I knew I had to go meet that guy.

By Steve Moran

While at the Alberta Seniors Communities & Housing Association annual meeting in Edmonton a few weeks ago I got a chance to meet Neil Prashad the president of Origin Active Lifestyle Communities, a Toronto-based senior living company.

Our meeting was serendipitous in that we were both in a poorly attended breakout session on the use of recreation therapists to lead senior living life enrichment programs. Being poorly attended turned out to be a good thing, because the session turned into more of a roundtable discussion with a group of really bright people.

After hearing him talk about some of the things they are doing in their communities, I knew I had to go meet that guy. It turned out he was a reader of Senior Housing Forum and we had great conversation. I knew I had to interview him. That interview took place a few days ago.

The Driving Passion

In founding Origin 13 years ago, Neil’s driving passion was to build a company where the top priority is to be a great place for people to work. 

The Story

Neil told me that he is essentially a “lifer” in the senior living business. When Neil was a young boy his mother was a nurse in England and was recruited to Canada to help run a small nuclear medicine department in a small town north of Toronto, but the position she held did not generate enough income for her family as a single mom so she worked weekends in a nursing home.

Neil is not quite sure how it worked out but somehow the leadership of this nursing home was ok with a 10-year-old boy hanging out there on the weekends. What is curious and cool is that the thing that really impressed him was that these managers saw merit in making it an ok thing for kids to hang around.

Neil received Masters’ Degrees in Architecture and Real Estate Development from MIT where he focused on the design and operations of CCRCs. He came to realize that architects don’t change the world, but realized that developers/operators were in a better position to “change the world”. 

September 11, 2001

For about 10 years he worked in various positions in the seniors housing business in the USA and Canada, the highlight being 5 years spent as the Chief Operating Officer of AMICA Mature Lifestyles. 

For Neil September 11, 2001 was a life-altering event. He made three vows to himself that day:

  1. Get healthy and figure out what he was supposed to do with his life to help change the world.
  2. Leave AMICA and start a company.
  3. Give back to the community as both a personal mission and a mission for his new company.

Today – The Cool Stuff

It is now 13 years since he started his new company. He almost lost the whole thing during the recession. Today they are operating three communities, have 3 under development in Canada and have launched a JV in Poland. The cool stuff:

  • Creating a place where people love to come to work each day remains Origin’s highest priority. When I asked what his employee turnover rate looks like, he told me that last year he wrote employee retention checks for $37,000 at his oldest building. The way it breaks down is $500 after five years and $1,000 after 10 years. I didn’t ask the breakdown but that is a lot of retention.
  • Every single FT employee gets full benefits.
  • Teams have meaningful input on all aspects of work that impact their work lives and work-life balance.

His current major initiative is to develop a strong culture of mindfulness and spirituality for team members. Spirituality is not about telling people what religion they should practice or even that they should be religious at all. It is fundamentally about living a purposeful life. This effort by the Company then extends to one key question:  How can each team members engage every single resident?

In the fall I will get to experience an Origin community in person and you will get the rest of the story.