Profile: Christopher Christensen - It's not business as usual

Share this content:
Christopher Christensen
Christopher Christensen

The Ensign Group Inc. is looking for misfits. Yes, that's right: misfits.  

“One of the premises on which we build our organization is that people love to do what they've chosen to do for the right reasons,” explains Christopher Christensen, CEO and president of the young nursing home chain.

Of course, misfit is only a slightly pejorative term (depending on how you look at it) for people who don't feel entirely comfortable in the corporate setting or the mom-and-pop world, explains the self-deprecating Christensen. Which makes him a model employee.

The son of Roy Christensen, the founder of Beverly Enterprises Inc. (now Golden Living), and one of 11 children, he recalls that he was a somewhat trying child. He gave his parents trouble because of his insistence on challenging accepted beliefs.

“I just needed to understand why we did things,” he says.

Fast forward a few years and Christensen found himself working in Texas for the oil business. He didn't like what he saw.  

“I was listening to all the guys stand around the water cooler and say they only have 28 years left until retirement,” he recalls. “I said I don't want to be a part of this or create it.”

Ensign has thrived on purchasing underperforming facilities and improving them. But the CEO is not as concerned about quarterly results as he is about upholding the team's formula for success. That is, finding leaders who want to run their own businesses. Administrators can become CEOs and directors of nursing can earn the title of COO at Ensign.  

Christensen is “onto something” in recognizing the business role of the administrator, believes Robert Kramer, president of the National Investment Center for the Seniors Housing & Care Industry.

As part of Ensign's unique culture, company headquarters don't exist. Instead, a service center has been set up to support the facilities, which number around 80. Each facility is in charge of its own purchasing and delivery of services. Only compliance and insurance purchasing are centralized.  

Pacific Care Center, a nursing home in Hoquiam, WA, has benefited from such decentralization. When Ensign bought the facility in 2006, it had a survey with 27 deficiencies. Last year's survey turned up just three.

“Empowering our people and taking ownership of our facility has made a huge difference in our building,” Pacific Care CEO Mike Clegg says.

After working at other long-term care companies, Christensen, 42, helped found Ensign in 1999 with his dad. Insistent that he doesn't take credit for the company, he says that hundreds of people made the enterprise possible.

When he's not working, the father of eight (Jacob, 18; Karli, 16; Monika, 15; Cynthia, 14; Zenen, 9; Kate, 7; Elena, 5; and Jessica, 3) likes to spend time with his family, help The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and relax with friends from work. He is married to Claudia.

While he is pleased that he is helping his dad leave a positive legacy, it's evident he's putting his own stamp on long-term care.

“He wants to have an environment where people can be the very best at what they do and provide them with the resources,” Clegg says.


_____



Resume

1992
Graduates with bachelor's degree in economics from Brigham Young University

1993
Works for Shell Oil in Logistics and Transportation Management in Deer Park and Houston, TX

1994
Completes AIT training with North American Healthcare at Ramona Care Center in El Monte, CA

1996
Serves as acting COO and director of operations at Covenant Care

1999
Helps found The Ensign Group. Serves as president

2006
Becomes CEO of The Ensign Group