AEC Living CEO Keeps It All In The Family

Lauren Zimmerman Cook, CEO of AEC Living, a group of senior living communities, took over the family business after cherishing the connections she made with patients. She spoke with us about the challenges of the healthcare industry, recruiting talent in a hot job market and more.

What are the biggest challenges AEC Living faces on a day-to-day basis?

For sure, staffing. There are just not enough people in our industry. Nursing is hard, but we’re actually really lucky. A lot of the nurses have been here a long time. We have other people who have been here a long time…but [hiring] new people is hard. This isn’t really a sexy job. It’s hard to recruit people. I mean, to go Peet’s Coffee or Starbucks, and they have actual ads of like how great it would be to work for them. That’s kind of how the industry has changed just for hiring in general, is that you advertise for your staff just as much as you do for your clients. Being in the Bay Area is part of it, too. You know, we have a really tight [job] market.

The other thing is a caregiver is a really special person. So, it’s not like I can just fill the seat. Someone who handle what we do every day and see how amazing it is, is really a special person. And when you find that person, they stick. Right? But it’s just finding that person. Because, we deal with people at the end of their lives a lot of times or going through transitions. And so, it takes a special person who can understand that what a blessing it can be to…that you’re really providing a great service to somebody. And so, people who thrive on that, on the service side, they really do really well in the business. But you’ve got to find those people. Our staff policy is that every single person in this company is a care giver. So, what I’m looking for when I hire somebody, is that you’re a caregiver. That you understand that what we do is we care for people and their families. Because I can train people to do all different kinds of jobs, but I can’t train you to have that understanding of the importance of caring.

So, it’s even harder. And we have also a whole other layer of really tight government oversight in that we have to get…everybody has to have fingerprint clearance before they can work with us. They have to have 40 hours of education before they can be on the floor with the residents. So, we have a really high entry point as well. Like, it costs a lot of money— every single employee that I hire because I got 40 hours of training with them, plus those fingerprints.

What advice do you have for your fellow CEOs?

The biggest lesson I learned was…and it was actually like something that I learned because someone said it to me. And they said, “Your job has turned from doing the day-to-day work to really being the visionary.” Right? And sharing that vision with the employees and with the community. And that was really a hard thing because I love to be at my computer and do [accounting work] and that kind of thing. [I had to realize] how my staff and how the community sees me is not as the worker that I used to be. That it’s really important that I have that background but that I had to let a lot of that go in order to do my job well. And my job is to have that vision and teach my managers to do their job because I can’t…we are continuing to grow. I can’t [lead that growth] if I’m doing the day-to-day work. It was a really big thing for me. It’s like my job is really to teach others what it means to be in our business. To teach them a culture of what we want this business to be.

I think the inspiration is a really big part of our job, as a CEO. You have to set the culture for your company. I spend a lot of time setting what I think our culture is and then living by that culture. So, I have set these four pillars of what I think our business is about and then I have to make sure that I’m living by those four pillars. As a CEO, you have to practice what you preach.

Read more: Newcastle Systems CEO On Being An “Orchestra Conductor”


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