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260: Heather Tussing

President of The Aspenwood Company and BTG Ambassador, Heather Tussing, discusses the “why” behind their market type focus and strategies they use to attract the right talent in a tough labor market.

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Welcome to season six of Bridge The Gap, a podcast dedicated to informing, educating, and influencing the future of housing and services for seniors. Sponsored by Enquire, Accushield, Connected Living, ServiceMaster, Hamilton CapTel, Peak Senior Living, Referah, Solinity, & The Bridge Group Construction.


Welcome to Bridge Gap podcast, this senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas at the ASHA Conference here in Scottsdale, Arizona. On a very cold day, which is a little unusual, people are complaining. Even the northerners are complaining. I’ve heard a couple people from Chicago and Seattle, they’re complaining about the cold weather, and I think, well, this is your every day. So a lot of complaining about weather, but the sun is out, and we’ve got a great guest, a Bridge The Gap Ambassador. We have Heather Tussing. She is the president of Aspenwood. Welcome to the show. 

Heather 01:09

Thank you so much for inviting me.

Lucas 1:10

We are really excited to talk to you. We have developed a friendship and relationship virtually through LinkedIn and through the Bridge The Gap kind of channels. And so it’s great to have you on the show. And there’s a lot to talk about because you’ve had a very successful career in senior housing and you’ve given your life and your passion to this industry, and it’s very apparent. And you have a brand new position as president of Aspenwood out of Houston, and there’s been a lot of changes there as well. Bring us up to date.

Heather 1:44

Sure. It’s my pleasure. Well, yes, I was hired by the Aspenwood Company. There have been some changes. We’ve done a rebranding lately from Retirement Standard Management or RCM to the Aspenwood Company. As our portfolio continues to develop as a high end luxury, we wanted to ensure that the name went along with the brand that we’re offering, and RCM just didn’t have that ring to it that the Aspenwood Company does. So we have two really exciting projects going on now, in addition to our current portfolio. So, exciting times.

Lucas 2:15

That is exciting. And Josh, I don’t know if you’ve had the opportunity to visit some of, as of now, Aspenwood, their portfolio, but these are, I mean, they are luxury, beautifully designed, beautifully crafted communities. I’ve had the opportunity to personally walk almost all of your Houston communities and your Austin community. Where are the new ground up locations?

Heather 2:41

Our new ground up locations is Charlotte, we’ll open in approximately November. And then next is actually gonna be Green Hills in the Nashville market. 

Lucas 2:49

Oh, wow. 

Heathering 2:50

So literally, right, like right in the – right urban, right there.

Josh 2:54


Lucas 2:54

Wow, wow. Big markets.

Josh 2:54

Super hot spots in those markets as well. So this new Aspenwood brand? And it seems like a new product. So you’re focused exclusively in more urban areas and going vertical, or can you tell us about what your initiatives are on the development front?

Heather 3:11

Sure. So for our new development, it is all urban infill, high-end, going high up luxury which is really exciting and it’s a fun product to offer. It has a high IL population and then an AL, memory care portion as well, for most communities, Charlotte’s a little different. It’s strictly IL but yes, so that’s our primary focus going forward. We do have some of those in our portfolio currently, and then we also have high-end mid-market as well, which we’re continuing and we could possibly do an acquisition if that fit that profile. But I think anything we construct going forward will be that high-end luxury IL, AL, memory care primarily.

Josh 3:50

Can you share with us, well, you know, from the strategy behind that, what was the kind of the why behind you all wanted to focus on those market types?

Heather 3:59

Well, I work with Jim Gray, who is just a legend in what he does. And I learned so much from him, and especially we’ve learned in the Houston market, for example, while we have several communities in what you can consider uptown they all are very predominant neighborhoods that if you’re in River Oaks or if you’re in Tanglewood, which is where the Bushes lived, they’re still very close together, but they don’t go from one neighborhood to another to live. And so that’s what we’re trying to cater to is where individuals can live, where they’ve always lived without having to move and they can keep their friendships and their restaurants and their doctors and all their lifestyle that they enjoy. And that’s what we’re finding in Charlotte. We’ve had great success there so far. And it’s people that actually live in the neighborhood or that surrounding area where we’re developing. And the same with Green Hills. I mean, we had deposits before we even had a signup. And then, so they just, they’re excited to live where they’ve always lived. They don’t want to, even though like Franklin and Brentwood are amazing areas, they don’t want to relocate. They want to live where they’ve always lived.

Josh 5:00

I love that. Well, so many developers now I hear are talking not only about the resident side of the business, but they’re taking into consideration where they’re developing and how they’re developing based on the job market and the labor to, you know, provide for that product. What do you see as like your labor challenges? Are you gonna have unique labor challenges or advantages going into these markets?

Heather 5:26

I think going into these urban markets, you actually have an advantage because typically there’s going to be a bus line available and there’s a higher population. Now granted, the higher economic brackets for the high-end luxury can be a little challenging, but having that bus nearby overrides that for the most part. And honestly, I’ve seen that, I’m not gonna say labor is not a challenge at all but it’s definitely dramatically improved over the last few months.

Josh 5:49

So what are your initiatives in this new role leading the charge for a new brand new development initiatives? A very exciting time. What’s on your mind and what are you looking at over the next year or two to do?

