Ventas CEO Debra A. Cafaro, Sunrise Senior Living founder Paul Klaassen and National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care co-founder Anthony J. “Tony” Mullen are the three members of the 2019 class of inductees into the American Seniors Housing Association’s Senior Living Hall of Fame.

They will be honored Jan. 31 during the association’s 2019 annual meeting in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA.

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

Debra Cafaro

Cafaro is CEO and chairman of Ventas, an S&P 500 real estate investment trust  that owns approximately 1,200 seniors housing, healthcare and university-based research properties spanning North America and the United Kingdom. She has served in the role for 19 years.

Ventas had a market capitalization reaching $26 billion at its peak, but when Cafaro joined the REIT 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, it had a market capitalization of $200 million. Its principal tenant was Vencor, which primarily operated skilled nursing homes and long-term acute care hospitals.

Vencor eventually declared bankruptcy and reorganized later as Kindred Healthcare. Cafaro diversified the REIT’s holdings.

Ventas has made more than $30 billion in strategic investments since 2004. Today, more than half of its portfolio’s net operating income comes from seniors housing.

Among Cafaro’s many other honors, she twice was named one of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women by Forbes Magazine and has been named a Top 50 Best-Performing CEOs in the World by Harvard Business Review every year since 2014. Among her many other roles, last year, she was named chair of The Real Estate Roundtable, a public policy organization that brings together leaders of the real estate ownership, development, lending and management firms to address key national policy issues relating to real estate.

In 2016, Cafaro became an owner and member of the management committee of the NHL Pittsburgh Penguins of the city where she grew up.

Paul and Terry Klaassen

Paul and Terri Klaassen’s vision for what would become known as assisted living got its start in 1981 in an abandoned former nursing home, ASHA noted.

“Their foresight and incomparable innovation triggered a national movement,” according to the organization.

Klaassen was inspired largely from his childhood experiences in the Netherlands, ASHA noted. There, his grandparents, who lived in an elder care community, enjoyed the independence of shopping, cooking and personal hobbies but had access to assistance when they needed it.

Klaassen started Sunrise Senior Living in suburban Virginia and opened three communities in three years. Under his leadership, the company grew to more than 450 communities in four countries, with approximately 50,000 residents and 43,000 employees.

Additional funding for expansion came after private equity in the early 1990s secured a 25% interest in Sunrise. Development went from two properties a year to 10 annually.

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

Anthony J. "Tony" Mullen (Photo courtesy of the American Seniors Housing Association)
Tony Mullen

Mullen, who died in 2018, co-founded NIC in 1991 and served as the organization’s 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.

He also played a pivotal role in drilling deeper into communities’ data for “The State of Seniors Housing,” the ASHA-founded annual compendium that tracks the industry’s financial and operating performance.

In 1996, Mullen founded the annual Advanced Sales and Marketing Summit. For 21 years, he assembled experts in senior living who shared best practices in sales conversions.

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

The Senior Living Hall of Fame Selection Committee for the 2019 class was led by Larry Cohen, the recently retired CEO of Capital Senior Living and former ASHA chairman. Committee members included Lois Bowers of McKnight’s Senior Living and additional business journalists covering the industry.

Six people were inducted into the Senior Living Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 2018: Granger Cobb, Bill Colson, Bill Kaplan, Jim Moore, Bill Sheriff and Stan Thurston. Read more about them here.

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