Industry mourns senior housing and care veteran Tony Mullen, NIC co-founder

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

Senior living industry leaders are remembering Anthony James “Tony” Mullen as a trailblazing, passionate advocate of seniors housing and care as well as a good friend.

Mullen died Saturday after having a heart attack. He was 61.

“Some of the things I look for in people that I think have been true trailblazers in our industry are a combination of a passion for what we do and the significance and importance of it and the desire to do well, together with the real personal willingness to roll up one's sleeves and say, ‘How can I help this industry really grow and mature and provide a better product for the residents and their families that we serve?' And certainly no one represents that any better than Tony Mullen,” Robert Kramer, strategic adviser and former president and CEO of the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care, told McKnight's Senior Living.

More remembrances 

Jim Moore, president of national senior housing and healthcare consulting firm Moore Diversified Services and McKnight's Senior Living columnist:

“Tony Mullen was a great friend and a very talented professional. We've worked together for over 25 years on a number of client engagements and with NIC and the American Seniors Housing Association.

“Tony's integrity and his focus on helping both senior consumers and industry professionals consistently demonstrated very clearly his industry leadership. I'm a better professional because of Tony.

“We all need to redouble our efforts to sustain the impressive legacy that Tony was kind enough to leave with us.”

Mike Hargrave, principal of medical real estate data company Revista and former vice president and chief market and data strategist for NIC:

“The seniors housing and care industry has lost a dear friend in Tony Mullen. Over the course of his career, Tony made many contributions to the industry. He had a unique ability to identify key areas of industry weakness (and opportunity) and to focus collective efforts on improvement. His contributions helped move the industry forward, and he will be sorely missed.”

David Smith, CEO of Sherpa CRM, One On One: Inspired Senior Sales, The Gatesworth:

“I first met Tony in the early 1990s at one of his first Annual Sales and Marketing Summits. My life was forever changed for the better. Over the years since, Tony became my friend, sales theory/practice sounding board and my mentor. Tony had that impact on hundreds of industry professionals.

“Tony was a practically oriented abstract thinker, a passionate innovator, a persuasive teacher and a challenging teacher. His Advanced Sales and Marketing Summit became the premiere forum to study, discuss, advance and debate sales conversion theory and practices.”

Harvey Singer:

“Tony, along with Bob Kramer, hired me for the job of research directior at NIC in 1996, and I worked with and for Tony for half a dozen years after that while he was active at NIC as one of its founders and as research adviser. We started the periodic NIC lender/investor surveys together, did the first few in the series the Case for Investing in Seniors Housing & Care, and together with Margaret Wylde of ProMatura Group put together the NIC MAP market rent and vacancy studies, as well as many other research projects. I also worked with him when we both were on the ASHA Advisory Task Force together.

“I very much enjoyed and learned from working with Tony. He was whip-smart and as demanding on himself for producing high-quality work as he demanded of others. He was personable and caring, and it was evident how much the advancement of the industry meant to him, along with his great reliance on his family and his religion. I shall miss his greatly and will pray for his soul. I think and hope Tony would have liked that.”

Kramer, Mullen, Al Holbrook and Bob Eramian founded NIC in 1991.

“Tony was a volunteer and then came on board as our first research director and then chaired our research committee as a volunteer,” Kramer said. In 2007, Mullen stepped down from the full-time role of research director to become a senior fellow of the organization, a role he served in for about three years, he added.

Even after the formal tie ended, however, Kramer said, Mullen was very much involved with NIC as a “friend” of the organization.

“Chuck Harry, our chief of research and analytics, and Beth Mace, our chief economist, can both tell you they were still getting emails as late as last week with Tony asking questions, which is really his way of saying, ‘Are you sure about those data? Gee, that seems odd to me,' ” Kramer said, laughing. “He was fully engaged on whether or not the data are both accurate and whether or not they properly reflect the trends in seniors housing and care.”

Data was a topic of high interest to Mullen, Kramer said. Mullen was instrumental in creating the NIC MAP Data Service, which tracks properties in the country's largest metropolitan areas. “Tony had a great instinct on data,” he said.

NIC wasn't the only industry group with which Mullen was active.

David Schless, president of the American Seniors Housing Association, told McKnight's Senior Living that Mullen, an ASHA member, made “significant and numerous” contributions to the development and evolution of the State of Seniors Housing research on which NIC, ASHA, Argentum, the National Center for Assisted Living and LeadingAge collaborate.

“He really stayed involved in that over the years and was really committed to better data,” Schless said.

“He was also very supportive of our Where You Live Matters consumer education initiative,” Schless said. “Tony was always willing to share his thoughts on the consumer, and WYLM incorporates a lot of his perspective.”

Schless said Mullen also made contributions to the formation of the Senior Living Hall of Fame, which ASHA launched earlier this year. “He had very strong opinions about how to do it, that the Hall of Fame should be bigger than the politics of the industry,” he said.

Schless said he met Mullen in the late 1980s when Schless was interning with the National Association for Senior Living Industries.

“We remained very good friends over the years and spoke regularly about life and senior living,” he said. “I was a big fan of Tony's as a person and as an industry colleague, and he will be missed greatly.”

Born in Pittsburgh, Mullen was a resident of Newtown Square, PA, near Philadelphia, at the time of his death, according to his obituary.

He was a graduate of St. Joseph's University and earned an MBA from Drexel University. Mullen worked as a CPA before entering the seniors housing industry.

Mullen's career included work at the American Retirement Corp. as well as forming Traditions of America, an owner and developer active adult communities, and Royal Star Properties, a developer of independent living, assisted living and memory care properties, Kramer said.

Additionally, he co-founded graduate-level programs in senior housing and care at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Mullen also founded the Advanced Sales & Marketing Summit, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2016. In conference materials that year, he urged attendees “to prioritize and make the sales position into an executive level position in pay, selection, training, development and prestige.”

In the past few years, Mullen had developed his own sales program and was actively recruiting clients for whom he would assess and train their sales forces, Kramer said. “He was so convinced that the real value proposition of senior care and how to sell that was something the industry was very poor at, and he had a passion in that area,” he added.

Kramer said he met Mullen for dinner about a month ago to interview him for a written history of NIC. “It was very hard for him dealing with the loss of his wife, Linda, who died [in 2013] after a long bout with cancer, and he was just now at the point where he was really excited about re-engaging in a fuller way back into the industry,” he said. “It's a real loss.”

Mullen is survived by four children, four grandchildren and additional relatives.

Calling hours will be Wednesday and Thursday, and funeral services will be Thursday. For more information about arrangements, see the online obituary.

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