Mark Ordan shares credit for Sunrise Senior Living turnaround

Publish Date:

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

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News Organization:

Washington Business Journal

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In 2007, investors could have gotten $40 for a share of Sunrise Senior Living Inc. On Wednesday, they learned Health Care REIT Inc. wants pay them $14.50, as part of a plan to buy the entire company and its $1.9 billion real estate portfolio.

The value decline might not look good to the uninitiated, but the fact that Sunrise (NYSE: SRZ) is worth anything today is one of our region's biggest business stories of the past half-decade — and another feather in the cap of turnaround artist CEO Mark Ordan, who brought the company back from the brink of insolvency in early 2009.

Ordan insists on sharing credit with a man named Don Nicholson. Nicholson, a Hartford, Conn., banker at Bank of America, was on the other side of the desk when Ordan came to discuss a major loan default in his early days as Sunrise CEO.

"Anytime somebody says what a great job I've done, I think of Don Nicholson," Ordan said in an interview on Wednesday after the sale was announced.

At the time, "just about everything was in default," said Ordan. "I think my parking pass was in default."

Sunrise, hit hard by an accounting scandal and the economic downturn, only began to turn the corner when lenders started believing in the company's fundamental strengths and the comeback plan, Ordan recalls. For all its corporate problems, he said, the company still owned assisted living centers with strong reputations located on main streets in affluent neighborhoods — a value first built by founders Paul and Terry Klaassen.

Nicholson was the first to believe him, Ordan said.

"He was so constructive and understanding, he ended up working with us instead of working against us. And of the $95 million that was in default, he ended up getting $95 million back, plus interest," Ordan said.

Nicholson interrupted his vacation early Wednesday to send Ordan a congratulatory email; Ordan replied in kind. Though, let's not forget Ordan has received his fair share of credit too.

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