Recently, Van Cluck, a leader in senior living for the past three decades, was a guest speaker at the Varsity Sales & Marketing Roundtable. Here are some words of advice he shared.
I have spent the last 30 years, really my entire professional career, in the senior living space. It’s been a true honor to work in this industry. Here is my perspective on what I’ve learned and observed in my 30 years.
- It’s up to us to train the next generation.
When I started my very first role in senior living, I was a 24-year-old newly degreed accountant. I didn’t know much of anything, to be honest, when I went to work at the oldest and very first standalone independent living community in Nashville. Thankfully, a mentor came into my life very early on. He was executive director of that community, and he took me under his wing and taught me so much. I still think back on those lessons learned and their value.
That sense of family and mentorship is a real opportunity to impact the spaces we’re in. From that, I’ve tried to develop those mentor relationships, not just with my team, but with the industry as a whole. That has given me opportunities like being the chair of LeadingAge Tennessee. I just think it’s important to develop those who will come behind us. We don’t work in a space that is being trained well or frequently by academic institutions. So it’s really up to us to train the next generation.
- Senior living is much more than housing.
One of the things I’ve learned in my career is that senior living is so much more than housing — or it better be, if we’re going to be successful. Layering the dimensions of who we are and what we do is such a huge part of the sales process. When it’s just about housing, we’ll only end up losing to the next community who is surpassing us, and we need to be more than that.
- Have a healthcare and hospitality focus.
In my next role, I transitioned to a CCRC in Nashville where I spent 16 years as a CFO and then CEO, originally called Blakeford at Green Hills. There, we not only continued to develop and expand that community, but also grow some ancillary businesses. We launched Blakeford At Home, and our life care without walls product called LiveWell by Blakeford. Both are very successful today, and both also spoke to the dimensions of what we must do outside of just housing, by also being hospitality and healthcare. We want people to desire to be there, and we can create those dynamics where we are the community where people want to be when they need care services.
- Help your residents age with purpose.
After my time at Blakeford at Green Hills, I had the opportunity to come home to Lebanon and work with a family group that owns senior living communities. The name of our company is L4 Lifestyles. I came up with the name and I’m very proud of it. As I reflected on the many residents and families I’ve served, I asked myself, “Who are those residents, from a purely anecdotal standpoint, who have aged the best?” And the commonality I’ve found is those who continued to live with purpose at every stage of their life. That was the question I developed to ask ourselves: “What are you living for, and what is your purpose?” So “What are you living for” — “living for” — became “L4.” That became the company brand, to really help us all to focus on the concept of purposefully aging. How are we touching all of our residents? Not just as a nice place to live, not just having great activities, but how are we impacting them purposefully? They are looking at us to be more than just a place to live, but a place to age well.
- Encourage each other.
Let me emphasize how much value groups like this bring to us, because just today, hearing you talk, I wrote down three different things to bring back to our communities. We can’t minimize the importance of continuing to encourage each other, because in doing so, we will only serve our residents better.
- Learn to overcome challenges — and make your residents part of the solution.
Recently at Cornerstone Place, our new master-planning project in Lebanon, someone on my team asked if I had considered the Spring Creek bladderpod in our planning. He said, “You better learn about it, because a lot of the 90 acres of land we’re developing is located there.” It’s a lovely little flower only found in very few areas of the country, and it’s protected by environmental guidelines. As we’re developing this property, we had to ask ourselves, “How will we protect this flower?” So our new logo features the Spring Creek bladderpod, and part of our residents’ role will be the protection of and care for the flower, which appears in various bodies of water on campus. I think the real lesson is that, whatever our challenges are, it is often our residents, who are right there in front of us, who are part of the solution.