Editor’s note: As part of the 40th anniversary of McKnight’s, McKnight’s Senior Living and McKnight’s Long-Term Care News are recognizing 40 notable newsmakers. Each week, the brands will highlight a high-profile leader from the past four decades. Published installments of the series can be found here.
How different is Ventas since Debra Cafaro took over? Only about as different as night and day.
A whip-smart leader with a penchant for smart risks, Cafaro joined a very troubled firm in 1999. Trading of the company’s stock had been halted. The actions of previous management had fueled federal Medicare-fraud inquiries. Vencor, its sole tenant, had filed for bankruptcy.
But under her direction, Ventas managed to keep the lights on during those first few character-building years. As things began to stabilize by 2002, Cafaro hired an executive management team — and launched an ambitious strategy that emphasized diversification and expansion. The real estate investment trust broadened its portfolio to include private-pay senior living, hospitals, medical and outpatient office buildings and university-based life science innovation centers. Although skilled nursing represents only a small part of the REIT’s portfolio today, senior housing accounts for more than half of the REIT’s net operating income.
How successful was the transition? During the 19 years ending March 31, 2019, Ventas’ total shareholder return was an astonishing 5,342%. Moreover, the $200 million firm she joined in 1999 achieved a $28 billion market cap by 2019.
Ventas was named the most successful financial publicly traded company for the first decade of the new century and in 2018 was voted as one of the world’s most admired real estate companies by Fortune magazine.
Forbes Magazine twice named Cafaro one of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women. Harvard Business Review named her to its list of the world’s best-performing CEOs for six consecutive years. She was inducted into the American Seniors Housing Association’s Senior Living Hall of Fame in 2019.
Although the REIT recently has experienced some challenges in its senior housing portfolio, in a field known for successful turnarounds, Ventas has set an enviable benchmark. It’s not difficult to identify the person most responsible for its long-term success.