A tribute to Tony Mullen

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Mike Hargrave
Mike Hargrave

We are all deeply saddened at the passing of Tony Mullen. Tony was a dear friend of mine, and although I always will be grateful for his mentorship and support, it was his love for the seniors housing and care industry that I believe will resonate.

Tony was one of the original founders of NIC back in 1991. He worked alongside Bob Kramer (NIC's strategic adviser and former president and CEO) until 2007, when he became a senior fellow. Bob and Tony shared the same vision: that for the industry to become an accepted institutional asset class, it would require a similar level of data, information and transparency that already existed in other asset classes.

Tony (and Bob, the board and others) worked at this throughout the 1990s in establishing groundbreaking research such as Industry Classifications for Seniors Housing Property Types. This truly was pioneering back then, as there were no real common terms for the property types.

NIC (often with Tony in the lead) went on in the 1990s to establish the initial Case for Investing in Seniors Housing & Care Properties, which resulted in the first significant institutional investment in the sector. In the late 1990s, NIC established the Key Financial Indicators Service, which was the industry's first-ever regular aggregate data collection on key metrics.

Tony also worked tirelessly on many industry collaborative initiatives, such as the State of Seniors Housing (published by the American Seniors Housing Association) and the Overview of Assisted Living (published by what then was known as the Assisted Living Federation of America) to name just a few. But as the industry went through the assisted living overbuilding phase (and subsequent losses) from 1998 to 2002, NIC leadership realized that a more regular and granular data service that included construction tracking then would be required for lenders and investors to again become comfortable in providing capital to the sector.

Tony began the tall task of conceiving and planning the NIC MAP Data & Analysis Service. He and NIC (and the board) worked with Margaret Wylde of ProMatura in planning data collection, reports and metrics. NIC conducted its first test market in 2003 (Charlotte, Mecklenburg County) and subsequently decided to make a go at it of the 30 largest MSAs beginning in 2004.

In 2005, I was hired and took charge of driving NIC MAP forward. I worked very closely with Tony on the data service and learned a great deal from him during this time. Tony would write the key insights at that time for the NIC MAP Monitor. Many of these were groundbreaking, such as “combination IL/AL or AL/MC properties outperform their freestanding counterparts.” One of the big three healthcare real estate investment trusts at the time used that insight to drive its strategy.

In 2007, Tony decided that he would step back from NIC and became a senior fellow. He then would take on several initiatives of his own. He helped develop a few successful seniors housing properties (IL/AL/MC), but he also helped establish the Executive Education Program at UMBC's Erickson School for Aging Studies.

He also focused on growing his Advanced Sales and Marketing Summit. This was an annual conference that previously was focused on market research. Tony saw that the industry, to be successful moving forward, must migrate its “admissions director” based marketing culture to an advanced sales and systems culture. This helped spawn many industry companies specializing in increasing occupancy through better sales focus.

So here we are. It's now 2018 and Tony has been called home to the lord and his beloved wife, Linda. I personally am saddened that Tony has left us, and I am sorry for his family's loss. But then I think how grateful I am to have known him and how grateful I am that he chose to pour so much love into the seniors housing and care industry. 

Mike Hargrave is a principal at medical real estate data company Revista and former vice president and chief market and data strategist for the National Investment Center for the Seniors Housing & Care. While at NIC, he oversaw the development, growth and operations of the NIC MAP Data & Analysis Service.

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