It's in the genes

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Robert Adams, CEO, National HealthCare Corp.
Robert Adams, CEO, National HealthCare Corp.
Among the coterie of large, for-profit nursing home chains in the United States, a few immediately come to mind: Manor Care, Beverly (now known as Golden Living), Kindred and a few others. 
Then there is National HealthCare Corp. While it is the 10th largest chain in the country, its corporate image is more akin to a mom-and-pop. 

Low-profile could also define its president and CEO, Robert Adams. Son of company founder Dr. Carl Adams, he joined the operation soon after college and rose through the ranks. 

“We have a lot of longevity, which makes us successful,” Adams says with a thick Southern twang bred in Murfreesboro, TN, site of company headquarters. “We focus on quality of service. We've always had the philosophy that if you do quality, then everything else will follow that.” 

The publicly traded company, which began in 1971, has a small-town personality that belies its size (9,245 beds) and success ($563 million in total operating revenues).

Many of the top brass are related to Adams or knew him growing up. His brother, Andy, formerly NHC president, now runs the company's REIT, National Health Realty Inc. Gerald Coggin, the senior vice president of corporate relations, is married to Adams' only sister. 

The current CEO has earned the respect of colleagues and others in the field.

“He's a person who's serious about this profession, and at the same time, exhibits calmness in his demeanor and actions,” notes Ron Taylor, executive director of the Tennessee Health Care Association.

More than a decade after his death, Adams' father, a former Murfreesboro surgeon, still casts a long shadow. Carl, who founded the company after retiring, was instrumental in creating the revolutionary patient assessment document, a precursor to the MDS. The company also was ahead of its time in placing registered nurses in nursing homes and implementing resident-centered care.

Not surprisingly, values were an important part of Adams' upbringing. Adams, who has four brothers and a sister, recalls his childhood as a simpler time when there were fewer luxuries than there are now. His mother currently lives in an NHC assisted living facility “and gets all the love she can handle,” he says.

Despite his father's impact on the industry, Adams does not seem to feel the pressure to outdo the elder's accomplishments. Instead, he only feels an obligation to stay true to his father's ideals. 
Employees say that, while Robert leads differently than his brother and father did, his leadership is no less effective or successful. 

“He's very approachable,” Coggin says. “He's easy to share a joke with or talk to about last night's football game or talk to about a multi-million dollar deal, all in the same conversation.”

Adams' low-key approach seems to suit the company. It experiences very little turnover among administrators and directors of nursing. Senior staff longevity is more than 25 years. That includes Adams.

After leaving the Army, where he was stationed in Germany, he completed a degree in medical technology. He then joined NHC as a bookkeeper at the Murfreesboro Health Care Center and eventually became an administrator there. He later moved to corporate headquarters.

Like his approach to the company, Adams' life is not overly complicated. Family and church (he is a Baptist) are at the center of his life, he says. His three daughters and six grandchildren live close by. He considers his wife, his childhood sweetheart, his best friend. Not a big traveler, he prefers to spend free time on the golf course.

Forever shunning the spotlight, he is hesitant to disclose publicly that he visits a couple of his facilities in town on Sundays – just for the heck of it.

“To me it's like fun. I know it sounds strange,” he admits. “I have people who nobody comes to see. They know I'm coming.”