Welcome to season six of Bridge The Gap, a podcast dedicated to informing, educating, and influencing the future of housing and services for seniors. Powered by sponsors Accushield, Enquire, Connected Living, Hamilton CapTel, Referah, Service Master, The Bridge Group Construction and Solinity. The contributors are brought to you by Peak Senior Living and produced by Solinity Marketing.
Welcome to Bridge The Gap podcast, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. We are at ASHA in Scottsdale, an incredible guest on today. We want to welcome David Eskenazy. You are the CEO of Cogir. Welcome to the show.
Glad to have you. So you have made big news recently about your love for the 49ers.
This is true. Great.
I caught you off guard there.
I’ve seen on Facebook you got a home rivalry, right? Your wife’s a big 49ers fan. And you lost the bet. How did that happen?
Well, we have a standing bet that whose ever team goes further in the playoffs. The other person has to dawn the colors. So she had the whole uniform out for me and we backed into the playoffs. So I got one week reprieve, but the Seahawks lasted exactly one week of the playoffs. So yesterday morning I could not get on the airplane to come here without that jersey yet.
I was on the airplane with a Jerry Rice jersey. At least it was an old one.
Yeah, right, right.
But yeah, so that’s what happens in our family. So this next weekend I’ll be having the 49er gear on and there’ll be pictures everywhere because she loves that.
She’s really rubbing it in.
Oh, for sure.
Well, I’m equally as mad because the 49ers crushed the Dallas Cowboys in a just pitiful display from the Cowboys. So we’re both unhappy.
That bought me another week in the Jerry rice jersey.
Okay, I digress. You’ve made big headlines for a number of reasons. You’ve been in the industry a really long time, this new launch, Cogir. Love to know, number one, why you’re so passionate about the industry, why you’ve dedicated your entire career to this, and then we’d love to know about more about Cogir.
Sure. Well, my entrance into the – you know, I don’t think people, when they grow up and they’re seven years old aspire, you know, astronaut, firemen, senior housing, I don’t think that happens. I mean, maybe one day it might, but that’s just not quite how this works. I think everybody has probably a little different story as to how they got here. For me I was a CPA and a big eight accounting firm, KPMG guy coming out of college. And senior housing, I don’t think I’d ever heard of it. I went into the hotel business. I was 20 years in the hotel business in Seattle. We developed about half the big box hotels downtown. We built them, we developed them, we operated ’em. And I was very much in the hotel business.
And I enjoyed hospitality. My story isn’t all that different than others in my family. My grandmother was in a nursing home. Ultimately my mother had early onset of Alzheimer’s, so they found themselves in the same nursing home. And what I won’t forget about that is what that looked like. And what that looked like was kind of like One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. I will remember the shiny floors and they were uneven and this visual of what that was like, it was so institutional. And this was the best that money could buy. My family could afford great care, and that’s what you got. That’s what that looked like. And that was sort of a pitiful memory to be honest with you. But I also didn’t realize what the industry had done to change that until later in my career.
So, when I was in the hotel business a while, I got a phone call, would I consider going into senior housing? And I did remember that visual and I wasn’t terribly interested in that. But I took a tour of a building and it was a building that looked nothing like that visual. And I was like, wow, this is great. That this industry has transformed into this – that I could get my brain around. And it quickly became a collision between hospitality and that nursing home. And I thought that’s pretty cool. So on paper the senior housing industry is not a lot different than a hotel. There’s occupancy and rate, food and beverage, and various departments. So I could certainly get my brain around the business side of it. But the real estate piece of that and the design and some of the things that could advance away from that visual that I had was something I thought was very interesting and very worthwhile. So it seemed like a real fitting part to where I could take my career. And so that’s kind of how I got there.
Yes, yes. Great start. Great origin story. Now we fast forward many years and there’s a lot going on. And now Cogir.
I met Mathieu Duguay, he’s the CEO of Cogir from Montreal. And I met him in an event, not unlike this event. We have these dinners. I got to stop going to these dinners, I guess, but I met Mathieu at a dinner. He was fun to talk to. Super good guy. Had a fun accent that I liked to joke with him about and make fun of him. And I remember one of the first things I said to him, “Oh, you’re from Canada, do you know the national sport of Canada?” And he said, “Well, of course, it’s hockey.” I said, “No, it’s not hockey, it’s lacrosse.” And he said, “That’s impossible.” So he Googled it and sure enough, so I’m like, if you’re going to come to this country and do business, you need to know stuff like that because this is what we talk about at these things.
So we just really became friends and they’re a very large, very professional organization, big real estate group out of Canada. They have 15,000 units of multi-family. They have 70 senior housing homes and all sorts of different real estate verticals in Canada. And I had never heard of Cogir. They don’t even say that “g” here this way – Cogir. But I talked to him and they launched into the US with purchasing 12 former Brookdale buildings. And they were going to bring an operating company into the US. And I said, “Well, if you ever need advice or help here’s my card.” I think I got a call about two weeks later and he says, “What in the world is this worker’s comp thing in California all about? Because I feel like I’m getting policed. I just don’t know how.” He became very wise to the fact that US senior housing was operationally very different. And he needed help in growing that operation in the US and I was working at Merrill Gardens at the time. It was not really good timing for me to do that, but I was happy to give him advice and point him in directions. And we just kept that friendship going. And at the end of 2019 I was leaving Merrill. And I helped him as a board member tried to assemble a team and one thing led to another. We enjoyed each other’s company. And he decided he wanted to grow more and would I help him? And now I’ve just sort of jumped back in and helped him start to grow the organization.
