National Church Residences President and CEO Mark Ricketts has announced his retirement after a more than two-decade career with the organization.
The Columbus, Ohio-based senior living and affordable senior housing organization’s board of directors announced the planned leadership transition Wednesday. Ricketts is set to officially retire in June, 2023.
Ricketts joined the organization in 2000 and ascended to the CEO role in 2014. Although National Church Residences has existed for six decades, he is only its third president and CEO. During his tenure, he helped grow the nonprofit’s scale to about 360 affordable senior housing and senior living communities. The organization’s base of operations is concentrated in Ohio, but its affordable housing division spans 24 states.
As he starts to head for the exit, Ricketts believes he is leaving the organization in good hands. Just in the last three years, National Church Residences has named a new CFO, chief human resources officer, senior vice president of senior living and a new senior vice president of affordable housing.
And it is that team, along with Ricketts’ successor, that will lead the organization to its new goal of more than doubling its reach to serve 100,000 older adults by 2030.
“We need to serve 54,000 more seniors in the next eight years, and I won’t see the finish. So, I might as well let somebody else lead,” he told Senior Housing News. “The pavement is laid and the board is behind the mission.”
People, partners, performance
To achieve its goal of serving more than double its current reach, the organization is leaning on three main pillars: people, partners and performance.
Regarding people, Ricketts said it is consistently the number-one constraint to operations. But he also acknowledged that these are not easy careers, and that the industry must “figure out a way to capture the hearts and the desires of workers.”
“[We aspire] to be servant leaders — people who are good listeners, connectors, that invest in people and that inspire,” he said. “We just want to have a good workforce.”
Regarding partnerships, Ricketts said that although the organization has no big plans to announce in the near future, he sees more mergers, acquisitions and affiliations in National Church Residences’ future.
“We will probably acquire some, we will probably merge with somebody,” he said.
And in the third category, performance, Ricketts said it has been a goal to stand toe-to-toe with the for-profit senior housing operators. That starts with a keen focus on rates, costs and margins — something he said “has not always been the not-for-profit way.”
“We are competing with the for-profit world everywhere we go,” Ricketts said. “You’ve got to have excellent performance metrics, compare yourself to the marketplace — compete.”
That financial discipline is reflected in the organization’s strong balance sheet. In the last five years alone, National Church Residences has invested $100 million acquiring, building and investing in senior housing communities.
Today, Ricketts estimates the National Church Residences Foundation has about $125 million in the bank earmarked for advancing the mission and growing the organization.
As he looks back on his time at the organization, Ricketts said he is most proud of the last five years despite encountering greater challenges than the organization had ever faced before with the pandemic.
He is also proud of building a more diverse organization. As of the beginning of the coming year, the National Church Residences board will be composed of 11 men and 10 women, more than a third of which are people of color. And, nearly two-thirds of the company’s executive directors and managers are women, and 35% are people of color.
Now, National Church Residences is taking that momentum and bringing it to the organization’s top echelons.
“We’ve done it in the boardroom, we’ve done it in the manager level, and now we need to make that a goal for the senior executive level,” Ricketts said.
A larger goal is to steward the organization through its transition to a more managed care model. As he looks to the future, Ricketts sees a world where the organization serves 100,000 older adults through a wide variety of services and supports. That is not just limited to affordable housing, but also home health, hospice, social work and primary care.
National Church Residences is also soon launching what Ricketts called a “benefits navigation mission,” where the organization would help seniors enroll in programs such as Medicare Advantage.
As for what comes next for him personally, Ricketts said plans to spend time with family and devote more hours to Bible Study Fellowship, a bible study organization that has more than 400,000 participants across the globe which he is passionate about.
While he said he may serve on the boards of other senior living organizations in the future, he doesn’t think in the future he’ll lead another senior housing organization as he does today.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if somebody asked me to come sit on their board,” he said. “But if I’m going to keep doing this mission, I’m going to do it here.”