BTG Ambassador and EVP of Diaz Fritz Group, Chris Hoard, shares his drive and passion to connect generations and how being the “bridge” in construction and in relationships is key.
Lucas: Welcome to Bridge the Gap Podcast, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. A great exciting episode today with a good friend of ours and a BTG ambassador. We want to welcome Chris Hoard, he’s an Executive Vice President at Diaz Fritz Group. Welcome to the show!
Chris: Thank you gentlemen. So excited to be here, very humbled to be here. Thank you so much for having me.
Lucas: Yeah, this has been a long time coming. Chris, you’ve been a great friend and an amazing supporter of Bridge the Gap since the beginning and you’ve watched it grow and you’ve been a part of helping make it grow. And we’re really excited to have you on today. Josh and Chris, we’re going to dive into some really fun topics related to a passion around senior living and taking that passion along with your skills and bringing that to the senior living industry. And Chris, you’re an amazing connector, you’re a builder, you’re a bridge builder. And we’re going to talk about your background and how you came into senior living. We’re going to talk about senior living design and then just general connecting and being that bridge. So let’s talk about before we get into this construction and design, which is really your bailiwick. What made you get so focused and passionate about wanting to build and be a contractor in senior living?
Chris: Um, wow. That’s a lot to unpack. Thank you for the kind words Lucas. I would tell you, Josh and I spoke about this a couple of weeks ago about what really brought me in, and I think there’s so many things in our lives that touch us at different moments in our lives. As I think back to people I grew up with, there’s a young girl who lived across the street from us as a kid. And I remember she was very young when she got leukemia and I watched her family have to care for her and she died. And that was just like the first time I had lost somebody that I knew. And I just remember the feeling I had about the care side of that. I had an uncle shortly after that who died of Huntington’s disease and I watched my aunt for years just kind of build this love. I just watched her nurture and care for and be so compassionate too. And so I think as I’ve thought about this over the last few weeks, you know, what were some of the touch points? I think those are some of the moments, but then I look back at my career and how it really started, when my father was a deputy sheriff who got into the construction industry. And I found myself as a young boy in the eighties going around construction sites. And what we mostly did was senior living, ground up opportunities and then found myself in these operational, renovation situations. And that’s when people were around and just seeing the way folks reacted to who we were, how guys that I worked with on an everyday basis loved the people we were serving. And so from that very young age I think I just got that senior living bug, where you care and love and see a real impact in people’s lives.
Josh: Well, Chris it’s really interesting cause I think some of the parallels you have in your story. I’m guessing probably even though you were around those influences growing up and early in your professional careers, I’ve heard some of your stories. I don’t know if you were like me, but I never really thought consciously like, oh I’m being prepared for senior living, like senior living was not even a term, but like you, I had a lot of those experiences. It’s really cool to see how people get shaped through those early experiences into doing what they’re doing today. So I think that’s no surprise that that happened on your pathways as well. I had the opportunity to meet you years ago at a NIC conference. I think some very similar pathways of our relationship is how I’ve met Lucas. We connected, we talked and you know, I remember, and I’ve told you this, Chris. I was like, oh man, another meeting at NIC, you know, 15 minutes, I got to give this guy 15 minutes of time, he’s wanting to talk about construction. I don’t even need construction help right now. And you know, unfortunately that was my attitude going into that meeting, but you were such a connector. We basically almost didn’t even talk about construction, but we talked about relationships and we talked about the mission of senior living and that led us to a relationship that we now get to do business together. But thankfully you were willing to invest. So I think much of you just like Lucas, you’re a great connector of people. Talk to us a little bit about that and how that makeup of who you are, has helped to kind of get to where you are in the construction side of things and connecting and bringing people together for successful projects.
Chris: That’s a great question, I think as I look back over my years of experience, I again, starting off in the construction industry, I can remember those hard superintendents who barked orders. And when they said jump, you asked how high that was kind of the mentality back in those early days in the eighties and nineties and it just didn’t sit very well with me. And I felt like and luckily for me, I had some really great mentors who taught me that, that it’s not how you have to do business. And so what I’m learning now at almost 50 years of age, and I would tell you, it’s taken me almost 50 years. I hope, um, as we’re trying to educate and influence others, uh, that they’ll really hear this, uh, this story, which is every single one of us is unique. Every single person on this earth as something unique that they bring to the table. And I was just fortunate enough and have been fortunate enough and continue to be fortunate enough to have others who recognize my skills, they recognize my talents and even they recognize things in me that I don’t know that I have. And as I think back to Cross Senior Living, I’ll go back to another experience. Frank McQuade was an old New York city detective who retired and I found him on a job site and ended up hiring him. And he worked for me for over 12 years, one of the best drywall guys, finishers in the business. But Frank McQuaid would say to me on a daily, on a weekly basis, Chris, slow down, enjoy what’s around you and he would sit there and laugh and cut up and get to know residents as we would renovate around the country.
