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Lifetime Achievement Award Presented to Bill Sheriff, Brookdale Senior Living

It is my great privilege to present Bill Sheriff, CEO of Brookdale Senior Living, with ASHA’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

First, let me begin by saying a few things about this award.  Selecting someone for the Lifetime Achievement Award is not as easy as one might think.  And I say that not because of a lack of talent.  To the contrary, there are many in our industry who have accomplished a great deal.

But this award is intended to not only honor someone distinguished by many noteworthy accomplishments, but more importantly, someone who has made long-standing contributions to the advancement of the seniors housing profession. 

By any measure, Bill Sheriff is a seniors housing visionary who has certainly earned the Lifetime Achievement Award.  

Those of you who know Bill would likely describe him as a man of few words who would prefer to let his actions do the speaking, so I’ll take a moment to tell you a bit about Bill’s career.    

Before he was hired to lead American Retirement Corporation in 1984, Bill had spent 29 years in the truckstop business.  Having grown up in the business working for his father, he became responsible for the business at age 22, following his father’s death.  For 9 years, he grew the business building two new locations plus expanding by acquiring ancillary businesses.  He sold the business to Ryder System, Inc. and led the truckstop division of Ryder for 11 years, building it into the largest truckstop chain in the U.S. 

Bill may well be the only person who successfully made the transition from truck-stops to seniors housing.  But if you stop to think about it-- he came from a 24-hour, 365 day-a-year business. 

When Bill was at ARC, he was mentored by the two highly accomplished men who founded the company in 1978, Dr. Thomas Frist, Sr. and Jack Massey. You may recognize these names because in 1968 these gentlemen also founded Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), which is today the largest private operator of health care facilities in the world.        

With Bill Sheriff, Dr. Frist and Jack Massey had hired a very dedicated student.  Bill immersed himself in learning about senior customer needs, market dynamics, and product innovation. 

Bill discovered that for-profit operators were just beginning to enter an industry that had largely been the domain of not-for-profit entities.  He also discovered that seniors in most U.S. markets had very few options in the early 1980s: some church-sponsored continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs), nursing homes, and some subsidized seniors housing.  There was almost no data available on the seniors housing business; little thought had been given to the design of the product, there were very few states that regulated seniors housing, and financing was a huge challenge.   

Bill saw tremendous opportunity and put his instincts to work in what proved to be highly successful product offerings. One of the communities that ARC developed, Williamsburg Landing, was the first to offer a 100% refundable entrance fee in a CCRC.  It was also, believe it or not, one of the first seniors housing community to offer residents the choice of a 2 or 3 bedroom apartment (not just the typical studio or 1-BR unit). It was also one of the first communities of its kind to give seniors the option of freestanding cottage homes. 

ARC was one of the very first companies to add assisted living to a CCRC as far back as 1979.  In 1984, ARC developed a prototype free-standing assisted living design.  This, however, was never developed due to deteriorating market conditions in the mid-1980s.  Another innovation of ARC under Bill Sheriff’s leadership was the development of the industry’s first group long-term care insurance product that was a joint effort between ARC and Met Life and was put in place at Williamsburg Landing.    

Bill was also a trailblazer in promoting the concept of senior-focused health and wellness.  Beginning in 2000, he introduced a wellness model of aging into ARC’s portfolio and became the first provider to create an in-house proactive, senior-focused rehabilitation program, which was later expanded to include home health services.  From the beginning, the program showed positive, statistically supported outcomes for residents that extended length of stay in independent and assisted living settings. 

Bill Sheriff has further distinguished himself in advancing our industry’s body of research.  Prior to the State of Seniors Housing data collection effort that began in 1992, ASHA assembled detailed case studies that included financial performance data from several successful seniors housing properties.  Bill recognized early on the importance of collecting and sharing industry data. Keep in mind, the idea of collecting and sharing industry data in the early 90’s was not commonplace in our industry and many chose to not participate. But Bill believed it was good for the industry – both for the operators and those who might someday consider financing the industry’s growth. 

I can also tell you that over the course of Bill’s career in leading two major senior housing companies, both American Retirement Corporation and Brookdale Senior Living, Bill has been a staunch advocate for participating in industry research. I can personally attest to the importance of Bill’s leadership in this regard and I know that his commitment to research has truly helped advance our understanding of the consumer and the product in very profound ways. 

In 2006, Bill took over as co-CEO of Brookdale when it merged with ARC.  During his tenure at Brookdale, the company has maintained its rank as the largest operator of seniors housing. Today, Brookdale operates over 67,000 units in nearly 650 communities.

Bill is passionate in his focus on people and culture and he believes in the same guiding principle as his mentor, Dr. Thomas Frist, Sr. who once said: “It’s not the bricks and mortar that make an organization great.  It is the people – good people who care, who have compassion, who have commitment.” 

In his own unassuming way, Bill Sheriff has made a significant impact on the landscape of the seniors housing business for nearly 30 years.  Our industry has benefited enormously from his leadership, and Bill has served as a mentor to a host of current and future leaders in our profession. 

In all that Bill says and does, he espouses having the right priorities – faith and family come first.  Having reached his 50th wedding anniversary with his wife Sharon, along with his three children and eight grandchildren, he lives by example. 

Bill, I think I speak for all of us here today when I say that we are indebted to you for your long standing contributions to the industry. You have been a true partner and I am confident both Dr. Frist and Jack Massey would be extremely proud of all that you have accomplished. 

Please join me in congratulating Bill Sheriff on receiving this very well deserved Lifetime Achievement Award.   

Presented by David Schless, President, ASHA

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