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“Why a leader should sponsor random acts of pizza” With Chuck Sullivan the CMO at Senior Helpers

Be available — to everyone. Always remember the entire organization. Having an open door, sponsoring “random acts of pizza” and hosting informal happy hours for the full team have served as an invaluable source of information. I had the pleasure to interview Chuck Sullivan the CMO at Senior Helpers. Senior Helpers is the premier in-home senior care […]


Be available — to everyone. Always remember the entire organization. Having an open door, sponsoring “random acts of pizza” and hosting informal happy hours for the full team have served as an invaluable source of information.


I had the pleasure to interview Chuck Sullivan the CMO at Senior Helpers. Senior Helpers is the premier in-home senior care provider in the U.S. Our Franchise owners provide personalized care designed to help seniors remain happy and independent in their own homes. Services range from specialized dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s care to traditional companion and personal care.


Thank you so much for joining us! What is your “backstory?”

I grew up the son of an advertising executive in metro Detroit. My father was the Midwest Manager for Hearst Publications and his clients were primarily the Big 3 auto companies — Ford, Chrysler and General Motors. He taught me the value of storytelling, the importance of sweating the details and how to build a winning proposal. 
 
 After getting an MBA at the Wharton School, I worked for Ford Motor Company for 12 years. At Ford, I focused on setting our strategic direction for targeting prospects using “alternate channels” such as CRM, our brand websites and digital advertising. Today, we would call this Omni-channel strategy. This experience proved invaluable when I joined Hilton Worldwide as their SVP for Global Online Services. Each role has prepared me for the next.

In early 2018, when I was offered the opportunity to join Senior Helpers as the chief marketing officer, I knew immediately that this was the perfect role. Senior Helpers provided a rare opportunity to work at a mission-driven, for-profit organization. My mother was a client, and I had seen firsthand the quality of service we provide. I wanted to share that positive experience, and the broader goal of helping seniors be able to age in their own home with dignity.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began as CMO of Senior Helpers?

Sure. Years ago, I learned that in a franchise organization one of the most effective ways to effect change is to build strong, mutually beneficial relationships. During my first annual Franchise Conference at Senior Helpers I had an opportunity to dress up in Blues Brothers attire and dance on stage with our CEO. It was a lot of fun, demonstrating that I have no future in dancing, and served to break the ice with many owners who have become close advisors.

What do you think makes Senior Helpers stand out? Can you share a story?

Senior Helpers is uniquely positioned along several dimensions. 
 
 First, we pride ourselves in being
the premier provider of in-home senior care — based on my experience and our research, we clearly over-index on providing a positive customer experience. 
 
 The second thing that sets Senior Helpers apart is
our focus on serving those with chronic disease diseases especially Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other forms of dementia. We were the first in the industry to develop a rigorous, in-depth training program for our caregivers. Our training, called Senior Gems®, is based on techniques and strategies created by nationally renowned expert Teepa Snow. We remain the only organization to have a national relationship with Teepa and her Positive Approach, LLC organization.
 
 Third, is our holistic view of the market. The US is facing a “silver tsunami” of seniors who will need help. The number of seniors who will have difficulty living independently is projected to increase from 2.7 million today to 4.0 million in by 2030. We have a strategic plan that recognizes the breadth of this opportunity.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?

Yes! We have several in the works. The one I can discuss today is a brand-new franchising concept called Senior Helpers Town Square. According to the US Government’s National Center for Health Statistics, there are about 300,000 Americans in adult day care on any given day now, and we suspect that the majority do not enjoy the experience. Senior Helpers Town Square provides an exciting and attractive alternative that is truly appreciated by those who attend — for the same cost. 
 
 Each Senior Helpers Town Square includes an indoor, simulated urban environment with more than a dozen stations, each that was designed to operate as if it were in the 1950s. Visitors can stop by the diner for lunch, visit the hair salon, go to the movie theater, visit the pet store and spend time in the park. The entire experience is based on a concept called Reminiscence Therapy. While all seniors will likely enjoy the immersive environment, those with dementia find it particularly calming because it reminds them of a familiar time in the past that is still cognitively linked through long-term memory.

What advice would you give to other CMOs to help their teams thrive?

Focusing on four things have helped us thrive.

1.) Do your research early to fully understand the market and develop a clear strategy

2.) Build a realistic annual plan that everyone supports

3.) Crisply differentiate your brand in the market

4.) Invest in building strong relationships with your team, your peers and your constituents

5.) Overcommunicate — evangelize the plan so often that you hear it in your dreams!

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 about that?

Absolutely! Early in my career at Ford Motor Company, two people helped me understand the nuances of corporate life and have continued to provide invaluable advice over the years. Gerry Hodapp, who is currently a VP at German company Formel D, hired me fresh out of school and taught me the importance of strong relationships with Franchise Owners. Deborah Wahl, who is now the CMO of Cadillac, provided invaluable guidance on working with private equity firms and presenting to boards. I’ve known them both for over 20 years and am immensely grateful for their guidance.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Spreading goodness can be done in many ways, but it often starts with the example that the leader sets. I have always tried to be a good role model — to be equitable, to “walk the talk” and to demonstrate the behaviors that are expected. My wife and I have raised three amazing kids who are now positively contributing adults. We have also served as passionate advocates for endeavors in our communities, our children’s schools, our church, several homeless organizations and the Boy Scouts. I have seen the impact that volunteering and working with these organizations has on the lives of many people first-hand.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CMO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. You get the culture you build. As CMO you build the brand, the team, the culture and the identity of the organization. Make sure that everyone on your team can not only do their job well, but will do so in a way that is aligned with the culture you are trying to build.
 
 
2. Be available — to everyone. Always remember the entire organization. Having an open door, sponsoring “random acts of pizza” and hosting informal happy hours for the full team have served as an invaluable source of information. 
 
 
3. Be transformational, know why it is important and share your perspective frequently. The hockey player Wayne Gretzky is famous for attributing his success to “skating to where the puck is going” and not where it is. Business is no different and change in marketing occurs quickly. Know where your puck is going, and make sure your team does, too. 
 
 
4. Analysis and insights beat “golden gut” opinions every day. While experience is good to a point, no CMO should rely strictly on history and opinion. I always validate what I think is known with data — and publicly celebrate team members who use data to show that my initial assumptions are incorrect.
 
 
5. Work for a company where the mission and core values mirror your own. Today’s marketplace is comprised of companies with widely different cultures and values. Find one that fits you. Our CEO, Peter Ross, reinforces our mission (To ensure a better quality of life for our elderly clients) almost daily.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Having seen the impact of insufficient early education and nutrition to large communities, I would focus on supporting a Universal Head Start program. Head Start provides comprehensive early childhood education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children and their families and the program’s results are consistently positive. It offers children in families of need to see an alternative, to prepare properly for school and to have some chance of success in the future.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson” quote? Can you share how that has been relevant to you in your life?

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” — Seneca.

As a young marketer at Ford, I remember preparing all night for an important meeting the next day with the CEO. The preparation included writing out every question and answer that he would likely ask. To my surprise, he did ask a few of the late-night questions. Because I was so well prepared, and the project was a good one, he approved my proposal.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂

I would love to meet one or all of the anchors of Squawk Box — Joe Kernen, Becky Quick and Andrew Ross Sorkin. I’ve watched the show every morning for years and find that they are each brilliant in their own way.

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