I asked Tanya Gall what her move to the leadership of Merrill Gardens means. Here is what she had to say.

400x2xx.cropLast week I saw the announcement that Tana Gall and Jason Childers were leaving Leisure Care to take the leadership of Merrill Gardens.  My initial impression was huh . .  a double shake-up in our industry.  My second thought was to wonder what it means, first for Merrill Gardens and secondarily for Leisure Care. Merrill is the 6th or 11th largest senior housing company in North America (depending on which list you look at). But because they have been around for a long time and done a great job, in a very real sense they are seen as a business model by many other senior housing companies.  Last week I reached out to Merrill Gardens with some questions for Tana Gall.  Here are her responses:

Why change companies?

“This wasn’t a move that I had planned or even really expected.  I am very proud of what we were able to accomplish at Leisure Care and wouldn’t trade one second of my 19 years there for the world.  The opportunity with Merrill Gardens was something that had grown out of ongoing conversations with Bill Pettit regarding how our companies were addressing an ever-changing industry.  Overall, I think I was ready for a new challenge.  The opportunity with Merrill Gardens offered the ability to explore new ideas with a trusted partner.  Jason and I are very excited about the challenge that lies ahead.”

What are the things about Merrill Gardens as it exists today that really excite you?

Merrill Gardens has an outstanding reputation among seniors, employees, business partners, and really anyone connected to our industry.  The team here has built the foundation for a great company.  I am thrilled to be a driving force in the vision that Merrill Gardens has for our communities, our company, and our industry.  

What are your dreams for the company under your leadership?

It is really an exciting time at Merrill Gardens.  We are looking to transform the company by leveraging the equity in the Merrill Gardens name and history while embarking on initiatives that will strengthen our operating platform through technology enhancements and investing in the professional growth of teams at the communities and here in Seattle.  Ultimately, my dream is to solidify our leadership position in the industry and create a company that residents, employees, and business partners will simply love to be a part of.   What will your first 90 days look like? The first 90 days is all about the people.  I have spent 80% of my time so far just getting to know the team here in Seattle and traveling to our communities to meet with residents, family members, and employees.  I really want to understand, from their perspective, what they love about Merrill Gardens and where the opportunities are to create change that will push the company forward.  

If I were a Merrill Gardens general manager why should you and Jason coming on board excite me? . . . . What about it might scare me?

I hope the general managers will feel the genuine excitement that Jason and I have for the opportunity here at Merrill Gardens.  And in turn, our excitement can fuel theirs.  Additionally, a strong commitment to teamwork is something I think they will see from us.  This will be important in the transformation we are about to embark upon.  The opportunity to make the move to Merrill Gardens with a trusted partner was a huge part of the decision for me.  I am definitely biased, but I believe Jason and I make a great team and that spirit of teamwork is contagious.  We want to foster that teamwork approach throughout the organization.  We have an opportunity to make an impact on the industry and the stronger our team is, the bigger impact we can make. I think the biggest fear right now is simply that there is change.  That’s why we are spending our time just getting to know the people here, ease any fears, and start building our team.  

If I were a Merrill Gardens resident how should I view this change?

I hope our residents see this change as further proof that Merrill Gardens is always looking for ways to improve the already outstanding lifestyle we provide in our communities.  We are investing in technology and people to create an operational platform that will drive innovation and service in our industry now and well into the future.  

When you look at the senior housing industry what do you see as the biggest opportunities?

This is a relatively young industry and we still have a long way to go in regards to educating consumers and ultimately changing perceptions about the communities and services we provide.  There are far too many people that won’t even consider today’s senior housing communities as a viable option for their own housing needs.  We will never be able to capture everyone, but we can do a lot better.  Through innovative programs and services, increased housing options, and better communication strategies, we can start to break down some of those perceptions that may be keeping people from considering senior housing communities.  

When you look at the senior housing industry what do you see as the biggest risks or threats?

The biggest risk has always been, and probably always will be, the economy.  The industry is just now recovering from the occupancy dips it experienced over the last few years when the housing bubble burst and the stock market softened.  The ability to sell their home is a key factor in how quickly a resident can move into one of our communities.  There isn’t a lot we can do to mitigate that risk.  However, what we can do is try to grow the base of consumer that will consider our products.  As I mentioned earlier, I think this can be done through more innovative programs and services as well as better marketing communications.  

As an industry, depending on how it is measured, senior housing has a market penetration of 9-11%  There are some (including me) that think the biggest single competitor senior housing faces are people choosing to live at home.  Do you have thoughts on how to move that number?

I definitely agree with you.  Trying to convince someone to leave a home where they have been for 30, 40, 50 years is difficult.  There are so many emotions tied to a home.  It’s likely the largest purchase you have ever made.  You have raised a family there and celebrated countless life events.  For many, leaving that home signals a lack of independence.  To overcome this, we need to do a better job of creating communities that offer programs and services that are genuinely appealing to a wide variety of people.  There isn’t a “one-size-fits all” approach to this.  To truly expand our market penetration, the industry will need to  develop communities, programs and services that can grab the hearts and interests of a wider group of people.  We will start to see new housing options and more customizable service packages in the very new future. I am looking forward to watching the leadership transition over the next six to twelve months.  If Tana is willing we will look to do a check-in after she has settled in.

Are there other questions I should have asked or things you would like to know about this transition?   Steve Moran