‘Serial Entrepreneur,’ Former Brookdale Exec Team Up on Fast-Growing Atlas Senior Living

Atlas Senior Living is not one of the largest senior housing providers in the country, but it is growing at a fast clip, combining entrepreneurial energy with operational know-how. .

Last year, the Birmingham, Alabama-based company nearly doubled in size by adding 187 units to its portfolio, the bulk of it coming from the acquisition of a 167-unit community in Lexington, Kentucky, and has amassed a portfolio of nine properties and 423 units. Atlas plans to open a 167-unit community in Columbus, Georgia in spring 2020, will be acquiring three properties in South Carolina this year. It has multiple development contracts pending in Texas and Florida.

The driving force behind Atlas is President and CEO Scott Goldberg and President and COO Wyman Hamilton, who met at an MBA program at the University of Alabama. Hamilton is a senior housing industry veteran and spent eight years at Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD). Goldberg is a newcomer to the industry; his previous business background included developing a series of fast-casual restaurants in Dallas and owning an online clothing retailer.

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“I’ve always been accused of being a serial entrepreneur,” Goldberg told Senior Housing News.

SHN interviewed Goldberg about the transition to senior housing, advice for other budding entrepreneurs and Atlas’ development and acquisition strategy.  

Senior Housing News: Why did you want to make the transition into senior living?

Scott Goldberg: I didn’t want to be part of a real estate venture if we could not also operate the ventures. None of this is possible without Wyman Hamilton. While I love people who dream and inspire, in a technical industry like this, you need the experience in place to succeed.

What synergies from your past business experience did you bring to Atlas?

Years ago, I moved to Dallas with group who bought rights to be an area developer for a quick-service restaurant (QSR) concept. By doing that, it really taught me the most important business out there is the business of people. I learned a lot about real estate from the venture: financial controls, partnerships, legal documents. All of this is applied today.

Wyman comes from Brookdale. When the two of you discussed forming Atlas, what advice did he give you and what does he bring to the partnership as far as intangibles?

He’s the smartest guy I ever known. His true passion in serving seniors is in his heart and every ounce of him. This makes everything easier. As long as your partnership is aligned that way, when you have someone on the operational side like that, you build things differently. We have a good balance.

How is Atlas approaching the challenges facing the industry when the boomers arrive?

From a demand standpoint, we know the “silver tsunami” is coming. We just feel like most of the major markets are driving that narrative. While those markets are oversupplied, there are plenty of submarkets with pent-up demand. You need to be disciplined in your strategy. We’re being very selective in finding the submarkets that don’t fit the narrative being created in the major markets. We aren’t just growing to grow. You have to kiss a lot of frogs.

Does this discipline transfer to acquisitions?

That’s a different animal. While we’re being selective with markets for development, there will be unique opportunities to present themselves. New investors are going to markets of oversupply, who might not have a true appreciation for seniors. We’ll work hard to keep our powder dry and are very optimistic about acquisition opportunities.

Is Medicare Advantage something Atlas would consider in the future, especially as insurers are adding wellness programs?

As we’re currently set up, we have no interest in venturing into that aspect of the business.

How are Atlas’ developments split by care type?

It’s a market by market equation. We have to make sure our mix coincides with that market on development. From an acquisition standpoint, we look for either all assisted living or a mix of assisted and independent living. On the development side, we usually build 160-170 units, 114 to 117 are independent living.

We do that because we don’t want to confuse the market. We want our communities to be known as independent living. We feel very strongly that we’re building an independent living community. That type of person is very different than someone looking for assisted living. It works for us.

What does Atlas’ investor pool look like?

Our capital stack has been a mix of high net-worth individuals and institutional capital.

Would Atlas consider moving into active adult?

It’s something we’re studying. If it fits a market and we can put together a great team, we’ll do it. Where we differentiate ourselves is with our culinary programs. It gives us a competitive advantage. We attract a lot of chefs because working our hours, versus time spent in a restaurants is a major attraction. Our most recent community in Lexington has three different areas to order food. It goes against the market trends there. We’re also obtaining liquor licenses, which allows us to open full-service bars. In Lexington, we opened a Ralph Lauren-style bar, which has been a hit and positively impacted ancillary revenue.

What is your advice to entrepreneurs looking to enter senior living?

Make sure you have a very healthy respect and understanding that, while it is hospitality and we’re selling a lifestyle, you still have to have senior housing staffing disciplines. You will need that knowledge to execute when serving seniors. Need a healthy balance of senior housing knowledge, especially when entering assisted living.

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