Seniors Housing Business

MAY-JUN 2018

Seniors Housing Business is the magazine that helps you navigate the evolution of the seniors housing industry.

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32 Seniors Housing Business n May-June 2018 By Jeff Shaw The joint owners of Northbridge Cos. feel right at home in the seniors housing industry. Jim Coughlin and Wendy Nowokunski worked together for years at a senior living com- pany that specialized in assisted living. After a national provider acquired the company in 2004, the pair launched Northbridge together, each owning a 50 percent stake in the com- pany. Coughlin assumed the title of CEO while Nowokunski became the company's president. Coughlin and Nowokunski are both from New England, and so is their Burlington, Massachusetts-based company. The entire 16-community portfolio is located in Massa- chusetts, Maine and New Hampshire. The properties include 576 assisted living units and 546 memory care units. Six of the assets are stand-alone memory care communi- ties. Monthly rents range from $4,800 to $7,800 for assisted living and $6,500 to $8,800 for memory care. The concentration of properties in New Eng- land gives the pair a competitive advantage, they believe. There are plenty of barriers to entry in New England such as land cost and availability, and knowing the ins and outs of the region enable Northbridge to capitalize on opportunities more quickly and efficiently. Seniors Housing Business spoke with Cough- lin and Nowokunski about why they have no plans to go national, how they tackle ever- present labor issues, and what the future of memory care may look like. Seniors Housing Business: Can you walk our readers through the founding of Northbridge? Nowokunski: Jim and I had been in seniors housing for over 20 years. We met at the last company we worked at, which specialized in assisted living. We were growing that company to a 27-property portfolio in New England before we sold it to a national provider. Having been passionate about serving seniors all these years, we founded a company that truly focused on quality of life for resi- dents and their families. A lot of the companies we were part of were interested in growth for growth's sake, or building to an event of some sort such as a sale. We saw a huge opportunity. There really wasn't a regional company focused on the con- sumer, the staff, the leadership, the programs, and truly trying to design what our residents and families wanted and needed. To do that we set our sights on finding the right people for our leadership team that shared our values. We have many people who worked with both Jim and me for 20 years. We also know it's a local business, so we committed to being the best, not the biggest. We decided to only own and operate in New England. The capital was essential in growing our business. We found financial partners that were interested in doing well by doing good. We found a network of high-net-worth individuals to invest. SHB: How did you connect with the original group of investors? Coughlin: Initially, the investors that joined our family were individuals and invested on an asset-by-asset basis. About six years ago, we had considerable success with a number of the investors. A group came together and we co- sponsored an investment fund that enabled us to do the next transactions. Starting from the bottom SHB: How did you each get into seniors housing? Coughlin: We were both very fortunate to grow up in the business. We have experience working onsite. We know what it takes on a day-to-day basis to be successful. SHB: What was the early experience? Coughlin: My first experience in seniors housing was as a dishwasher. Nowokunski: I worked in marketing and as an executive director. Coughlin: The majority of our senior man- agement team came from a community level. Our senior vice president of operations was a former executive director. We brought some incredible hands-on perspective. This helps us with the on-site team because we've walked in their shoes before. Wendy and I concluded that the Northbridge way is for the home office to support and pro- vide resources to the on-site team. In many organizations it works the other way around: the on-site team reports to the corporate office. We found ours to be a very successful model. It helps us attract great on-site leadership that feels supported and learns from the organiza- tion as a whole. SHB: You two co-own Northbridge in a 50/50 structure. Tell me why you choose to estab- lish the company that way. Nowokunski: We're quite proud of that. It's very rare to come across two people with different areas of expertise — his is in the capital raising and financing, where mine is in development, opera- tions and marketing — who are able to see eye-to- eye to do what's best for the company. I worked previously where pro formas were built without operational input, and often weren't achievable. We can balance the varied expectations of our investors, associates and residents. SHB: Do you ever butt heads? Nowokunski: I think we're able to see each other's point of view and come to terms with it. We have never been in a position — knock on wood — where we make a decision and the other person's totally not in favor. We usually come to agreement. Coughlin: We have a very engaged senior management group here at the home office. We have a very collaborative approach for major decisions. With that engaged group, we are not lacking in opinion on the right direction. Hav- ing them weigh in guides our thinking on how we're making critical decisions. We're not mak- ing decisions in a vacuum. Jim Coughlin and Wendy Nowokunski n The SHB Interview Owner-operator Northbridge Cos. finds success by staying close to home. Fast facts Company Name: Northbridge Cos. Founded: 2004 Headquarters: Burlington, Mass. Portfolio: 16 communities, 1,122 units Locations: Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire

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