And so we would go to these facilities and I just remember watching him get to know Doris and Beth and Cindy and Sarah and John and he got to hear their stories. And I started realizing my dad told stories my whole life growing up, and that just affected me and I wanted to hear other people’s stories. And so I think that’s where it all started, Josh. I don’t even know if I answered your question, but honestly, I think it’s all about the fact that everybody has stories in their lives that shape and mold them. Some have been through some horrendous experiences. I think I shared with you, one of the stories was one of the first people that I can remember actually really connecting with and unfortunately, I can’t remember the gentleman’s name, but we were in a facility renovating and we would renovate a room and move the resident out. And we were just out to staff and do all we could. And I got to know this man ,I’ll call him John, and I noticed he had a USS Indianapolis hat up on his wall and got to hear his story. I don’t know if you know that story, but it was one of the first ships that went down in Pearl Harbor. They had 1900 sailors on board, only 300 ultimately survived. 900 went into the water and he just for two weeks, talked to me about his life and these stories. And I just fell in love with hearing his story. I think the thing that got me the most was I found out that he hadn’t seen his family in two years and I went, oh my gosh, I have the opportunity and the ability to connect with someone and make them smile. And so I think that’s what it’s really all about. If we put relationships first, if we put other people first, because everybody has something to tell, I think that’s really what drives me. Yeah.
Josh: Yeah. I can see that and it’s also what makes you such an ambassador, a great ambassador for Bridge the Gap and what an awesome job you do. So I’ll tell you one of the things I was looking forward to actually talking with both of you guys, you and Lucas this morning, was a little bit about the actual design and construction, where we are as an industry on that. You guys are out there every day. Actually, you know, I know Chris and you Lucas, y’all have actually really been working boots on the ground on projects that were under development and construction prior to COVID that started during COVID and now they’re starting after. And I can only imagine from what I’m seeing, there’s been a lot of transitions. And especially for you, Chris, I know you’ve been doing this since the eighties. Can you talk us through some of the experiences that you’re having and in seeing the transitions in design and construction?
Chris: Well, you know when I think about senior housing, like you said, at the beginning of the call, it wasn’t really called senior housing, it was a nursing home. It was a place where people went and just lived. I don’t know if we, I don’t even think back then that we really understood the service that we were actually providing. You guys both talk so often about the love stories, there are so many great things happening in this industry. There are so many great people who give to this industry and it doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t have to be about money. It has to be, it has to do with just caring and loving and being passionate about that. But I believe what we’ve really seen over the last 20 years is this transformation of understanding that there’s an aging population who have worked their entire lives and they deserve a true home setting. And we don’t want to just be in our houses by ourselves. We want to enjoy that with other people who have common interests and I think we’re starting to see that through the design where we’re creating social interactions and being able to match people a little bit better. Using technology, to leverage the opportunity to find out what people did. Some people might be shy, they might be an introvert. And so I think what we’re starting to see is that we recognize there are connection points all over to be made and taking that into account for health and wellness. Even spoiling them, making sure that they have a spa that they can go to or a library that can be in. We’re doing a project down in Florida right now where they have this entire art gallery where people will have, as you walk in, you see through the glass, the easels and where people are working and then they’ll have a place to hang their artwork and not just for the community that’s there, but the overall community we’re building it. And I think that’s really been the change is seeing communities being built within communities and finding those connection points that everybody can be involved working together.
Josh: I love that. So another aspect that I see from you a lot, Chris is, and I don’t know whether you are intentional with this or just something that I’ve observed, but I see a lot of activity that you spend a lot of time and I would kind of classify it as recruiting it kind of the next generation of people to come in like the workforce. And I’m curious to understand, you know, working with that younger generation, what are you hearing? Are there encouraging things or opportunities that you see that we can be taking advantage of to gain workforce in our industry?
Chris: Oh, for sure and Josh, you do this very well. I saw Sara doing this recently, speaking of the University of Tennessee. We’re big advocates of the next generation. I mean, I can only take it so far, Lucas can only take it so far with what we’ve learned in our experiences and what we’re doing. And so as I look back to how does that happen? It’s really kind of funny, I’ve got four children. My boys are older, they’re 26 and 25 now, but my girls are junior and seniors. And it’s always amazing to me, they want to know what I’m doing. The kids really want to know what I’m involved in and I try to be as involved in my girl’s lives as possible cause I know I’m running out of time with them, right. So I get on TikTok with them, I get on Snapchat with them and I have this opportunity to connect and something that I think might be small when I’m talking about, you know, I was in Tennessee this week and what we’re building, these kids are just eating it up and wanting to know, well, what are you doing? How did you get into that? And what can we do? And so I think part of it is just being out there. Josh, you and Lucas both have been putting on Clubhouse and putting on different events there. I think being involved in the technology side of it, but then also taking the time. We’ve started a, what we call a green groupers group. And every quarter we have a specific time set apart to go and talk just to the younger generation. And it’s not always the younger generation, it’s sometimes people who are young in construction and we go out to a dinner place and they get to pick the brain of the experienced leaders. And we take that time to answer any questions that might, they might have. And so we share what our experiences have been and then invite them to just do an open question and answer and that has been really, really rewarding.
