By Jonathan Rose – Associate Editor, Denver Business Journal
The company CEO Michael Schonbrun built found itself at the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic, but it didn’t have to lay off any staff members, and Balfour Senior Living was able to maintain its company culture. Now, about 20 years after its founding as one community near Boulder, Schonbrun is leading his 10-facility company to East Coast expansion with Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., next in line.
Senior living facilities were the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic — not just in terms of cases, but also innovation and care. In some ways it’s a bellwether for the health care industry at large. We’re entering the third year of the pandemic — can you give our readers a quick “state of the sector”? It’s improving, but slowly. Covid not only increased operating expenses, but severely reduced new admissions and increased discharges. It also exacerbated a labor shortage by increasing burnout and creating discouragement with the health care work.
The staff who remain will be the ones who truly love seniors, caretaking and find satisfaction working with residents and like-minded coworkers. For those who viewed their work solely as a path to a paycheck, they are gone and unlikely to return. That said, the quality of life and quality of care in the better senior living communities was, during the height of the pandemic, superior to that found by seniors who stayed in their home. That fact is increasingly being recognized. On the bright side, the Boomers are coming and the demand for quality senior living will increase markedly within the next few years.
What trends in health care, senior care and retirement communities are you watching as we enter Year 3 of the pandemic? Labor shortages and rapidly escalating wages.
You finished your first building in Colorado in 1997. Just about 20 years later, you’re on the verge of opening communities in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. What are two or three of the top lessons you’ve learned growing a company like that? Build your business slowly and carefully until you have created a solid foundation of people, processes and funding and avoiding being over-leveraged or over-extended. Hire the right people — smarter than you, those who share your passion and dream, and self-starters. But build in guardrails to protect your company from getting off track or being captured by others. Be prepared to work harder than anyone else in the company. It’s your vision and no one knows it better than you. Plus, you can’t expect your staff to work hard if they don’t see their leader setting an example.
Day-to-day transformation: I go to a lot of basketball games and tennis matches for the teams that our twin 17-year-old sons play. On weekends, I look after the trees we planted along our driveway, trying to fend off Emerald Ash Borer disease and other afflictions which trees in the arid high desert climate of Colorado are susceptible to. I enjoy the Amazon and Netflix multi-episode dramas and comedies.
After 25 years, I’ve given up my season tickets to the Colorado Rockies based on their chronic mediocrity with little basis for future optimism.
Hoped-for Denver metro transformation: I hope to see live events, street fairs, bustling restaurants and live theater return to the metro Denver area.
Region-transforming superheroes were honored at Denver Business Journal’s 2021 Most Admired CEO dinner and awards program at The Ritz-Carlton Denver on Nov. 11.
In all, 22 top executives with a Denver-area presence were recognized in the DBJ’s fourth annual program for guiding their organizations through a transformational year, including Pinnacle Award winner Robin Wise, president and CEO of Junior Achievement.
“Transformation has been the theme throughout our 2021 signature events as the region’s businesses enter recovery mode in the new normal,” DBJ Publisher and Market President Kevin Pitts told the audience of about 250. “Tonight, we’re honoring 22 Most Admired CEOs who have successfully transformed how their companies do business, kept their teams engaged and their company thriving.”
A video was shown of each winner talking about the day-to-day transformations they undergo in their own life as they transition from executive office to the outside world.
“We were curious: What really happens when the CEO leaves the office? Do they become a celebrated chef, a fearless adventurer, or perhaps the family IT guy? Tonight, you’ll find out,” Pitts said.
There was also a big focus on philanthropy, as each winner accepted their award and then told the audience about transformation, they’re hoping to drive within the greater Denver community — through work at their own company or with a partner nonprofit.
The event was capped off with a short video and speech honoring Pinnacle Award winner Robin Wise, who has led youth-focused business nonprofit Junior Achievement since 1991.
“JA’s focus on financial literacy, entrepreneurship and work readiness has prepared generations of Colorado kids for professional success and aligns perfectly with DBJ’s mission,” said Pitts, who also serves on JA’s board of directors.
The Pinnacle Award recognizes long-time Denver-area leaders who have made a tangible and positive impact on Denver’s business sector and wider community.
To qualify, nominees had to be the top local executive at an organization with a significant presence in the Denver area. Nominees were scored by an editorial panel on their leadership, contributions to community success, civic engagement, career achievements and other details.
In this special section, each of the winners told our editorial team about their personal transformations, shifts happening in their sectors and businesses and the transformational change they’re helping drive within the community, as well as provided insights into economic trends and events.