David Eskenazy, former president of Merrill Gardens, has been named CEO of Cogir USA, effective immediately.
Eskenazy takes on this role as Cogir USA expands, having recently added five buildings formerly operated by Sunrise Senior Living, with further management agreements and development plans in the works.
After departing Merrill Gardens in 2019, Eskenazy joined Cogir USA as chairman of the board, while former Aegis CFO Wally Jossart became president. Jossart will remain as president going forward, and also adds the title of chief operating officer.
Cogir USA is the U.S. management company of leading Canadian senior housing developer and operator Cogir Real Estate. The Montreal-based company, led by CEO Mathieu Duguay, has a diversified portfolio that includes about 40 private residences for older adults in Canada.
The company made its U.S. debut by taking on management of 12 former Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD) communities in the San Francisco and Seattle areas. Those communities are owned by Welltower (NYSE: WELL), which had an existing relationship with Cogir.
Eskenazy intended the chairman position to be a part-time role, but “he has invested himself completely in Cogir since the beginning,” Duguay said in a memo announcing the leadership appointment.
Duguay also noted that Eskenazy and Jossart have made an effective team, and have a “chemistry level as good as it gets.” Eskenazy and Jossart formerly were colleagues at Aegis Living, where Eskenazy served as president and Jossart was CFO.
Their chemistry was tested early on at Cogir USA, as the Covid-19 pandemic emerged just months after the company was formed. While navigating the pandemic was difficult, one silver lining was that it brought the team together quickly, Eskenazy told Senior Housing News in an interview earlier this year at the Argentum conference in Phoenix.
“It got us very quickly acclimated to who the managers were in the buildings,” he said.
While pandemic-related challenges persist, Cogir USA is now on a footing to pursue additional growth, including by taking on the former Sunrise communities. Three are in the Seattle area and two are in California.
All of the buildings now are owned by Welltower, but four were formerly in the Aegis portfolio, so Eskenazy and Jossart are familiar with them.
Cogir USA is also pursuing other management agreements and also has ground-up developments in the works, Eskenazy told SHN.
On the development front, Cogir USA is aiming to create density by building multiple communities in a particular market, or pursuing construction in areas where the company already operates, Eskenazy said.
And he is looking forward to drawing on lessons and best practices from Cogir’s Canadian operations in the design of the new communities. For instance, Cogir has had success in placing the activity director’s office near the front of the building rather than the executive director or sales office, as is a common practice. Eskenazy also is considering flexible space that can be used for various services that come into the building on a rotating basis, from health care providers to accountants to estate planning attorneys.
In his prior roles, Eskenazy has been a proponent of technology-driven operations, and brings that expertise to Cogir USA as well. In particular, he highlighted the importance of business intelligence, particularly given the escalating costs of labor.
“To be great at labor, you need to see what you’re doing,” he said. “You need to see the impact of where your dollars are going and how you’re spending those dollars to be very efficient. That’s true today, more than ever.”
His focus on data aligns Eskenazy with Welltower, which has built a powerful data analytics platform to help inform community operations.
“We both, in my view, play our cards face-up,” Eskenazy said of Cogir USA and Welltower.
Going forward, he looks forward to announcing “exciting” partnerships related to upcoming projects, and is bullish on the future of senior living in spite of the labor headwinds and uncertainty about the pace of occupancy and margin recovery.
“I think we have found a resiliency in our industry,” he said.