If your first role model is a parent, then Mike Rich, 49, learned early what it takes to be a long-term care administrator.

His mother, Donna, “was the type of administrator who went to work early,” he says. “Back then, administrators did a lot of the hands-on work. They did rounds, they made beds. 

“She would come home and feed the six of us and then go back to do dishes. In the ’70s, she was a regional director of operations in a time that most of those executives were men,” he says.

That work ethic and interest in long-term care was handed down to Rich, who began his career at age 14, working as a housekeeper at a nursing home in Texas. Today, he’s the top exec of Daybreak Venture, one of the U.S.’s 15 biggest nursing home chains.

While he describes himself as a childhood introvert, college at Indiana University and then the University of North Texas allowed him to come out of his shell: He says his identical twin, David, who is older by 30 minutes, was the more extroverted growing up. Today, the twins frequent the same restaurants and circles in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Mike notes with some amusement that he has eaten breakfast in a restaurant, not knowing his brother had just left, and had a waitress say, “My, aren’t we hungry today?”

“Being a twin made him very driven and competitive,” David Rich remembers of his brother.

“He was close to my mom,” David continues. “We grew up around nursing homes.” 

Mike Rich’s path took him to companies that included Chartwell Healthcare and Extendicare Healthcare before then-president Bob Bates hired him to be the vice president of operations and acquisitions at Transition Health Services. 

“He’s a real superstar in our profession,” Bates says. “I’m crazy about the guy and have the utmost respect for him. He went to Daybreak at a tough time.”

That was in 2008, and Rich thought he’d be tasked with leading the company through bankruptcy. But he learned that Daybreak wouldn’t survive if that was the road they took.

“You have to have money to go through bankruptcy — who knew?” he notes wryly. “That fall, I had 70-some budget meetings. When we got done, I said we could post $9 million in profit and double the EBITDA. It didn’t look right on paper, but I believed in our team.

“I know I’m not the smartest guy at the table, but I know operations,” he says. “[Employees know] I was one of them; I have walked in their shoes.”

Still, those early years at Daybreak were tough, he remembers, as he was also going through a divorce with his wife of 24 years, and his father also died. But by the end of 2010, Daybreak was clearing a $10 million profit, and he had met a woman named Jeannine, whom he married in 2012. Today, the family includes stepsons Evan, 12, and Alex, 18; along with 20-year-old daughter Macie,  a student at the University of North Texas; and 24-year-old son Josh, who works at TwinMed. 

“I tried to teach them nothing is free,” he says of his children. “You have to work hard for the things you want in life.”

Which also reflects something he’s heard all his life: At the end of the day, he’s still “Donna’s son.”