NIC Chats Podcast with John Moore

You may know that with the recent acquisition of Holiday Retirement, Atria Senior Living has expanded to 447 communities across 45 states and seven Canadian provinces. But did you know that Atria’s Chairman and CEO, John Moore, owns a restaurant in Louisville that serves best-in-class bourbon, whiskey, and scotch? And would you like to know what the “B-52 of senior living” is? Listen to NIC Chats podcast as NIC Chief Economist Beth Mace chats with Mr. Moore, for some ‘aha’ moments on the future of senior living – and a few insights of a more personal nature from a leader who is driving that future today.

Introduction: (00:00)
Welcome to NIC Chats, ideas and inspiration from senior living leaders with host Beth Mace, NIC’s chief economist, and director of outreach. Get to know some of the people influencing senior living today and perhaps learn a thing or two from their experiences.

Beth Mace: (00:17)
Hello and welcome to the NIC Chats podcast. My name is Beth Mace and I am the chief economist and director of the research and analytics team here at NIC. I am so happy that you can join us today. The focus of the NIC Chats podcast is talking to interesting people that have ideas that I think you’d like to hear about. As you listen today, I hope you will find some humor, insights, inspiration, and hopefully what I call an a-ha moment when something pithy or insightful is said and the light bulb may go off for you. Now, let me tell you a bit more about the NIC podcast series. Each podcast has a standard structure. First, I’m going to tell you three statements about my guest and two of those are true. And throughout the podcast you’ll learn which is true and which is false. Second, there are three standard questions within each podcast for each speaker.

Beth Mace: (01:08)
The first is what’s the largest challenge facing our industry. Second, what’s one thing we can do to grow talent in our industry. And third, what is one innovative way or idea to strengthen our industry. Before I begin, I also want to remind you that NIC has recently announced about our 2021 fall conference that will be held in person in Houston from November 1st to 3rd at the Marriott Marquis. If you’re interested in more information, you can go to our website to find out. Now, as they say, on with show. I’m delighted that our fifth NIC Chats podcast is with John Moore. John Moore is the chairman and CEO of Atria Senior Living. John, thank you for joining us today.

John Moore: (01:50)
It’s a pleasure to be here Beth.

Beth Mace: (01:53)
Great. So as I mentioned, I’m going to say three statements about John two are true and one will not be true. And during the podcast we’ll find out which is which. So one is that when John was at Yale, he played the position of quarterback. Second is that John owns a restaurant in Louisville that serves best in class bourbon, whiskey and scotch. Third, that John likes speed and competition, and he has an avid interest in racetracks,cars and horses. Now let’s begin with the formal part of the podcast.

John Moore: (02:27)
It sounds like if any of those are true, I might be interesting.

Beth Mace: (02:30)
Well we’ll have to wait and see now won’t we?

John Moore: (02:35)
Yeah- before we get started–so Beth and I go back a long way with NIC. I don’t remember the year, but we came on the board together. We were the two board inductees, sometime before the millennials were in the workforce, I think, but anyway, so it’s good to do this. It’s good to be new age with an old friend.

Beth Mace: (03:02)
Thank you. I appreciate it, it’ll be great. So John, you’re the chairman and CEO of Atria Senior Living and with the recent acquisition of Holiday Retirement, you have helped Atria expand to 447 communities across 45 states and seven Canadian provinces. Clearly you’re building a diverse portfolio serving in both middle income and higher income seniors. Can you tell our listenershow you decided trying to serve these two cohorts and what distinguishes Atria products from others out there?

John Moore: (03:33)
Well the one thing I want to say, and is the vision behind what we’re doing is trying to look forward through the twenties and focus on the types of residents, the types of customers that we want to serve. The Holiday acquisition, even though we’re the second largest, that certainly wasn’t the goal to be one of the largest operators. It’s not he who dies with the most rooms wins it’s, he who dies with the company that makes money and delivers on promises wins. We’re gravitating towards the two ends of the spectrum. So I’m in New York and part of the reason I’m here, I’m checking on our development. We’re in a partnership with Related at Hudson Yards, heading towards opening later next year. I think it will set the standard for the highest quality senior housing.