Josh: Well, so these groups and these efforts that you’re making, I love that. So how are you getting your message to those individuals? Like practically speaking, when you have an idea and you’re thinking, well, we’re going to do this, but like, how are you reaching them?
Chris: Yeah. So I really am a big advocate of LinkedIn. I’ve tried to do Instagram, I’m not the best at Instagram. But I’m very active on LinkedIn and then we’re trying to get involved in the community. So we go to golf tournaments, we sponsor golf tournaments at the colleges we go to and participate at the career development days. And when we go up there and participate in a career day, that might be on a, let’s say a Wednesday, we’ll typically go up the day before on a Tuesday and spend all day. And what we’ve really been successful at is the recent graduates that we’ve hired in the last two to five years. We have them reach back out to the friends and their groups that they know and have them kind of stir up the frenzy and bring them to a dinner place. And we’ll have a group of 10 to 15 college students come and just have open questions and answers. And that many times it’s just about construction, but it allows me to start talking about senior housing and why I’m so passionate about senior housing. It’s unbelievable how many of them don’t really understand what that is. They even today just know that’s a place where grandma goes. And so we’re trying to talk to them about all the opportunities from operations to design through construction. There’s so many different levels, accounting development, you name it, there’s so many different opportunities for them. So I think that’s one of the ways that we’re trying to do, um, I guess get the message out there.
Josh: Well, Lucas we’ve talked about this on this show. So many times, how much of an opportunity we have to even get to the university level students that the majority that we come in contact with, they have never heard anything about senior living. They have not had an educational pathway that is an opportunity to pursue senior living and so they are so open to it. I think that one, it’s a little bit discouraging because it lets, you know, oh gosh, we get caught up in our world and we realize there’s a whole world out there that doesn’t even know about senior living, a whole generation that’s being raised that doesn’t understand our industry. But the flip side of that is what a great opportunity, because we constantly talk about the labor challenges and right there with some unintentional effort like you’re doing Chris. I think that is proof that that could happen. I’ll tell you, I just learned a little fact about you though, Chris, that you might not have wanted to reveal this, that you’re on TikTok. So I did not realize that I’m going to be looking now, I’m going to be looking. So this is like light bulb moment.
Chris: My daughters will be devastated.
Josh: Oh man, this is good material.
Lucas: Well, as we round out the show, I want to speak to something that is kind of in between the lines here. For some of our listeners, I want to speak directly to the people that our partner vendors to this industry. Chris is a prototype. The reason why he’s such a great ambassador, is because he’s thinking about things that are bigger than his product or service. He’s thinking about ways that his actions can map to a greater impact in the senior living industry as a whole. And I would just say if you’re a vendor partner in this industry and you want to be successful, you will gain success by improving and growing the business that you’re serving, which is the senior living industry. And so if you can add to not only providing a great service or product that improves the industry, but you can also be an advocate for all things in the industry and be a part of the tide that rises all boats. That is really the sweet spot that makes this industry such a great opportunity for entrepreneurs, for people that are in business in so many different ways and facets that you can take pride in growing a successful product or service or company along with being an advocate for great outcomes for older adults and recruiting and all the things that we’ve been talking about here. So I definitely want to encourage anybody who’s listening that is on the vendor partner side of the industry to take note and be like Chris.
Chris: Well, I don’t know, everybody wants to be like Chris, but you know, Josh, you brought up something earlier and Lucas just hit on it again. And that is that this isn’t done by ourselves, it’s all about networking, it’s all about connecting. It’s amazing the impact that you have, I think about the two of you along with Sara and all the impact and the reach that you have by just starting this podcast. We try to do a very similar thing. I specifically focus on, hey, I don’t want to be brought in when construction documents are ready to bid. We’re all about trying to put the entire team together. And that’s from the beginning, including operations and Josh, you and I have had a lot of success with this on a couple of different projects now. And we’re looking at others and that is bringing everybody together to find out how we go serve with the resident in mind? How are we going to make a better life for them? And so you bring the design teams and the architects and the realtors and the HVAC and the electrician, all these different trades and businesses right up front. And I think that makes such a difference on the outcome. As you’re just talking about Lucas, it really makes such a difference on really impacting the lives of those who we come to serve. And that’s what it’s all about, it’s really helping serve those who have served us their entire lives.
Lucas: What a great point to end on Chris, and as much as I’d love to continue this conversation on the podcast, you know what to our listeners, we can continue this conversation at BTG voice.com and all of our social media sites. We would love to hear from you as we start to roll out bits and pieces of this interview in different videos and audio formats, please tell us your story, tell us what your connection points are to the business and how your, the things that you’re doing to improve the industry as a whole. Chris Hoard from Diaz Fritz, and an ambassador at BTG. Thank you so much for spending time with us today.
Chris: Thank you guys, I really appreciate you having me on.
Lucas: Awesome to see both of you and to all of our listeners, go to BTGvoice.com to access all of our content. And thanks for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap.