NIC Notes

Insights in Seniors Housing & Care

By: Jason Zuccari  |  March 28, 2024

Industry Legacies: Parents Pass the Baton to the Next Generation

Senior Housing  |  Workforce


A Conversation with John and Taylor Rijos

This article is the second in a series showcasing parent/child duos across the senior housing and care industry. My conversation with John Rijos of Chicago Pacific Founders and his son, Taylor Rijos with Kayne Anderson, offers insights into why this is becoming a common trend.*

John Rijos has been a hospitality professional for more than four decades. As a co-founder of Chicago Pacific Founders, he expertly navigates the space where hospitality and healthcare meet while continuing to expand senior living opportunities for this rapidly growing segment of the U.S. population. 

Taylor Rijos is vice president of seniors housing for Kayne Anderson’s real estate group. He is responsible for origination, analysis, underwriting and execution of acquisitions, and works with joint venture partners to oversee day-to-day management of the company’s seniors housing properties. 

Tell us about yourself and your work.  

John Rijos-01John: I was in the hotel business for 20 years before selling my company to partners in 2000. At that time, I took over Brookdale Senior Living, which was a small company based in Chicago. Over the first five years, we went from 16 communities to 220. In partnership with the folks at Fortress, we took it public, and it grew to 400 communities. We then merged with what was the old American Retirement Corp., run by Bill Sheriff, and expanded to 650 communities.  

When I retired from Brookdale at the end of 2013, we were the largest company in the senior living space. I was tired of traveling every week and rushing home for my kids’ sporting events. It was time for me to take a break. I went back up to Cornell University to be an executive in residence for a semester but that wasn’t fulfilling.  

At the same time, an acquaintance, Mary Tolan, who I knew through Goldman Sachs was starting Chicago Pacific Founders (CPF). We got to know each other over the course of several months and decided to join forces and start a fund. That was the beginning of CPF, which is now in its third fund. In fund one, we own 20 communities outright and maintain a partnership with Welltower on others. In fund two, we own 14 communities, and in fund three, we own three communities at this point in time. We also own Grace Management, which operates all our communities and third-party communities totaling 62 across the country.  

Taylor Rijos-01Taylor: Starting your career in this industry doesn’t start when you graduate from college. My first job was in hotel operations for the Lincolnshire Marriott in Chicago, Illinois, where I spent two summers setting up banquet tables, serving food, and working maintenance (the latter of which glamorously included riding around on carpet cleaning Zambonis). This unglamourous position marked the start of my career.

Like my father, I received a degree from Cornell University’s Hotel School. I knew the whole time I wanted to be in the senior living space but didn’t know if that meant real estate or operations. My internships during college were on the finance side (unlike previous high school internships in operations), having spent two years interning under Laurence Geller, a renowned international hotelier. Geller was CEO of Strategic Hotels & Resorts, which at the time was the largest owner of Four Seasons and Ritz Carltons in North America. After this internship, it was very clear that my optimum career path was on the ownership side of industry—as it still allowed me to leverage the hotel operation knowledge from internships, school, and talking to my dad every day.  

My first job was with Welltower (f/k/a Health Care REIT) in Toledo, Ohio, where I spent two years on their FP&A data analytics team. This division had just been launched by Christian Sweetser and was probably the most valuable experience of my career. As the world’s largest owner of senior living, Welltower had access to extensive operating data across over 1,100-plus communities—occupancy, competitor stats, staffing ratios, rates, renovation costs. It was the team’s job to transform the raw data into intelligence for the organization and form the intelligence into executive talking points on quarterly earnings calls. 

They eventually tapped me to join their investment group. My very first deal, ironically, was the purchase of a $550-plus million Discovery Senior Living portfolio from Kayne Anderson. This fast tracked my path on their acquisitions/asset management team, as shortly after this closing, Welltower called on me to help open their first regional office overseeing West Coast operations in Beverly Hills, CA. But relationships are everything, and I must have made a good impression on Kayne, because after keeping in touch over the years, they offered me a vice president position. By accepting, I become their third employee on a fast-growing senior living team, which included a main responsibility of leading asset management of our largest operator Discovery Senior Living with over 30+ communities between opportunity & core funds. But most importantly, I got to learn from another great mentor and close friend Max Newland. 

John: I’m not just saying this because Taylor is my son, but I’ve seen a lot of asset managers in my 24 years in senior living, and he is as good as there is. Everyone who works with him says the same thing. He grew up around it giving him an unprecedented level of rounded knowledge. When you’ve seen all sides like he has, things make more sense. You can quickly discern what’s right, wrong, true, and false. Taylor’s advantage is his ability to reverse course, strategize, and think differently, which helps him advise managers and operations in a uniquely valuable way. image21

How do you balance advice from those who’ve been in the industry versus lead with new ideas for the future?  