John Moore: (04:41)
I was in San Francisco last week, seeing our building there that’s joint venture with Related as well. And there’s, a vision to deliver at the very, very top end. So apartment size rooms, washer, dryer, very personalized staffing,, lots of technology, full kitchens, lots of built-in finishes that are condo-like. So everybody uses the word luxury. We’re going to mean it it in these communities. A London-based interior designer doing the interior design work. So, I’m probably talking too much, but it’s a long answer. The vision is… I guess it was Yogi Berra who said hit it, where they ate and it’s to go where the barriers to entry are high and at the very high end, it’s just hard to execute.

John Moore: (05:52)
And we have experience in urban areas more than most, and have the partnership with Related and then that puts us in a position to compete there. The other end of the spectrum, where Holiday is, it’s my firm view that the the Bill Colson designed Holiday building, it’s the B52 of senior housing. If we put new engines on it, it can fly for another 50 years and serve its purpose. And that’s the business where I think scale can really help you deliver, quality and consistency. And so the idea, if you’re going to get in at that part of the business, the idea of doing it in scale, which was most appealing. And so that sort of gave rise to the Holiday direction.

John Moore: (06:48)
We’re kind of drifting out of what I’ll call the middle, which really isn’t the middle. It’s really sort of classic suburban, higher end senior housing, and I think it’s in for a great run as well through the twenties. But it’s also lower barrier to entry and our bet is if we can go where we can use our scale technology and sophistication to create efficiency at one end and then use it to create products where you can really drive top line at the other end that’s a worthwhile strategy. And one last thing, sorry, go ahead.

Beth Mace: (07:31)
So I was just gonna say that really plays well into last year, you remember when you were still chair, we were doing a study when you were chair at NIC, for those don’t know that you were also a chair at NIC for a long time. We did a study of the forgotten middle, and that was looking at this sort of untapped group of people that are more the school teachers and the firefighters, that cohort of people that need need senior housing. And so your, Holiday platform or your new Holiday platform will address that need I think.

John Moore: (07:58)
Yeah, absolutely. One of the things that happened in this country is private companies went away from defined benefit pension plans in the eighties and nineties, but their usage exploded for state and local civil servants: teachers, city workers, cops, firemen, and the customer that we want to figure out how to serve efficiently and with quality it’s, my mom who taught fifth grade in Hampton, Virginia for 30 years, my dad worked for McDonnell Douglas, and then, and then Boeing, she gets $1,200 a month from her pension from Hampton, Virginia. She gets $900 from my dad’s benefits, and then there’s Social Security and you add all that up. There’s a solid, fixed income for the rest of her life.

John Moore: (08:59)
She lives with my brother, if she were to want to move into senior housing, it would be very important to her to be able to do it out of her cashflow.

Beth Mace: (09:13)
So this would be the perfect product that you’re creating.

John Moore: (09:13)
And there are more and more people, you know, the growth in city government, state government, the pensions for city workers and state workers, how it evolved over the last 20 years, it’s going to create a population looking for quality and that’s part of the idea.

Beth Mace: (09:39)
Okay. So, John, I remember a couple of years ago, touring your Louisville headquarters and remembering seeing a lot of space that was set aside for expansion purposes. Can you tell listeners a little bit about your then vision and why you had all that empty space and then your current vision for Atria.

John Moore: (09:56)
Well, I want to say that it’s not about getting bigger, it’s about getting better. And part of a little sales pitch for Louisville; Louisville is a great place. Some people don’t like me describing this way, it’s a great place to have a white collar factory. Real estate is affordable. We stumbled into a great deal on a brand new building and to have plenty of space and gives us gives us lots of options. Louisville’s also a town– you have Humana, you have the main UPS logistics hub, you have all the distillers, you have Yum brands. So its support centers, that support businesses that face customers all over the country and all over the world.

