Big plans aren't necessarily senior living's problem

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

“Make no little plans!”

That was the famous directive from Daniel Hudson Burnham, an urban developer who earned his fame and fortune in the 19th century.

True to his own words, Burnham built some of the world's first skyscrapers and directed the construction of the 1983 World's Columbia Exposition. He also found time in his busy schedule to create urban templates for the likes of Chicago, San Francisco, Cleveland and our nation's capital. Clearly, the guy was no slouch.

Burnham's quote in its full splendor is even more monument worthy: "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.”

Magical words, indeed. They have since inspired many an ambitious undertaking across our great country. Including, apparently, a plan by Brookdale Senior Living to establish the sector's first national brand.

It's worth noting that when Brookdale announced its intentions, there were no national brands to speak of. This notable omission was essentially the function of prejudice and scale. The prevailing notion over the years has been that senior housing, like politics, is local. Plus there was the little matter of the expense required to carry out such a massive undertaking.

I'll leave it to the EBITDA masters to discern the finer points of Brookdale's failed experiment. And by failed, I mean that the CEO in charge of its execution was given his walking papers, and the plan going forward calls for a significant property sell-off.

From the vantage point of a slightly more than casual observer, it appears Brookdale erred less in ambition than execution. For example, many of the properties scooped up in the prerequisite buying spree were, to put this in the kindest way possible, less than luxe. To command pro forma revenue projections, quite a few required significant upgrades.

That is one of the reasons why expected revenue generation was delayed and denied. But other physical, fiscal and marketing miscalculations also lent a less-than-helpful hand.

So are we to conclude that a national senior living brand is a bad idea? Not necessarily.

It's certainly possible that another approach toward the same objective will succeed in the future. But it's a certainty that a similar plan with similar execution will not.

John O'Connor is editorial director of McKnight's Senior Living. Email him at john.oconnor@mcknights.com.

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Survey says ... game show week is a hit

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St. John's Home recently hosted "Game Show Week 2.0" in recognition of Alzheimer's and Brain Awareness Month, which is June.