Shamim Wu, current executive vice president of sales for Holiday Retirement, has been named president and chief operating officer of Silverado Care, the companies announced Tuesday. Wu will assume her new position Jan. 18.
Wu’s move comes at a time when many in the industry are raising concerns about future leadership, as the pace of CEO retirements is set to pick up, and some say the sector is lagging in how it recruits and trains new talent.
But Shamim Wu is not among these naysayers, and her own resume helps explain why. After starting out in an entry-level sales position with Summerville Senior Living 13 years ago, she went on to become Senior Regional Director of Sales and Marketing for Emeritus Senior Living. In 2010, she joined Holiday’s executive team.
Senior Housing News caught up with Wu as she is preparing for her transition to Silverado—a California-based provider with memory care communities in six states, as well as at-home and hospice care services. The company was co-founded 20 years ago by current President, CEO and Board Chairman Loren Shook. He describes Wu as a “talented and proven leader.”
“[Wu] brings a unique set of passion, expertise and spirit which will complement and add to the excellent work that the leaders at Silverado do every day,” Shook said in an email to SHN.
Unlike those who claim senior housing neglects to cultivate executives, Wu explained why she thinks the future of the industry lies in its talent pool. She also offered her take on what leading senior care providers have in common, even if they offer distinct services for different populations, and gave some insight into what her first priorities will be at Silverado.
SHN: Can you share some of the backstory behind this move? When did the Silverado opportunity arise?
Wu: When the opportunity presented itself earlier this year , it was really a chance for me to reflect on where my career had come and where the natural next step was going to be. As I met with Loren and the board, I came to understand the mission—that people with Alzheimer’s disease can still have a high quality of life—and it was one I wanted to be aligned with. Given my background in senior living over the last 13 years, it felt like an organic fit personally and in terms of skill set to step into this role.
SHN: It’s interesting that it feels natural to you, because Silverado is focused on memory care while you’re coming from a company—Holiday—that is known for independent living. And before that you were with assisted living giant Emeritus.
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Wu: Those companies are diverse in terms of the products and services they offer, but when you think about their core values, they’re very much aligned. It’s to increase the quality of care for seniors, and then to operate in a fiscally and socially responsible manner. When Loren told me his core values, that’s what I saw as similar to companies I had already aligned myself with. I think that if operationally, if philosophically, you’re aligned, your skill set can translate across product lines in senior living. I don’t believe people are pigeonholed based on products and services. My transition is a really positive example of how in our industry, we don’t always pigeonhole people by functional specialties. There are lots of examples of this, such as people moving from operational to clinical roles and vice-versa. It’s just one more example of our ability to be flexible.
SHN: Do you see any other similarities among those three companies—Emeritus, Holiday and Silverado?
Wu: I’ve been fortunate in my career to work for companies that focus on the trifecta: the resident experience, the associate experience, and they really value the revenue drivers of the business. To me, that’s really critical in our industry. It’s about creating great impressions on the family. Sales is that initial experience for the resident and families. I think in senior living as an industry, we do a better job of valuing revenue drivers and sales force, but as I got to know Loren, I got to know where the needs of the business are and that he prioritizes all aspects rather than just one area of function. That was really important to me.
In the same vein that Granger [Cobb] led Summerville and Emeritus and Kai has led Holiday, Loren and the board and executive team at Silverado are no different.
I’m really excited about walking into an organization with a really tenured executive team. The way they’ve been so open to me—some of them have been with the organization since it started 20 years ago, but they’re open and excited about bringing in someone new who comes in with a fresh pair of eyes. The way the team has been so welcoming and willing to lend their support and shorten the ramp-up period is a reiteration of why I decided to join the organization.
SHN: I can understand why you’re excited to work with the Silverado executives. But you mentioned their tenure, and some people think senior living has a problem with grooming new leaders and preparing for the future. Do you agree?
Wu: I think succession planning is critical in any organization regardless of the age of the exec team. Age isn’t the only reason someone might leave, and it might happen with a lot of transition time or no transition time.
Within senior living, when I look at not just the age range of the C-suite but the skill set, I compare that to Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger. They’re in the 80s and 90s with no plans for retirement. People work in senior living because they love it, it fulfills a passion. In that environment, you don’t even feel like you’re working. Why would you retire? When you’re doing the things you love now, why do you need to retire?