John Moore: (10:48)
And so that makes Louisville a great place to build a business like ours. It’s also as far east, as you can go, I’m sorry, as far west, as you can go in the Eastern time zone. So you’re New York time, but it’s close to California if you’re trying to be bicoastal. Our vision for growth was–we’re a management services business, but we want to do it with a plan, again, it’s not just to get bigger. We actually are shrinking at the same time that we’re growing. Peak got out of senior housing in the middle of the pandemic, and when asked, would we rather stay on or work with them to get the best price and best execution we said these are sort of your classic suburban senior living buildings.

John Moore: (11:40)
We’d just as soon focus on other parts of our business. There’s another portfolio that’s for sale now that’s owned by Ventas that sort of fits that description. So the Holiday deal is a bit about taking advantage of the fact that we’ve created a business that can operate at scale, is scaled, has back office support that can add capacity without much cost. The other thing, and I got left out of the strategy, we’ve just kicked off our software, SAS, software as a service business Glenys. Over the last 20 years, we’ve spent a lot of money on technology for Atria and have what we think is the only end-to-end front of house app solution kit for senior housing, from CRM to revenue rent-roll management to care management, to activities management, to resident family communication, to EMR. So that business is going to support everything we do. But we also think the sort of broader middle it’s sort of being involved with that service is a good thing to do.

Beth Mace: (13:11)
I’m glad you brought that up because I really consider you our visionary for the role of technologies in all aspects of business for Atria. And I can remember you were certainly an early adopter for example, of an operations dashboard and your smartphone, because he used to be able to show me that, oh, I want to know what’s going on in the property, it could pop it right up on your phone and show me what was going on in terms of move-ins, move-outs, falls, anything that you would wanted to know on that dashboard. So it’s exciting to hear that with Glenys that you’re doing that further, and I think a lot of businesses will benefit from that.

John Moore: (13:43)
We’re excited about it.

Beth Mace: (13:44)
So I’m just going to switch a little bit, tell me a little bit of your career path. So this is for the younger listeners on our call. Any insights or anything in terms that you would want to share with younger listeners about your career development, how you got into seniors housing, why you got into seniors housing with all the different careers and opportunities that are out there.

John Moore: (14:06)
I don’t think people necessarily think this way anymore, but when I got out of college and started in the workforce, it was about finding things that were interesting and following the path and seeing where they lead. And it wasn’t about picking this is what I want to be when I grow up. I still haven’t figured out what I want to be when I grow up. I got to Atria and senior housing kind of accidentally. I went to work for Lazard and the alternatives asset management business, and a real estate fund that made a big investments in senior housing, including Atria. And frankly, it was a, well-known failed deal. At the time it was pretty well known the troubles that were ahead.

John Moore: (15:12)
And I had a restructuring background before I came. They kinda didn’t tell me that they thought they had a restructuring coming and Atria has been a project that’s been going on for now 23 years for me. I was a finance guy, a big office finance guy in New York and used to literally building financing billion dollar buildings even back in the eighties that we worked on and you get into senior housing and some of the financing that gets done in senior housing on smaller buildings, just as complicated. You can get stuck in worrying about how things are financed, capitalized, and dealing with that.

John Moore: (16:11)
Or you can realize that really the best way to solve any financial problem is to fix the operations. And so learned that, early on and sort of became passionate about how do you create sustainable, quality, repeatable, operations, and, the financial results and/or ability to sort of deal with raising capital and managing capital will follow if you think that way. And I think having a real hardcore finance background coming to operations and I’m the CEO, I’m the fancy title. I really don’t have to get involved in operations, but knowing people who can deliver on the details and knowing what all that means and being able to decide to push what’s important operationally, but having a really solid finance background it’s important because this is an industry that’s not rocket biology as they say, but it’s very complex and lots of moving parts.

Beth Mace: (17:30)
And that was certainly the case during the pandemic. Cause I know you gotta be like Johnny on the spot to be able to adjust to all the changes that were coming at you rapid in rapid fire.

