniors and their care, (which requires a depth of knowledge and experience) then the business and the buildings are meaningless.
Wonderful Article. However, I would like to add another thought that has not been mentioned….This is a SERVICE industry. Ms McIntyre’s background appears to be primarily product re-branding and product development in the consumer sector for International business, all sold through an outside International distribution network. Her experience has been International, not domestic.
She will need to consider focusing on the service deliverables to see if they are in sync, competitive and innovative, domestically first, because this is where the majority of their business is right now, unless the Board views its growth to be International not domestic.
On the positive side, Sunrise has had trouble adapting to regional markets and Ms McIntyre’s experience can rectify this. Also, Sunrise is management top heavy. Ms McIntyre comes from two corporate giants who were not and saw the inefficiencies of top heavy management and its expense. If she reshuffles the management structure, brings in new blood and recognizes that the deliverables come from the field and empower them …..that will help Sunrise greatly.
Well, the final verdict is Batty. Penny McIntyre is no longer the CEO and has been replaced by Chris WInkle. Sunrise, silently removed her from their website and now show Chris WInkle as the CEO.
Turns out it was batty! She was never a good fit for the organization and it became very obvious to them. Good luck to her!