Benjamin A. Breier may be at the helm of one of long-term care’s industry giants as the president and CEO of Kindred Healthcare. But in one big way, he’s similar to many of his employees. Work-life balance is “without a doubt, the biggest personal challenge,” the father of three daughters says.
“I don’t want to be a silent dad.”
The family, which includes his wife, Shelly, moved to Louisville from Arizona more than a decade ago when he started at Kindred. They’ve all grown fond of the town, with Shelly even opening a successful boutique store for tween girls.
“She’s an incredible example to our daughters, who work in the store,” he says. Louisville is “a great place to raise a family.”
The son of two lawyers, Breier grew up in Miami, along with his sister, Lylle, who is one of the top marketing executives at Walt Disney Company.
“I’ve sort of spent my life aspirationally to live up to her career,” he says. As his girls, Dylan, 12, Cameron, 10, and Hayden, 7, have grown up, “to say I have been inundated with Disney princesses is an understatement,” he adds with a laugh.
He and his sister “value what attorneys do, but we both sort of ran away from it,” he says. Their parents preached hard work with his mother showing “the softer side of how to treat people the way you want to be treated,” he says. He cites her death from cancer a few years ago as one of his biggest personal challenges.
Having the opportunity to meet Breier’s mother was inspiring, says colleague and friend Mary Van de Kamp, senior vice president for quality at Kindred Rehabilitation Services.
“In their relationship, you can see the influence she had on Ben and on qualities that are so important,” says Van de Kamp, recalling her and Breier’s discussions about the wisdom of earlier generations.
When Van de Kamp’s father died, “Ben was the first person I called and he was there in two minutes,” she remembers.
Breier’s path to Kindred began in Florida, where he worked as an administrator to help a small rural hospital suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew. By 1995, he was an assistant vice president at Baptist Health Systems.
Part of his success is keyed on being mobile and eager to tackle new opportunities, he believes.
“I’ve moved six times in my career and I’ve been willing to take jobs that didn’t look like the sexiest job out there and I’ve done that because I could have more responsibility,” he explains.
Being selected to lead Kindred at age 44 indicated that the company and board “were willing to take a chance” after Paul Diaz’s retirement. A particular challenge were claims by the government that subsidiary RehabCare Group Inc. had overbilled therapy. Kindred and RehabCare agreed to pay $125 million to settle.
“We live under enormous regulatory scrutiny,” Breier says. “The bigger you get, the bigger the bull’s-eye on our back.”
Kindred’s decision to leave the skilled nursing business as an owner/operator at the end of 2016 “was not an easy one.” However, “we hope to maintain a strategic relationship with these facilities for years to come.”
Breier’s personal interests include horses — he’s owned them in the past — and playing golf occasionally. But he says his priorities are family and work, especially as Kindred moves into a new chapter.
Van de Kamp says she knew from the moment she interviewed Breier a decade ago that he would soar.
“I thought, ‘I am interviewing a potential CEO of Kindred.’ It was one of those moments,” she says. “The potential was realized.”