John Moore: (17:41)
Yeah. The Atria team is very process minded, it creates projects and completes projects and moves on to the next. And we were able to acquire all the PPE we needed. We actually bought PPE for the state of Kentucky. I think we supplied PPE to 10 other operators, but the state of Kentucky had limitations on who they could buy from. And so we could buy from distributors that we could vet quickly and they couldn’t, and then we could turn around and sell to them and provided thermometers and some other things to the state of Kentucky that they needed and weren’t able to get. So the purchasing team, it was great.

John Moore: (18:42)
We were able to put it in place. So there were 500,000 COVID tests done in the Atria world during the pandemic. 200,000 done by others that we tracked, 300,000 done by us through the relationship with Mayo clinic labs. And we had put together a testing program with Mayo, we were in the 45 to 50,000 tests per month in December, andJanuary. And from the time that a test was administered to actionable data and our trackers was an average of 2.4 days across the pandemic on 300,000 tests. It was a pretty, I think a pretty impressive show.

Beth Mace: (19:39)
Yeah I would say, that technology. So I’m going to go back now to, earlier I had said that there are three comments, three statements about yourself and two are true and one wasn’t. So let’s go to the one about that you like speed and competition and have an avid interest in racetracks, cars and horses. True or false, or a little bit of true?

John Moore: (19:58)
Mostly true. Horses, you know, it’s not as much, even though I live in Louisville and my wife is from Saratoga, but cars, yes. I have somebody that worked with me, at Lazard and I have a little sports car business that’s based in Florida. It’s quietly a pretty successful professional sports car racing business, car modification, stuff like that. And there was a time when I was a weekend warrior. It was a great thing. So almost midlife in my thirties and I found myself single again, looking for things to do. My mom and dad lived in Atlanta and I was in New York, I bought a race car for Sports Car Club of America, the weekend warrior club racing set, and my dad took care of it and he would meet me and I’d fly from New York to racetracks around the south. And, to have that kind of experience it…well, you don’t plan on becoming single again in your thirties, but to have the opportunity to do something like that with your dad was great fun. Sports car racing is a very small community, it turned in to meeting people and knowing people and opportunities and the next thing you know…there you go.

Beth Mace: (21:42)
There you go. Great. Okay. So staffing is a huge issue in our industry, so I know that it’s a big issue for you as well, it was a very big issue during the pandemic. So, what do you think is one way to grow talent in our industry? Or how do you keep staff engaged? What have been some of the secrets to your success in terms of labor?

John Moore: (22:05)
Well, one thing you could do is pay them– it’s a very competitive market and there’s a really difficult balance you have to strike between paying well– I mean you have to pay well, but how you keep people, take care of them, programs, training, opportunities.

Beth Mace: (22:42)
You have pretty loyal staff.

John Moore: (22:45)
We do. I get questions like this, and I struggle for a specific answer because there’s no secret, it’s just do the things you need to do. Train people well, give them opportunities, give them growth. We have Idis who started out as a receptionist…I think we’ve done about 600,000 in, we have a scholarship program for children and frontline staff for children of hourly staff. And we do five or six a year. And I think we’re up to about $600,000. So that kind of investment over the years. I mean, the normal things, tuition, reimbursement, encouraging that, we started things of that sort of make the staff understand that they’re important to you.

John Moore: (23:43)
We started a program called Atria Cares. It’s a 5 0 1 C3 sole purposes is making grants, not loans, grants to Atria hourly workers who have some kind of financial need. So we’ve had staff members who’ve had their house burned down, or it started with the hurricanes in Florida in 2004 when we saw in a staff that would work 72 hours straight with a tree on their car in the driveway and either a big deductible or uninsured medical needs that go well beyond, that are special or somehow not insured enough. We had a community in Paradise– when paradise burned down and I’ll brag on that a little bit too.

John Moore: (24:42)
It’s a forecast of high winds the night before nobody expected the fire to come to Paradise. We had residents pack go bags the night before and had them on notice, ready to leave. And we got all our residents out of Paradise before the evacuation started and before the roads jammed. But through Atria Cares, we gave about $600,000 to staff to help them recover and move on with their lives. So there are things like that you do, there’s our quality enhancement program, there’s staff that get a little bonuses if resident satisfaction goes up to a certain level or if the quality scores that our internal quality audit teams come up with go up. But you create loyalty by saying what you’re going to do and doing it.