As I’ve spent time with Loren, I hope and expect he’ll be here for the next 20 years, to be that visionary for Silverado and the industry. We’re relying on these leaders to show us the way. In the meantime, there are skill sets that future leaders can bring to the table. It’s that mix, the vision of pioneers that started this industry and new leaders that are coming up in their careers, that will take us far beyond other industries in the country. People say that senior living is in its infancy, but we’ve grown leaps and bounds. We’ve grown at a rate that we’re very quickly going to catch up to other industries. I hope the visionaries aren’t going to retire until they’re good and ready to do so.
SHN: Do you think the industry is doing a good enough job attracting those new leaders coming up in their careers?
Wu: I believe that the future of senior housing is in our talent. In the last five to six years, we’ve seen our industry flourish as a result of a unique combination of people who have joined us from hospitality, retail, multifamily, banking. I hope that we continue to welcome professionals from other industries.
SHN: What about getting people fresh out of college or graduate school?
Wu: If they’re coming out of undergrad or grad school, and if they specialized in digital marketing or organizational development or a business function, they can bring those skill sets that were maybe geared for another industry into ours. We do a better job today than five or six years ago in integrating ourselves and partnering with universities, so I think and hope that as an industry and through these partnerhsips, we can show people coming out of university at any level that we make people’s lives better than the day before they started living with us. Not many industries can deliver a product that makes people say, ‘I wish I had done this sooner.’ Few others allow you to balance mission and margin the way we do. And as an industry, we don’t have an age bias with regard to our leaders. It’s about talent level.
SHN: What attracted you to senior living? Did you always want to work with older adults?
Wu: As I say, sometimes people join the industry for the wrong reason but stay for the right ones.
I finished grad school in California when the [Gov.] Gray Davis recall was happening, and I initially planned to go into city management. I was hired by a city that had to rescind my offer because of the economic turmoil. My advisor recommended I consider a health care opportunity. My resume ended up on the desk at Long Beach Memorial Hospital, and I was recommended for a job in skilled nursing, at Covenant Care, on their campus.
It was a hustle. I was doing a 100-mile round-trip commute in L.A. traffic. I knew that’s what I had to do to get my career off the ground. I told myself to give it a year. I kid you not, Summerville came knocking, and I got my offer letter one year to the day after I started at Covenant Care. That was the best week ever. I got engaged, I got the offer letter, I saw Madonna. I’m not just professionally but emotionally attached to senior living. I’ve grown up in the industry. I’ve gotten engaged, married, had kids, all while I was working. It was a great experience.
SHN: From that long commute to now being president of Silverado. What advice do you have for those who are ambitious but in that early career stage now?
Wu: Never underestimate the importance of an entry-level job. The skills you learn, projects you take on, people you meet create a foundation and precedent for what the rest of your career will look like.
Most people have expectations of getting a mid-level management job. It’s not going to happen. And if it does, you’re not going to be as successful if you haven’t worked on the frontline in some capacity. Also, driving revenue or managing expenses, you have the opportunity to do that at the entry-level. People have their eye on the prize, but you’re not going to land it if you haven’t worked at the entry level. You have to understand what our residents go through on a daily basis.
Whenever I meet someone, I say soak up as much information as you can in this entry-level job. You’re kickstarting your career and creating a foundation that is rock solid. The people who mentored me as an entry-level sales associate, I still talk to weekly, thirteen years later. They’ve helped me craft and mold my career through thirteen years.
SHN: What are some things you’d like to learn or accomplish right out of the gate at Silverado?
Wu: I’m excited to dive into the hospice and home health aspects of the business. Those areas of the business present an opportunity to grow my own skill set.
I also plan to engage with as many associates and residents as possible right out of the gate. The greatest learning happens not from behind a desk, but in our communities and offices. Understanding the community experience and how the three service lines complement each other will be critical.
Silverado is the premier brand in memory care and has world class clinical outcomes—it’s one of the biggest reasons I chose to align myself with the company. The National Institute on Aging cites that more than 5 million Americans may have Alzheimer’s disease, yet vacancies in memory care communities across the country remain. Understanding how to leverage and communicate Silverado’s specific outcomes in a way that creates value for more families going through the process of a loved one living with the disease will be a another area of focus.
Written by Tim Mullaney