Heather 6:03

So initially I obviously went in and evaluated a team. Obviously we had some great long-term members, who I greatly appreciate, and then I’ve just added to that team and brought on some really strong leaders in the industry that I can learn from every day, and that we can work together, collaborate, come up with a great solution, and then poke holes at it and nobody gets offended and we come up with a better option because of it. And so definitely that. Definitely we’re refocusing on our sales and marketing efforts which is both a lot of work and very, very exciting at the same time. So that’s been a primary focus. And then just really looking at everything we do and how can we tighten it up to be even better. So they’ve had a great product but we want to make sure that we’re the best product. And so really redeveloping our memory care program, and that’s something the residents deserve. Reimagining what our life enrichment programming looks like, which is very diverse between IL, AL, and memory care, but just ensuring that we’re really offering what our residents deserve and what the market wants.

Josh 7:04

What is the competitive landscape like currently in these markets that you mentioned that you’re going into? Is this something that kind of, once you put these big, nice upscale communities in, it’s kind of like your flags there and there’s not a lot of other competition, or do you find that those areas are highly sought after for development?

Heather 7:23

I mean, I think there’s definitely a lot of competition everywhere. Obviously if it’s a good market, there’s probably gonna be competition there. With my prior role, I had a lot of experience in the national market, and there are a lot of really great communities in the national market, but what we’re offering is very different. And a lot of times what I would compare it to is almost like we’re providing a high-end entrance fee type environment without the entrance fee, so you, there’s not a buy-in to it. And so they still have their liquid assets and we’re not taking their retirement or their funds from their children and their retirement and so forth. So we’re providing that similar environment, but in a, depending on what it is, if it’s an IL it’s an annual lease, for example. And that is something new to the Charlotte market. Charlotte has not seen that type of environment as significantly for the IL side. So it is something new. And obviously as we go into the market it’s an education piece, but it’s been very, they’ve been very receptive to it.

Josh 8:18

Well, you know, Lucas and I have been very fortunate over our time in the industry. And you even mentioned this, you inherited some great team members. 

Heather 8:28

Exactly. For sure.

Josh 8:29

And we know some of those and forward looking with the robust development you’re doing, that’s gonna require recruiting a lot more team. So what do you think are some of your unique strategies and advantages to be able to attract the right talent in a tough labor market?

Heather 8:44

Well, I’ve been in the market a while. I mean, I’m so grateful that I worked my way up. I actually started as Sales Director, then Executive Director, and done compliance and VP. I mean, I’ve done all the different roles, right? To get where I am. And so in order to do that one, I think there’s mutual respect. If you’ve worked your way up and you’ve learned the ropes. So I didn’t just start at this high position. I’ve worked my way up every one of the ways. So I think there’s mutual respect, but also you meet lots of people, right? And so the recruitment I’ve been doing is, I mean, I’ve just been lucky to hire people that are just so well respected in the industry and just that really want to have that collaborative effort. So I haven’t really seen a challenge in hiring the high top talent. Now Executive Directors are a little challenging and they’re like one of our most important hires, obviously. We can’t run without them, we’re here to support communities. But yeah, I think that there are some challenges, but also just having that networking and having good references and resources to us.

Josh 9:41

Well, and you’ve done an amazing job building your network. You’ve worked with us, with the Bridge The Gap program, with the Ambassadors. Everybody seems to know you, and I think there is a huge respect for people that have put in the time and invested and worked your way and learned so much on the way up and built such a great network.

Heather 9:58

You can’t replicate doing it.

Josh 10:01

I totally agree.

Lucas 10:02

Well, and there’s so many of these stories we’ve had, we’ve sat down with very high profile people like yourself now in President roles, CEO roles. Joel Nelson comes to mind, you know, started out on the front lines in his younger career. And you hear that story often. Now pivoting here for kind of the final section of our conversation, let’s talk about capital partners. You know, you guys work with some of the top of the food chain, you know capital providers and partners. Are you guys looking to continue to develop those relationships existing or are you here at ASHA and maybe NIC coming up in a month or so? Are you looking to develop new relationships?

Heather 10:45

I mean, I think a combination of both. We greatly, greatly appreciate our partnerships that we have with Harrison Street, PGIM, and now most recently, Blue Moon, we actually closed the property two days after Christmas. So we greatly appreciate those partnerships. And we have long-standing relationships, especially with Harrison Street and then PGIM and Blue Moon, we’re so grateful to be working with them, but definitely we’re always open to additional partnerships as well.

Lucas 11:09

Yeah. Yeah. Those are great companies. A lot of them are represented here at ASHA as well. Well, we’re excited to have this conversation with you. Very excited. Congratulations. Even though it’s not your first day at the job. It’s been a little while here, but congratulations officially from Bridge The Gap, and thank you for also being a great ambassador for the mission of Bridge The Gap.

Heather 11:31

It’s my pleasure. I love it. I love the networking y’all provide. I really appreciate it.

Lucas 11:34

You’re so welcome. Well, and to our listeners, if you want to know more about our Ambassador program, please go to our website. You can go to and check out this episode, many more. Connect with us on social, send us a message. We want to hear from you. And thanks for listening to another great episode of Bridge The Gap.

260: Heather Tussing