Profile — Carving out a niche: David Schless, President, ASHA

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One could say that David Schless was a bit ahead of his time when, at just under 20 years of age, he chose a career path geared toward seniors. Schless, however, would say his focus was right on target.

Raised just outside Hartford, CT, by family-oriented parents — his father, a real estate lawyer, his mother, a nurse – Schless enjoyed a close relationship with both sets of grandparents.
"I loved spending time with them and I just really liked being around seniors, in general, so it made sense to me that I'd do something that had to do with aging and the elderly," he said. Schless took his first aging classes at the University of Connecticut's Traveler's Center on Aging his sophomore year and quickly realized he was in the right place.
"It was the early '80s and it was the first time some of the census data had come out. I could really begin to see what was going to happen demographically, and I found that very exciting. I wanted to be part of it."
To fulfill a Master's degree requirement for the University of North Texas' Center for Studies in Aging, he sought internship opportunities. He found a home with the National Association for Senior Living Industries in Washington, working as the organization's research director. Three years later, in 1991, he was hired by the National Multi Housing Council to develop the Seniors Housing Committee. Shortly thereafter, he began collecting operational improvement data.
"There was the mentality by many people that they had the Colonel's secret recipe, so to speak, and they didn't want to give any information away," he noted. "It's been wonderful seeing that [mentality] change. We now have access to a lot of quality data." In great part, Schless credits the National Investment Center for the Seniors Housing & Care Industry (NIC), for that change.
The seniors housing industry has benefited from Schless' unique depth of knowledge, experience and dedication, according to NIC President Bob Kramer.
"He's a very strategic thinker with a tremendous amount of wisdom," Kramer said. "He knows the data and issues impacting the industry like the back of his hand, and he has a proven track record that makes him an invaluable resource."
In 1993, Schless guided the transition of the Seniors Housing Committee into the American Seniors Housing Association. Overseeing ASHA's spinoff from NMHC in 2001 marked his biggest professional highlight.
With him at the helm of ASHA's legislative and regulatory efforts, the association has contributed to some significant victories, including a tax code revision that eliminated the tax penalty when seniors moved into certain continuing care retirement communities. The association also has grown from "10 to 15 people around a table" to 325 corporate members. In the last three years, he has led a campaign that has boosted political action committee donations from $40,000 to an expected $250,000 this year.
"This goes a long way in giving our industry more of an opportunity to have a voice," he explained.
Funding and operational data aside, Schless has never really been concerned about numbers, particularly where ASHA's membership is concerned. "It was always about quality here, not quantity. That's a nice model," he says.
Schless' passionate outlook doesn't pertain only to his professional life. He is a "huge fan" of college sports, especially University of Connecticut football. And he loves music. Notably, he befriended the Allman Brothers' tour manager and gets backstage concert privileges.
But Schless is an even bigger fan of family life. He and his wife of 14 years, Sue, have an 8-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter.
Still, he is quick to point out that going back to work the next day remains a thrill.
"I'm still excited about what I do," he says. "I don't really consider this work."

1987 - Earns B.S. degree, University of Connecticut

1988 - Earns M.S. degree, Center for Studies in Aging, University of North Texas. Becomes director of research for NASLI

1991 - Hired by National Multi Housing Council to start a seniors housing committee

1993 - Guides transition of NMHC's Seniors Housing Committee into the American Seniors Housing Association

2001 - Oversees ASHA's spin-off from NMHC

2006 - Instrumental to ASHA's success in having legislation enacted to eliminate negative tax consequences faced by some CCRC residents