Peter Ross of Senior Helpers

    We Spoke to Peter Ross of Senior Helpers on Being an Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

    As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Peter Ross.

    Peter Ross co-founded Senior Helpers in 2002 based on the belief that seniors should be able to age at home with dignity despite age-related illnesses and mobility challenges. Today, Senior Helpers® is the premier provider of in-home care and has hundreds of franchised and owned businesses that have cared for tens of thousands of seniors. In addition to Senor Helpers, Ross is also the CEO and co-founder of Town Square®, which offer seniors adult enrichment opportunities during the day. In addition to Senior Helpers and Town Square, he co-founded and was CEO of the Doctors Express and Assisted Transitions franchise brands. Peter is also a CEO member of the Healthcare Leadership Council.

    Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

    I was the VP of marketing for ADP. I was also the VP of sales for Intuit where the motto was “give care and give back” which I still use today. My motivation for starting Senior Helpers was my mother. It became challenging for her to stay home but I didn’t want her to have to go into a facility. At the time, I didn’t know what home care was all about.

    Fast forward and I co-founded Senior Helpers with Tony Bonacuse. For background, Tony and I decided we wanted to start a business together. Before deciding on a business, we both curated a list of our top five business ideas separately. We agreed on three criteria for the business: 1) it must have a good demographic 2) it must make good revenue and recurring revenue and 3) we did not want the government in our back pocket. Upon sharing our lists, home care was both number one on our lists.

    I wanted to start a business that was mission driven. We are put on this earth to make a difference and home care is a business where you can give back. I’m able to give people more than just a job but provide work that is fulfilling and truly helping make a difference. Whenever I tell people about Senior Helpers or the work that we do, nobody ever says “that sucks” rather, because we are doing something that’s good for the world.

    Home care is much more understood now than it was in 2000. Family caregivers are growing at 14% and caregivers are needed now more than ever. Seniors today would much rather age gracefully in the comfort of their own home.

    Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

    Just one mistake? I have 100.

    • Here’s a franchise related mistake: I have built four franchise brands and a mistake I made was selling multi-unit franchise units earlier than I should have.
    • Another mistake is not hiring people fast enough. Back then, we were “lean and mean.” People think they can work more time than they actually can. None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way.

    Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

    You are only as good as your mentors, your friends and family. Neil Kurts is someone I’m grateful for; we talk every week.

    You can’t be afraid to ask for help. CEOs think they should have all the answers but it’s OK to ask for help as making a mistake has a ripple effect. CEOs by nature have high egos. You think of yourself as bigger than you are but you need to leave it at the door. A CEOs job is to implement a strategy or what I like to call “steering a ship into the right channel.”

    Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

    I wanted to start a business that was mission driven. We are put on this earth to make a difference and home care is a business where you can give back. I’m able to give people more than just a job but provide work that is fulfilling and truly helping make a difference. Whenever I tell people about Senior Helpers or the work that we do, nobody ever says “that sucks” rather, because we are doing something that’s good for the world.

    According to a recent survey, ninety-four percent of Senior Helpers employees reported that their work has “special meaning” and it is not “just a job.”

    Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

    At the onset of COVID-19, we took immediate action to get PPE and were the first in-home care company to get PPE including gloves, masks, suits and hand sanitizer for all caregivers to maintain the safety of all clients and caregivers. We did what we needed to do and did it quickly.

    We were transparent with our staff by providing daily COVID-19 email bulletins and weekly town hall meetings.

    We made safety our number one priority. We at Senior Helpers are committed to providing exceptional care for the seniors and families in our communities, and know our efforts are inherently valuable during this COVID-19 pandemic — when our clients truly do need us most. We follow strict health and safety precautions.

    Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

    Giving up is not an option. We’re in a healthcare business where we support thousands of families every day. We are providing care for the most vulnerable population.

    What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

    You have to be steady. I’m the guy on the Titanic ship that’s passing out the life jackets. People wonder why I don’t get upset. It’s important to remain calm, steady and listen. Listening is also crucial. If you don’t listen, then you are in trouble already. Lastly, I always believe that people have it worse than I do.

    When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

    Leaders need to inspire a sense of security and safety. People want to hear that their jobs are safe and that they are needed. Our employees’ safety is our number one priority.

    What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

    Transparency! You must be honest and tell it like it is. I had to let go people during COVID-19 because it was the right decision for the organization. I informed these individuals with truth and empathy.

    How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

    I recommend making plans for preparation. I’m looking at homecare 2.0. What is homecare going to look like in the next 2 to 5 years; assisted living at home, etc.

    There could be different ways we’ll conduct business and we might have to tweak how we get there. We have to facilitate to make sure there’s enough supplies, etc. A year from now, I envision better COVID-19 treatment, testing, a vaccine.

    Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

    Be transparent and calm; you don’t want to have too many ups or downs. You also have to be honest and consistent.

    Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

    1. Mistake number 1: They freak out. Count to 10 before you do anything.
    2. Mistake number 2: They don’t change. If you’re not changing, you’re not growing. What do you have to do to survive today?
    3. Mistake number 3: They jump too quickly

    Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

    Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

    1. Transparency — let people know the truth. Let’s be honest with our team. It’s ok to not have all of the answers.
    2. Communication
    3. Be flexible as things are constantly changing
    4. No is not an option if you want to stay on top
    5. It can’t be just you. It’s the team driving to win. Look at the full picture

    Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

    “God gave you 2 ears and one mouth” — it’s important for leaders to listen. If you’re not listening, you’re already in trouble!

    “Its only movie” — is another quote I love.

    “Integrity without compromise” — this is a motto we at Senior Helpers live by.