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Senior Living Hall of Fame 2019 Inductees

The American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA) announces the Senior Living Hall of Fame’s 2019 class of inductees who will be inaugurated during the association’s 2019 annual meeting in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA on January 31st.
The following inductees will be honored:

• Debra A. Cafaro, Ventas, Inc.
• Paul Klaassen, Sunrise Senior Living
• Tony Mullen, National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC)

The Senior Living Hall of Fame recognizes the visionaries who have distinguished themselves through uncommon foresight and ground-breaking innovation. These are industry leaders with an unwavering commitment to community lifestyles that enhance choice, independence, dignity and personalized service.


Debra Cafaro

• CEO of a leading S&P 500 company
• Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) owns approximately 1,200 seniors housing, health care and university-based research and innovation properties

The trajectory of Debra A. Cafaro’s career is extraordinary. She has excelled by virtually any measure, with her ascent culminating in leading an S&P 500 company with a market capitalization reaching $26 billion at its peak.

Seniors housing’s dynamic growth and emergence as a highly valued investment during her 19-year tenure as Chief Executive Officer of Ventas, Inc. are due in no small part to Cafaro’s vision and leadership. She saw early on that this burgeoning business was ripe for consolidation with the irrefutable, impending swing in demographics promising to power it forward. Investors took notice.

Under her guidance, Ventas has amassed a diversified portfolio of approximately 1,200 senior living, university-based research and innovation, and health care properties spanning North America and the United Kingdom. The upside for Wall Street: a compound annual total shareholder return of 23 percent since January 2000.

When Cafaro joined Ventas in 1999 after graduating with honors from Notre Dame, receiving her law degree cum laude from the University of Chicago and practicing real estate, finance and corporate law, the REIT had a market capitalization of only $200 million. Its principal tenant was Vencor, which operated primarily skilled nursing homes and long-term acute care hospitals.

Under intense financial pressure Vencor eventually declared bankruptcy and reorganized later as Kindred Healthcare. But Cafaro deftly led Ventas through the aftermath of its tenant’s troubles and pushed ahead to diversify its holdings. She took on the additional role of Chairman of the Board in 2003.

Ventas has made more than $30 billion in strategic investments since 2004. Today, it owns 727 seniors housing communities, just over half of its portfolio’s net operating income (NOI), in addition to medical office buildings, university-based research and innovation centers, post-acute care facilities and health systems.

Throughout her tenure at Ventas, Cafaro has drawn widespread recognition and praise for delivering consistent growth and exercising prescient foresight.

She was twice named one of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women by Forbes Magazine; a Top 50 Best-Performing CEOs in the World by Harvard Business Review every year since 2014; one of the 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare five times by Modern Healthcare; and highlighted in The 70 Elite real estate executives who shaped the industry for the past 70 years by Real Estate Forum.

Additionally, she was named as one of the Bankable 21 CEOs in the book Get Rich Carefully by CNBC Mad Money host Jim Cramer and as one of nine Game-Changers in commercial real estate since 2000 by Cafaro also was honored with the Industry Leadership Award by the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts (NAREIT).

She was named Chair of The Real Estate Roundtable in 2018, a public policy organization that brings together leaders of the nation’s top real estate ownership, development, lending and management firms to address key national policy issues relating to real estate. She is a member of the Business Council; serves on the executive committee of The Economic Club of Chicago and the Boards of The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. (NYSE: PNC), the University of Chicago, Chicago Infrastructure Trust, Executives’ Club of Chicago, and World Business Chicago.

Cafaro grew up in Pittsburgh, where she was an avid fan of the city’s professional sports. In 2016, she became an owner of the NHL Pittsburgh Penguins and a member of its Management Committee, just in time to celebrate the team’s back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 2016 and 2017.

Paul Klaassen

• Founded publicly traded assisted living leader
• Built portfolio of 450 communities in four countries

It all started in 1981 in an abandoned, former nursing home. This was where Paul and Terry Klaassen’s vision for what soon became known as assisted living got its start.

Their foresight and incomparable innovation triggered a national movement.

Investors took their cue from the Klaassens’ new addition to the senior living continuum, unleashing a flurry of assisted living development that gave seniors a novel approach to receiving care by rejecting institutionalization in favor of a more traditional, home-like setting with support services.

Sunrise Senior Living, with its signature Victorian-style communities, eventually grew under Klaassen’s leadership to more than 450 communities in four countries with approximately 50,000 residents and 43,000 employees.

After starting in the suburbs of northern Virginia and opening three communities in three years, Klaassen set his sights on becoming a growth company and achieving scale. This was when the Sunrise Victorian prototype was developed.

His criteria: “It had to be built on three acres anywhere in the country. It had to be reproducible. It had to have timeless appeal.”

Additional funding for his expansion plans came after private equity in the early 1990s secured a 25 percent interest in the company. Development jumped from two properties a year to 10 annually.

Sunrise went public in 1996 and the development pace accelerated to 20 a year. When Klaassen stepped down as CEO in 2008, 30 properties were under construction.

The inspiration behind Klaassen’s assisted living archetype came largely from his childhood experiences in the Netherlands, where elder care communities were called “verzorgingstehuizen”.
He watched his grandparents flourish in one of these communities as they aged. They enjoyed the independence and dignity of doing all the things they had always done – shopping, cooking and personal hobbies – but had access to assistance when they needed it.

Anthony Mullen

• Co-founded NIC and pioneered NIC MAP Data Service
• Led annual Advanced Sales and Marketing Summit

Tony Mullen’s legacy in senior living stretches far and wide.

He was a multi-faceted talent with a supreme grasp of data and analytics who poignantly and persuasively enumerated during the formative years of the industry why its investment returns were equal to and often superior to those of the traditional commercial property types.

He had a deep, intricate understanding of the unique fundamentals, strategies and tactics that are absolutely essential to successfully marketing and selling the merits of a senior living community. By applying his insights, operators across the country saw their market penetration rates surge.

And knowing that the future of senior living is inextricably tied to preparing tomorrow’s leaders for the multi-disciplinary demands of the business, he co-founded graduate level seniors housing and care programs at two universities.

Mullen, who at age 61 passed away in 2018, was in the vanguard of identifying, collecting and disseminating the myriad seniors housing metrics that financial institutions and operators rely on to benchmark the industry’s performance.

He was a co-founder in 1991 of the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC) and served as its first research director before chairing NIC’s research committee and then becoming a senior fellow. He was instrumental in creating the NIC MAP Data Service, which tracks senior living metrics in the largest metropolitan areas across the country.

The State of Seniors Housing, the annual compendium founded by the American Seniors Housing Association that tracks the industry’s financial and operating performance, was another milestone where Mullen played a pivotal role in drilling deeper into communities’ data.

His mastery of senior living transcended analytics. In 1996, he founded the annual Advanced Sales and Marketing Summit, where for 21 years he assembled the foremost experts in senior living who shared their best practices in sales conversions. The symposium built a well-earned reputation for challenging the industry’s status quo and traditional sales methodologies, while advancing thought-provoking, customer-centric selling skills.

He leaves a lasting heritage that will be passed down to the future generations of senior living management, thanks to his role in co-founding the graduate-level seniors housing and care programs at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

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