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December 10, 2010
Firm: R.D. Merrill Co./Merrill Gardens
Position: President and COO
Bill Pettit is the president and chief operating officer of the R.D. Merrill Co. and Merrill Gardens.
Merrill Gardens is one of the largest privately held assisted-living companies in the country and the largest in Washington state. The Seattle-based company operates 56 communities in 10 states. Merrill Gardens has 2,500 employees and the capacity to serve over 7,000 residents.
Pettit joined Merrill Gardens in 1992 after 18 years in the banking industry. He was instrumental in the formation of the company, starting with one Seattle community in 1993 and directing the rapid growth and timely execution of acquisitions.
Merrill Gardens has won numerous awards for its commitment to residents and team members, and its innovative business strategies, company performance and contributions to the community.
Recently, Health Care REIT Inc. and Merrill Gardens LLC formed an $817 million partnership to own and operate a portfolio of 38 combination senior housing communities located primarily in desirable West Coast markets.
Q: What is unusual about the way you run your company?
The Bill Pettit 411
1. If you could own any property in the universe, what would it be?
The Old Course at St Andrews.
2. What’s your top 2011 New Year’s resolution?
To expand our senior housing services in China.
3. What are you reading?
“Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption,” by Laura Hillenbrand.
4. What do you do to decompress?
Spend time with family and friends at our vacation home in the mountains.
5. What one thing about you would surprise people?
My family actually came to this country in 1636.
A: Since we acquired our first retirement community in 1993, we have focused on being a flat and lean organization that calls for a high level of teamwork and a willingness for team members to take accountability.
All the decisions we make at Merrill Gardens are predicated on our focus for an ease of transition for our residents. That means we operate our communities in the way that is best for the resident’s lifestyle rather than what might be most efficient for the company. A good example of this is our Anytime Dining program. Unlike other senior housing companies, we do not have set dining hours in our communities. Our residents can enjoy their meals in our restaurant-style dining room on their own schedule, just like they did when they lived in their own homes.
Q: The partnership with Health Care REIT brings a fresh infusion of capital for Merrill Gardens. What are MG’s expansion plans and how does this partnership accelerate that growth?
A: We have one new community currently under construction this year and we expect that we will grow at a rate of about five to six communities per year through both new development and acquisition of existing communities.
Q: According to a recent study, 22 percent of baby boomers (who hit 65 this year) considering living in an age-qualified active adult community prefer one located within a multi-generational development. Merrill Gardens/Cordyon Apartments in Seattle has been cited as model for inter-generational living. Seems like a great idea, bringing us all together. How did that concept come about?
A: We have always known that a significant number of seniors don’t want to be age segregated but they also want to have their own space. The design of Merrill Gardens at The University blends common areas such as the courtyard, fitness and dining areas while still providing separate residential buildings.
We are really excited about the response to this lifestyle option; both the seniors and the residents at the market-rate apartments enjoy the interactions that occur as a result of this design.
Q: How do pick locations for your retirement communities? What type of research/demographics dictate where you locate? (Urban? Suburban? Income levels?)
A: Demographics are critical to location for senior housing because seniors are driven to make a decision to live either in the area where they spent their adult lives or they will move to be close to their adult children or grandchildren. We survey each location based on census tracts for age and income within a specific radius of the site.
Q: Tell us about your leadership style.
A: I try to lead by example. I believe in setting the bar high and empowering and holding people accountable to the vision. I don’t believe that anything we do is average. I am also proud of the fact that we have a very solid senior leadership team at Merrill Gardens that has been in place together for a long time.
Q: Merrill Gardens has a Facebook page, a Twitter account, an active blog and your residents Skype. What does this say about our seniors? Think they’re onto something?
A: We are very excited about the opportunities that social media can bring to our residents and their family members. People over 50 are the fastest growing group of social media users and we are having fun finding ways to enhance our resident’s lives and share the Merrill Gardens lifestyle though these channels.
Q: A visit to your lively and alluring website makes us want to come live in a Merrill Gardens community. What are Bill Pettit’s retirement plans?
A: When it comes time for me to retire, I will live at one of the Merrill Gardens communities. I know that right now there are 56 general managers in our company who are fighting over the chance to have me as a resident!
Interview conducted by Barbara Travers