Industry Legacies: Parents Pass the Baton to the Next Generation – A Conversation with Patricia and Aron Will

by Jason Zuccari  / May 13, 2024

Industry Leaders and Experts  • Senior Housing  • Blog

This article is the third in a series showcasing parent/child duos across the senior housing and care industry. My conversation with Patricia Will, Belmont Village Senior Living, and her son, Aron Will, CBRE Capital Markets, offers insights into why this is becoming a common trend. 

Tell us about your background. 

Patricia: In the process of trying to find care for my mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s, I realized there simply wasn’t a place with the capabilities to effectively care for her. 

My background is in commercial real estate, specifically as a developer for medical properties. My acumen as a developer and my needs as a daughter-in-law converged at the founding of Belmont Village. I knew we could make a better building, but we needed to figure out how to bring it to life. We wanted to create a place that would foster a sense of independence in each of our residents—a place where getting older wasn’t the end of the road, but rather a new opportunity. 

We developed and expanded our relationships in the medical community and schools of hospitality to merge the best of both worlds. We took all that we had learned—from seniors, families, and gerontology experts—and built a community around them. Today, Belmont Village has expanded to 35 communities in eight states and Mexico City—thirty-three of which were developed and are still owned by us in joint ventures. 

As a mom doing all this while my children, Aron and his younger brother Adam, were growing up, I never really knew how it would affect them. Aron got dragged to more negotiations, job sites, and eventually building openings than he cared to at the time.  

Aron: I soaked it up through osmosis. I started with the predecessor to CBRE Capital Markets 17 years ago. It was one of the largest mortgage banking and real estate investment banking companies in the country. Fast forward to 2009 and I approached our leadership team about starting a dedicated seniors housing finance practice on the mortgage banking side.  

In 2010, after the executive leadership team at my company defected, CBRE corporate leaders gave me the opportunity to run the seniors housing finance business that I helped create. Even though it was atypical to have someone in their 20s at that level position, they were confident in my commitment to the task knowing that I’d grown up in the industry and had already begun to scale the business. Within three years, we grew to become the largest combined mortgage banking and agency finance practice in the industry—a designation we’ve maintained to this day. Today, I have a broader responsibility for the practice group including investment sales and equity capital markets. Additionally, I’ve been deeply involved in our two debt platforms and I manage 15 professionals nationally across our three senior housing verticals. 

Patricia: Adam works at Belmont as Vice President of Communications. I never imagined that both my sons would be in some phase of the business!  

Where do you see the industry headed for the next generation?  

Patricia: I honestly can’t think of a business with a better demand profile over the next 20-30 years. I’m very bullish on the space. 

In the major markets like coastal California and South Florida, the barriers to building will constrain supply relative to burgeoning demand. For example, in coastal California it takes on average anywhere from three to eight years for us to entitle a site. But these are large markets with tremendous affluence. This means that if you know how to create supply and bring it alive for the coming generation, you have a great business. 

Multiple recessions have also taught us that demand for our product is not cyclical. This is why I think we’re a great space for young people to pursue careers. 

How do you find the balance between what’s worked for so long and adapting to the ever-changing world?  

Aron: I’m an old soul. For example, I’m a huge proponent of working in the office. You can’t beat the collaboration that happens when you pull a colleague into your office to listen in on a call ad hoc. 

There’s a dearth of high-quality personnel in our industry and a glaring age gap. I think there’s a tremendous opportunity for the next generation, which is why through my involvement in NIC, I helped grow a university internship program placing best in class BBAs and MBAs from top tier schools into the industry. Why should hospitality have fabulous recruiting and a multitude of different programs with very different curriculum and a strategic recruiting methodology, and not the seniors housing sector? 

As an asset class, we’re large enough now that young people should make a very conscious decision to seek out a career in senior living. We’re going to come out of this stronger than a lot of other asset classes and the next generations entrance into the sector should be deliberate and not by happen stance.  

Patricia: So many entrepreneurs in our industry groom their children to be their successors. Having grown up in a family business, I never dreamt of making that a requirement—my sons can and do choose what they want to do. But you need to have a succession plan.   

Many entrepreneurs make the terrible mistake of sticking around too long, particularly in a business that’s scaled and matured. At that point, there’s a different kind of leader required—one who’s more process driven. Hard as it is, we entrepreneurs need to know when to cede the reins. I’m no longer in the best position to administer the business, but I love to be the spark plug to spur investment and innovation. 

How do you keep home and work separated? 

Aron: Lately, I’ve been very conscientious and deliberate about not monopolizing conversations. We didn’t start that way. We conversed about work probably to a point where it was an annoyance to both my wife and dad. Whether it’s a specific transaction or news of what’s going on in the industry, there’s a lot to talk about. We’ll break away from the group for those discussions.  

Patricia: To add to that, the advent of grandchildren is a great antidote to talking about anything that doesn’t concern them because basically they take over and we happily oblige. Aron and I have learned that you can steal a few moments to collaborate early in the morning as opposed to taking over family time at dinner.   

*Interviews edited for length