[Updated] Sunrise Senior Living CEO Winkle to Step Down

The CEO of one of the largest senior living providers in the U.S. plans to step down from his leadership role.

Chris Winkle is departing McLean, Virginia-based Sunrise Senior Living, the company has announced. Sunrise is currently searching for its next CEO, with Ferguson Partners leading that effort. Winkle is also assisting the company’s board of managers during the transition.

“This is certainly a bittersweet announcement, but the board and I have mutually agreed the time is right for me to transition from this role,” Winkle said in a statement about his departure. “I have never had more pride in an organization than I have this past year, seeing Sunrise team members respond with such grace and passion as they have relentlessly cared for our residents through the COVID-19 pandemic. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to lead our great team.”

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Sunrise is among the largest senior living providers in the nation, with 329 communities in the U.S. and abroad. Canadian senior housing and care firm Revera Inc. is Sunrise’s majority owner.

Winkle joined Sunrise in 2013 and ascended to the CEO role not long after.

In a 2018 Leadership Series interview with Senior Housing News, he praised the company’s culture as being consistent even amid changes to its executive team.

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“I’d been with Sunrise about four weeks … I felt like I had been there four years,” Winkle told SHN. “We went through another transition and did our first leadership conference right around that time, and I give the credit to the culture, which is incredibly resilient.”

As CEO of Sunrise, Winkle restarted the provider’s development pipeline, completed several large acquisitions, introduced new technology into the company’s operations and invested in ancillary organizations as new revenue streams, according to the provider.

Winkle has also helped oversee the growth of the company’s in-house Medicare Advantage plan, Sunrise Advantage. The company was one of the first large providers to make a strong bet on Medicare Advantage, and Winkle said that he sees value in being able to offer a “one-stop shop” for older adults living in Sunrise communities.

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“We can help you administer the Medicare benefit as well as taking care of you,” he said during his Leadership Series interview. “We decided to jump into the deep end first on this one. We think 10 years from now, you’re going to have to have that kind of an offering to be competitive.”

He also was careful in how he approached scale, noting the efficiency benefits but also the pitfall of needing to maintain a clear identity for the Sunrise brand while also growing in new directions.

“I appreciate Chris’ many contributions at Sunrise and especially for his leadership throughout these last several months during this most trying time of the pandemic,” Jeff Lozon, chairman of the board of managers at Sunrise, said in a statement. “During his tenure as CEO, he has been instrumental in reinvigorating our growth strategy, and helped shape Sunrise as a leader of the senior living industry.”

Another partial owner in Sunrise is Toledo, Ohio-based real estate investment trust Welltower (NYSE: WELL). For 2019, Sunrise comprised about 35% of Welltower’s senior housing operating segment revenue. Welltower declined to comment to SHN for this article.

Welltower also is going through a leadership transition, following the recent departure of its former CEO, Tom DeRosa.

Leadership changes in the midst of Covid-19 are “not ideal,” Raymond James Analyst Jonathan Hughes noted to Senior Housing News. But, he believes that Welltower is still positioned strongly for the long-term as pandemic challenges recede and demographically driven demand picks up.

Another large REIT, Chicago-based Ventas (NYSE: VTR), also has a long-standing and significant relationship with Sunrise. Justin Hutchens, executive vice president of senior housing, said Ventas’ leaders have appreciated their relationship with Winkle over the years, and wish him well.

“Ventas will continue to support Sunrise as its team focuses on rolling out the vaccine and caring for residents,” Hutchens said.

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