John: Over his lifetime, Taylor saw us win a lot of times, but also lose a lot of times. He probably learned just as much during the times when I was not successful. Failure requires a lot more introspection. He watched all that in real time. More importantly, he always knew what he was going to do, he just didn’t know how he was going to do it.  

One of the things that I’ve always admired about him is he doesn’t trade on me. That would be easy to do, but he doesn’t. Even when he was a student at Cornell and I used to speak there all the time, a lot of people didn’t even know my son was there until they saw us together in the dining hall. The fact that he chose to be humble and create his own set of accomplishments is admirable.  

Taylor: It’s all about how you take the advice. Let’s call a spade a spade—there’s an incredible advantage to having your parent as a knowledge source. You get to tap into their expertise through daily conversations. All of those morsels of information—good, bad, and some that don’t seem very important at the time—really add up over the course of 20 years. Over time, I was able to form a holistic view of the industry and gain perspective that can’t be gained any other way. I didn’t realize this until had become more seasoned in the corporate world.  

What are the highlights of being in the same industry? 

Taylor: We’ve never worked directly with each other until September 2020, after having been in the industry for nearly a decade. This was by far my most notable professional milestone because it’s the most sentimental. We had a large mega campus in The Villages called Sumter Senior Living. I called my dad up and asked him to take managerial control. Within 48 hours, he had his team in the Villages, and, within a week, we had Grace signed up to manage it. That’s the day we became partners. I was happy that moment came at a point when I was confident that I could impress him. I think I’ve done that. 

John: In our work capacity, my company operates a few communities for Taylor’s company, and he is the VP in charge of the relationship. It’s easier to help a son or daughter when advice is just advice, that way they can take it or leave it. At the end of the day, he gets the benefit of my thinking, but it’s his own thinking that he has to move forward with. When a child is your employee, there’s a different, more complicated relationship to navigate. I’ve always been really thrilled that Taylor’s taken my advice while paving his own path in the industry.   

John, what advice do you have for the next generation?    

John: First, I would say it’s great if you have a mentor or someone who’s always looking out for your best interest all the time, no matter what. That gives you confidence to trust what you’re hearing and take it for what you think it’s worth. The other person gets no benefit other than seeing you succeed. Everybody needs a mentor, whether it’s a family member, or the first person you went to work for who you know cares for you. When you’re young, you’re going to make a lot of mistakes, most of which you can recover from if you get good advice and guidance.  

Taylor, what advice do you have for the previous generation?    

Taylor: It doesn’t matter if it’s a father, mentor, or boss, there’s a clear reality that those who are older have done things that younger generation hasn’t. They’ve gone through the business cycles numerous times. They have experience, answers, and the good ones are willing to give it to you.  

At the same time, business is evolving. My dad’s case is a bit different because his advice is more modern than some legacy leaders who built a company 20 years ago. The way investments were built and owner/operator relationships were managed decades ago isn’t applicable to the way you’re going to build those investments today. I think you have to find a way to absorb the previous generation’s knowledge, then have the confidence to apply it in a way that works for you.  

Something I say often that I got from my father is “success in this business is not rocket science.” It’s about caring for seniors. Not “caring” for thirty minutes during an important investor call or a regional ops meeting, and then hanging up, and going back to not executing on value promises. It’s caring when you wake up, when your phone rings in the middle of a vacation, when you go to bed. The future is brightest for the people who go to bed worrying about who’s relying on them.  

When you care about the details—hallway paint selection, marketing material, your spend on executive director salaries—that adds up to success overtime. It’s invisible, but caring is what creates culture and there’s no shortcut for that.  

John: Most people who talk about culture don’t know what they’re talking about. They get stuck on certain taglines. That’s not culture. What Taylor just said is culture. Treat your coworkers as if they’re the most important people in the world. Look at your associates and your residents and ask yourself: How can I make you more successful? That builds trust. I tell people all the time, whether you’re in the hospitality, healthcare, or real estate business, we really are in the trust business. Trust is something you gain by the ounce and lose by the gallon. You must be trustworthy all the time. If your whole organization acts that way, that’s culture.   


*Interviews edited for length. 


About Jason Zuccari

Jason Zuccari is an entrepreneur, philanthropist and healthcare industry leader. He is the Managing Director of Hamilton Insurance Agency, one of the nation’s largest independent insurance brokerage firms, and frequently shares his business insights on Bloomberg, Forbes, Fast Company, Mashable, NBC and CNET. In Fall of 2022, Jason was appointed to the board of Hilarity For Charity (HFC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to families impacted by Alzheimer's and brain health research, founded by Lauren Miller Rogen and actor/ comedian Seth Rogen. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe appointed Jason to serve on the board of the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. He has been recognized by Washington Life Magazine as one of Washington D.Cs most influential individuals under 40, and by DC Modern Luxury for his extensive philanthropic work. Jason attended West Virginia University where he was elected student body president and a member of the University Board of Governors. He also serves on the National Investment Centers (NIC) Future Leaders Council.

Connect with Jason Zuccari

Read More by Jason Zuccari