We went from 12 buildings to 25 and we were just kind of cruising along until I met Rob Leinbach from Cadence at another event, not unlike this at a dinner, not unlike when I met Matthew. And we both had gaps in our operations. We were both growing companies in a very different way. He had gaps that we seemed to have filled and he had fillings where we had gaps. And the more we talked, it just seemed like these two companies together would probably fill both of our gaps. And I just sort of popped the question, “You ever thought about selling your company or combining?” He says, “I’ve thought about it a few times.” So between a long three hour dinner and a following breakfast, we kind of put that together on a napkin. I mean, it took us months to close it, but it just worked. It just felt like it worked.
You could say you bridged the gap.
We bridged the gap for sure.
You were waiting for that. I could just sense it. That’s awesome. Well, so what is the future? You’ve brought these together you guys, what are you hoping to do in the industry? What are you doing now?
Well, the industry is about residents and again, just like that visual I had before it’s finished that, and this is a social model. I think when you get to be in your seventies and eighties and our friends start to go away and this house is starting to be hard to take care of and you’re having a hard time taking care of yourself, I think it’s a matter of what’s your best way to live? Like, what would be really great and like people join golf clubs, not always to golf, it’s because they enjoy the company of the people they’re with, and that’s why they sell social members of golf clubs, right? There’s oftentimes more social members than there are golf members. It’s a socialization. And when you’re 70 or 80, you want to meet other people that are 70 or 80 and they have the same interests that you do.
And that’s what senior housing can be. It’s just a really nice social environment that also happens to be able to take care of your needs. Oh, and by the way, we can help you with that too. So having architectural design kind of collide with care and see how great of a social model can be built around that is what we’re trying to achieve. I mean, the whole industry is trying to achieve that. I think Cadence and Cogir have really great talent in doing that. For us now, it’s just trying to be the best operator we can possibly imagine, which is being a great place to work, a great place to live, and a disciplined financial operator that brings the returns that are necessary for investors to keep investing in this field. And I don’t think those things are mutually exclusive. I think those things can really happen. And we have all sorts of cycles and headwinds and curve balls. So does every business. I mean, Google and Microsoft are laying off people. I’m sure they think those are curve balls also. Our business is no different. We’re not immune. I think a lot of times people thought this industry was immune to a recession or immune to this or that we are immune from growing older. This is true. We’re probably not gonna be laying off a lot of people. This is true too, because it takes a lot of people to take care of people. But there are certainly business headwinds that come our way and we have to get through ’em. And that’ll never change.
So do you think over the coming years, is your focus going to be more on managing the acquisition side of the market? Or is it gonna be more on the new development side of the market? Where do you see your emphasis?
Well, I think you have to be pragmatic in your approach to that right now. I mean, in a span of a year we went from finding development sites wherever we could find them, and really putting new developments together to realizing that development is economically almost unviable now. And that there is existing product that will come onto market that perhaps could be purchased for less than new build costs. So why not pivot to that? I think there will be a lot of those opportunities coming our way and coming everybody’s way.
Well, so from a geographic standpoint, where are you guys mainly focused or is it kind of all over the place, all over the country?
Well, when we put the two companies together, we have clusters in certain places. There’s a cluster in Denver, in Phoenix, there’s a cluster in the DC area, in North Carolina. And we have the Seattle area, the Vancouver Southern Washington area, and we have northern and southern California. And those clusters exist. I think for us to tuck into those clusters and take further development within those markets would be Plan A if we move into other markets, I think we have to look at those markets and make sure that’s where we want to be for the long run. I don’t want to do one off here and one off there. The business is difficult. And so I think to have proper oversight and support, you really want to have four or five or six buildings if you’re gonna go into a market at all. So, but I like the markets we’re in and doing more within those markets would be something we’re focused on.
Lucas, exciting things ahead here. Two powerhouses coming together. Fill in the gaps, bridging the gaps, better together. So many hashtags we could use. But exciting times. Congratulations on all the success and I didn’t know your backstory. That’s really interesting. I know our listeners are gonna love to hear that.
Yeah, absolutely. And we wish you well through the NFL season here, this is a couple more weeks.
Well, go Niners. I don’t know.
Yeah, it could be a shorter season. So anyways, great to spend time with you. We know you have a very busy schedule here at ASHA. But we really appreciate you taking time with us.
You bet. Thank you.
And to all of our listeners, you can go to btgvoice.com, connect with us there, hit us up on social, let’s talk to you on LinkedIn. Love to hear from you, and thanks for listening to another great episode of Bridge The Gap.
Thanks for listening to Bridge The Gap podcast with Josh and Lucas. Connect with the BTG network team and use your voice to influence the industry by connecting with us at btgvoice.com.
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