leaders in senior living grow into the role; they start out as caregivers or in other front- line jobs. Without that hands-on experience, Potter said, she has challenged herself to glean a deeper understanding of the industry. “I’ve never run a community, and while I

have an understanding of what is involved— I understand the financial aspects—this still is not a specific experience that I have had before,” she said. “So I have really looked to our operations people, our divisional vice presidents, and tried to leverage their expertise. I want to understand their point of view any time we are making decisions.” Even as Potter has had to learn on the fly,

the goal posts keep moving. She said she has been especially aware of the pace of change not just within Five Star but across all of senior living. “The demographic is chang- ing. The customer preferences are changing. How we adapt to that as industry, how we think about ourselves and who we want to be—all of that is a new frontier, and all of us in the industry need to be thinking about that and trying to strategize around that,” she said. While she enjoys that kind of high-level

strategizing, Potter said some of her favorite experiences so far have involved her month- ly visits to the communities. “That is where the magic happens. I learn something new every time I go, and always have a really great experience,” she said. ADVICE TO YOUNG WOMEN: “I have

been very fortunate to have really excellent mentors, so I would encourage others to seek out those relationships. Senior living is predominantly led by women, so if you really are interested in having a career, that means there are lots of opportunities for mentorship. There are a lot of women who will lead you on your journey.”


In 2000 Kelley Skarp took a mid-career turn. “I had relocated from one city to an- other for my husband’s job and I knew I didn’t want to stay in insurance. I wanted something different—call it a little more customer-centric,” said Skarp. She took a regional sales job in senior liv-

ing, and she’s never looked back. “I got into senior living and have stayed there because of the ability to provide a great customer

Kelley Skarp at a recent leadership meeting planning session with her team. MARCH/APRIL 2019 ARGENTUM.ORG 19

experience. It’s a sales function, but you also feel like you are giving back, like you are helping people at a critical time in their lives,” she said. She believes her steady progression

through the ranks has been the result of a can-do attitude. “By nature I am a fixer. Whenever the next challenge presented itself, I saw that as an opportunity and I wanted to go and fix it,” she said. Take for instance the moment LifeTrust America, a former employer, was acquired by Five Star. Skarp’s division, managed ser- vices, wasn’t slated to be part of the acquisi- tion: The deal could have stalled her career. But Skarp had a sit-down with Five

Star’s Rosemary Esposito and together they worked out a plan. “This was their first ac- quisition outside their home market and it was going to be a very different culture for them,” Skarp said. “The didn’t want the people in Nashville to leave just because they weren’t familiar with the culture of a company based outside Boston. Skarp left her sales role to head up the

transition effort. She held the team together and got a deeper insight into the nature of the operation. “It made me much more aware of the employees and their role in de- livering services to the residents,” she said. In her decade with Sunrise Senior Living,

she stretched her wings further, expanding from a sales role into a position building

relationships between Sunrise and hospital systems. The role cast her as somewhat of a lone operator, and while she thrived in the job, she ultimately felt she had more to give as the head of a team. That brought her to her current role as

SVP of sales and marketing at The Arbor Company. “I saw this as an opportunity to get back to what I truly love, setting up teams for success,” she said. “Communication is a huge factor in that, as is curiosity, just the ability to ask the right questions and gain clarity on what the needs are in the field.” She applies this to her own staff, and she encourages her sales team to listen with care when helping to guide families through the sometimes difficult transition into senior housing. “I don’t think there are very many one-size-fits-all things in this world. That means we have to understand, before we can become trusted advisors,” she said. “Everyone has their nuances. You may have situations that are very similar, but these are still big emotional decisions that families are making and I think they all deserve to be treated as individuals.” ADVICE TO YOUNG WOMEN: “Be will-

ing to take risks. That is how you will grow your career. Where others see risk, I see an opportunity for professional growth. Every experience is potentially a puzzle piece in a bigger picture.”

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