The senior living and telecommunications industries might have more to do with one another than you might think.
Earlier this year, Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD) named former DISH executive Steven Swain as its new CFO. He came to the Brentwood, Tennessee-based senior living operator at a pivotal time — just as the company was ramping up its ongoing turnaround efforts.
Senior Housing News caught up with Swain recently to learn more about how he plans to help the company with those efforts, and just how similar DISH is to the largest senior living provider in the U.S.
SHN: What are some of your goals in the CFO role, both short-term and long-term?
Swain: My initial short-term goal is, of course, to get up to speed with Brookdale and learn everything I need to know about the senior living sector. This includes serving in several communities to meet residents and see the great work of our associates. We are entrusted to provide important care and services to almost 100 thousand residents across the nation; it’s a complicated business. I am also spending my time getting to know the team and the company’s financials. Looking longer term, I am energized by being part of a successful turnaround and with our vision to be the nation’s first choice in senior living. I will be focused on the financial interplay among the key stakeholders: residents, associates and shareholders.
What, if any, are the parallels between a television provider like DISH and a major senior living company like Brookdale? Along those same lines, what from your time in the telecommunications industry can you apply to senior living?
The focus on the customer or in Brookdale’s case — the resident — is very similar. Winning locally is the key to success in both organizations — from working to meet a specific customer need to serving a local cuisine to delight a resident.
The satellite TV business is about driving asset utilization through acquiring and retaining customers. In senior living, I see similarities in that you need to drive community occupancy through increased move-ins and decreased move-outs. After all, the more people who are residents, or patients of our home health services, the more we can efficiently deliver on our mission of enriching lives.
Top talent is another similarity. Brookdale has a strategic focus on attracting, engaging, developing and retaining the best associates in the industry. Lastly, working across organizations is universal to business success. In my previous position, I was able to build bridges between the finance organization and other key functions — like operations — and I am working on building those same bridges here at Brookdale.
What interests you about the senior living industry? Anything surprise you or catch you off guard?
Brookdale’s mission of enriching lives was very attractive to me. There’s a real focus on purpose, which is so important for living a meaningful life. I’ll share that my grandmother returned to providing nursing care after my grandfather passed away. She was filled with purpose for many years caring for a private-duty client. When her patient and friend died, I saw the effect it had on my grandmother as she lost her sense of purpose. So, working for a company that focuses on fostering that sense of purpose in the lives of our residents is fulfilling
At the same time, the depth of the passion of the people who work here has surprised me. Our leadership and our community teams are some of the most passionate and caring teams I’ve had the privilege of working with.
How do you see yourself contributing to Brookdale’s ongoing turnaround efforts?
I like to believe that bringing a fresh eye to the business as well as my strong financial background will provide opportunities for us to truly focus on what matters most. In prior companies, I have succeeded by helping complex businesses become more efficient. Although there is still heavy lifting to do, we have a great opportunity to win locally while leveraging our industry-leading scale and expertise.
What moved you to cross industries and take this job with Brookdale? Especially given it’s a big provider, this role has big responsibilities, and the company’s turnaround efforts have been well-publicized.
It comes down to being part of a mission-driven company. While I enjoyed working in my previous industry, I was not as passionate about getting more people to watch more pay-TV. At Brookdale, it is not just about margin — it is about mission and margin. I see a clear opportunity to give back and make a difference in something that matters.
How do you see your leadership style in the CFO role?
I believe my job as a leader is to help everyone on the team succeed. I have a collaborative style, and I pay attention to the different levels of experience and needs of team members, with the goal of both individual and team growth. Although I’ve just started, I also strive to become a leader as defined by the following quote: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”
What do you think will be this role’s biggest challenge, and how do you plan to tackle it?
The biggest challenge right now is to return Brookdale to its previous level of success. I am focused on partnering across functions and supporting our vision of being the most trusted, effective and passionate senior living provider and employer.
Written by Tim Regan