John Moore: (25:47)
I’ll keep talking about our vaccine mandate where we’re rounding with one decimal point we’re effectively a hundred percent staff vaccinated and 10,000 employees, just the Legacy Atria employees. What feeling that staff have mandate can be controversial doing it earlier, doing it with conviction– it’s the right thing to do because residents deserve to live in a vaccine environment, staff deserve to work in a vaccinated environment and we had special access to the vaccine. So there’s a larger responsibility to be responsible with that. The buy-in that you got that the vast majority of the team says, wow, I’m working for people that I feel good about working with. And so it’s all those sorts of things, but it’s just tougher and tougher to find people. And it’s going to be a battle for the rest of our careers.

Beth Mace: (27:05)
Yeah. Given the demographics and, how the demographics play out, I agree. So we only have a little bit of time left so quickly, one innovative idea on how to strengthen our industry. It can be related to financing. It can be related to operations technology.

John Moore: (27:19)
Look I think the industry has been great in terms of how we’ve come together to work together, to deal with the pandemic and be smart about it. And I hope we learn more. As you know, when I was chairman of NIC, I was an advocate for the industry figuring out how to have one voice and work together more. And we don’t need three or four healthy organizations where we all come together, maybe we need one really solid….

Beth Mace: (27:56)
You’re talking about like the nonprofit trade association…

John Moore: (27:58)
Yeah or two, or whatever it’s how everything and everybody works together. I mean, it was a struggle, as everybody knows, it was struggling for senior housing to get access to the provider relief fund. We were last behind the dentist. And so just finding a way for us to get sort of better organized, share information, work together. There are different parts of that, there’s advocacy, there’s what NIC does, but it’s all related. And finding a way for the industry to work together smarter will be really important as we go through the 2020s will be the seniors decade in this country.

Beth Mace: (28:55)
And the demographics again. So that’s an answer about a challenge facing our industry. So now back to you for another minute. So did you do at Yale when you were on the football team where you were quarterback, were you the center? What position did you play?

John Moore: (29:11)
Well I didn’t play quarterback, but yeah, I handed the quarterback the ball, cause I played center and I played freshman year at Yale, it’s one of the sort of contrary proudest moments of my life. I grew up in Virginia, didn’t visit Yale before I got dropped off. But I was recruited to play football and when I got there and I saw that I was fourth on the depth chart I was excited because it meant that I didn’t get in to play football. Or maybe who knows, maybe they expected more of me than I turned out, but in that kind of situation, those guys, even though I didn’t play with them all four years, just a great experience to have, those friends, a way to learn a new environment as you go.

Beth Mace: (30:12)
Now last question about yourself in terms of the true or false, do you own a restaurant in Louisville? And, if you do I hear that it has class, bourbon, whiskey and scotch true or false,

John Moore: (30:27)
Mostly true. We’re in Louisville, so there’s good scotch and we don’t work hard on the scotch. We work hard on the bourbon because some of the most famous names in bourbon, eat at the restaurant, just because that’s where they live. It’s unfortunately not open yet. We’re figuring out what to do because of COVID. My wife accuses me of, you know, she was busy traveling, working with her sister at the time. And she accuses me of not wanting to eat alone every night. And so I bought a restaurant. It’s a thousand feet from our house, so it’s fun.

Beth Mace: (31:27)
Well I haven’t been there yet but on my next visit to Louisville hopefully it will be open. So John, this has been great. Thanks so much for your time. Is there anything you want to wrap up with?

John Moore: (31:37)
Thanks. This is a great, fun, format, you’re the Howard Stern of senior housing.

Beth Mace: (31:51)
I don’t know about Howard Stern, but okay. We’ll leave it at that. Thanks very much for your time. I appreciate it. Thank you everyone for listening.

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