About five years after joining Merrill Gardens as president, David Eskenazy is preparing to step down from that role and exit the senior living provider.
He will pursue other professional opportunities and spend more time with family, he told Senior Housing News. For about four years, he has been on a plane every week to travel between Seattle, where Merrill Gardens is based, and Sacramento, where his wife lives and works.
“As I like to tell people, I’ve made a very important upgrade in my life, and I’m promoting myself,” he said to SHN, referring to his decision to focus more on family.
He has committed to stay on at Merrill Gardens through the early part of 2020. Bill Pettit, president of Merrill Gardens’ parent R.D. Merrill Company, and the board of directors are currently engaged in the process of finding his successor.
Merrill Gardens operates 33 senior living communities across eight states in the western and southeastern regions of the United States. The company as it exists today has been largely shaped by Eskenazy, who joined shortly after Merrill Gardens divested 38 communities, downsizing its portfolio to 18 properties. The two primary goals at that time were to leverage technology to build out a best-in-class operational platform, and to pursue ground-up development.
“Five years later, we’ve opened a lot of buildings, and done them quite successfully, and built a back-end operation that is very much best in class and something that I’m very proud of,” Eskenazy said. “I think I’ve accomplished many of the things I set out to accomplish, so from a personal standpoint, it’s a really nice time for me to step away.”
Merrill Gardens continues to be active on the development front, including in an ambitious mixed-use development taking shape in Columbia, South Carolina.
Eskenazy is a self-proclaimed “data nut,” and spoke about his approach to streamlining operations in a recent interview for Senior Housing News’ Changemakers series.
“There’s this theory in the industry that’s kind of whack-a-mole: Just about the time you get these communities fixed, something else will break down over here, and then you go to try to fix those and something else will break down over here. You can never have every community up running at full efficiency at any one time,” he said in that interview. “To me, it’s just a nonsense theory.”
Eskenazy is a certified public accountant who began his career at KPMG in the 1980s. He joined the ranks of senior living leadership in 2009 with Seattle-based Aegis Living, where he served as CFO and president until leaving for Merrill Gardens in 2015.
In terms of his next steps professionally, Eskenazy is interested in serving on company boards or in similar advisory capacities, either within or outside the senior living industry.
“I’ve served on a lot of boards of directors in my career and really enjoy that,” he told SHN on Tuesday. “I don’t want to use the word retirement too loosely, but I’m retiring from a day-to-day operating role, not only with Merrill, but with anybody.”
As an advisor, he might find himself in demand, given the results that Merrill Gardens has achieved from an occupancy standpoint. Its stabilized portfolio has been 96% occupied for three straight years, he said during his Changemakers interview.
“It’s the company that I thought it was when I came here, and as I’ve told Bill and the team, long after my last day, I’m perfectly willing to answer the phone and help in any way that I can,” Eskenazy said on Tuesday. “While it is a mixed emotion as I leave, I’m really excited about my future.”